Friday, 12 March 2021

Coleridge's Latin Verse


I've briefly mentioned this short Latin poem, ‘Lines For A Second Emblem’, before on this blog. What I want to do in this post is dig a little deeper into it. My claim is not that this is a good poem, since it really isnt. It's a doodle, a notebook entry in which STC flexed his Latinist muscles but slightly, and that went no further. But I am interested in the process by which Coleridge, more or less desultorily, produced the text. I say desultory because he not only never published this, he didn't prefer it for its stated purpose: as a motto or legend appended to a pictoral emblem, engraved jewel or brooch [click the header images to embiggen them, and you can see J C C Mays explanation of the context]. He was manifestly doodling his thoughts, and did so in Latin on this occasion because Latin is the traditional language in which such mottoes are cast.

Eheu! dum me mea Psyche,
Dulce decus veris aprici,
Pulchra Comes et Zephyrorum,
Dum Psyche me fugit eheu!
Pallidulum me tua taeda
Quid juvat, o inamata Juno!

Alas when my Psyche (soul/butterfly) has (gone) from me
Sweet delight of sunny Spring
Lovely partner of the Zephyrs,
When Psyche has fled, alas!
Pale little me: your torch
What joy does it bring, unloved Juno!
The emblem in question is a butterfly. Juno's torch would accompany a wedding, and so is out of place in this mournful situation, when the speaker's butterfly-woman soulmate has abandoned him.

So the larger question is: how might an anglophone poet go about writing a poem in Latin? 

There are two main obstacles. One is the business of writing a poem in a language that is not one's mother-tongue. Two is, more specifically, the prosodic difficulty of composing metrically valid verse according to a system not (as in English) of ictus—patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables—but of arsis, or quantity (patterns of long and short vowels).

To take the question of fluency first. Plenty of writers and poets have managed to write well in a second or even a third language, of course, and some (Conrad, Nabokov, Achebe) have created great art that way. Latin, however, is not a living language. One cannot pick up conversational Latin by moving to Ancient Rome for a year or two. It is possible to become a reasonably accomplished Latin speaker by immersing oneself in the language, but only with unusual effort. When Latin was still living, or half-alive, as Europe's lingua franca (when it was still the language of the Catholic mass, and scientific and literary texts were still being published in it) such immersion was more achievable. Erasmus spoke Latin so well and so much that, reputedly, he forget how to speak Dutch. Montaigne, sent to school with a German teacher who spoke no French, was educated exclusively in Latin and became confidently expressive in that language. That Latin had not entirely lost its function as lingua franca into the 17th century certainly facilitated the career of Casimir (Polish poet Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski), famous across Europe as ‘the last Latin poet’ and Horationis par, ‘the equal of Horace’. His own ease with Latin owed much to the fact that he was a Jesuit priest, which made Latin a working as well as a classical language for him. There is nothing equivalent in Coleridge's life.

Indeed the comparison shows up one of the main fault-lines of neo-Latin discourse for a writer like Coleridge: viz., that writing in Latin actualises both the (for him, good!) heritage of classical, or more narrowly Augustan, Rome and the (bad!) associations of continental Roman Catholicism. Coleridge's engagement with neoLatin must undertake a ticklish navigation of this, for him, problematic territory. Not where Casimir is concerned, I should add (Coleridge often quotes, and indeed translates, Casimir's poetry), although Casimir's fame was such as to transcend his connection with Catholicism. But in other regards Coleridge's attitude was indicative of his era. In the words of A M Juster:
Nineteenth and early twentieth century British scholars largely defined the field, and they did so in their own image. Their worldview tended to incorporate strong emotional connections between the Roman Empire and their British Empire, which is why they focused on the perceived glory days of the Augustan era, downplayed the repulsive aspects of that era, only grudgingly studied the following century, and then largely ignored the empire’s literature after about 100 AD.

The dissolution of the Roman Empire was painful for British classicists not only because of the parallels to their own nation’s international decline, but because the literature became increasingly Catholic. Hatred of Catholicism was a standard failing of the British elite through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and classicists were no different. Most classicists of that period viewed Late Antique Latin poetry as degenerate, and simply did not study it or teach it.
Juster rightly notes ‘the strangeness of this bigoted cutoff for the study of a language’s literature’ (‘French departments do not stop teaching French literature after Moliere and Racine, Italian departments do not stop teaching Italian literature after Dante and Petrarch, so why do almost all classics departments feel they have no duty to study and teach Latin literature after Juvenal, Martial and Seneca?’). 

Two is the prosodic question. I will be honest here and confess that I find this actually quite difficult to judge. English-speakers (in my experience of teaching poetry) generally have a good ear for ictus, can pick which syllables in any given line of verse are stressed and which are unstressed. Couple this with the easily taught table of the four most common metrical patterns in stressed verse—the iambic (de DUM de DUM de DUM), the trochaic (DUM de DUM de DUM de), the anapestic (diddy DUM diddy DUM diddy DUM) and the dactylic (DUM diddy DUM diddy DUM diddy) and you've basically got it. There are other metrical patterns, obviously, and you may need the occasional DUM-DUM spondee to make your prosodic analysis work out, but that's basically it. Then it's a simple matter tracing the iambic pulse in a Shakespearian line, or contrasting the dactylic
Blow the wind southerly,
Southerly, southerly,
Blow the wind south o'er the
Bonny blue sea
with the famously anapestic
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
that used to be Byron's most memorised poem. All well and good. But this later European tradition of scanning verse by stressed and unstressed syllables is quite different to the tradition that obtained in ancient Greek and Latin verse. Their metrical feet are the same: iambs, anapests and so on. But in place of stress, the ancients heard length. Robert Graves described the difference of modern and ancient poetics as being that between the hammer and anvil of the blacksmith—ictus—and the long and short strokes of the boatsman's oar—classical prosody. Maybe that gives you a sense of the distinction.

Whether the Ancients also heard stress is a moot point, but their poets, and their grammarians, certainly analysed poetry in terms of the pattern of long and short syllables, not in terms of patterns of ictus. And that's a distinction we can understand too: we hear the difference between the long e (Greek η) in feel and the short e (Greek ε) in fell; between the omega (ω) in dole and the omicron (ο) in doll. But the fact that we can distinguish those sounds in individual words doesn't mean we can all hear the complex patterns of long and short syllables in passages of Homer or Vergil.

Here's my rather shaming confession: I studied this stuff as an undergraduate doing a Classics degree, and went into it in greater detail for my PhD (where it was really quite important), but I'm still not sure I can properly ‘hear’ the dactyls in Homer or Vergil as I read them aloud. Certainly not in the way I can ‘hear’ the stress patterns in English verse. I can see those patterns in Homer and Vergil, when the verse is written down, and can analyse it and so on; but I suppose ictus just strikes me as intuitive and common-sense in a way patterns of long and short vowels don't.

It doesn't help that there's no way of working out which vowels in Latin words are long and short. You just have to know. Which is to say, since nobody (realistically) is going to acquire that degree of expertise, you need a guidebook. For British schoolboys, and for those who persisted in the exacting and largely fruitless exercise after their schooldays, this meant the Gradus.

Gradus ad Parnassam, or ‘steps to Parnassus’, is a book listing Latin words in which the quantities of vowels are marked, to facilitate the slotting of the various words into the requisite metrical wire-frames of verse composition.
The first ‘step’ or lesson is contained in the title phrase itself, because gradus being a fourth-declension noun (a step), with a short ‘-us’ in the singular, becomes gradūs, with a lengthened ‘-ūs’, in the plural (steps). The difference in meaning teaches one to observe the difference in vowel quantity between two forms which look the same but have different grammatical properties, and so to pronounce the title of the dictionary correctly. Then ‘Parnassus’ is a poetic figure alluding to the Muse (of poetry): and the second function of the thesaurus is even so, to illustrate such figures. Therefore, the whole expression Gradus ad Parnassum is not just a title but an epitome of the work itself, combining declension, construction, scansion and figure. [Chisholm, Hugh, ‘Gradus’, Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.: Cambridge University Press 1911), 12:314]
There were several Gradus ad Parnassums published. The one with which Coleridge was familiar from his own schooldays was the English translation of Paul Aler's (the famous revision of this by John Carey wasn't published until 1818). The problem, of course, was that painstakingly assembling a poem out of these units, like a child fitting lego-blocks together to make a tower, negates the organic fluency of Coleridgean imaginative creation, and throws the writer back on mere ‘fancy’: derivative quasi-plagiaristical rote-work. Early on in the Biographia, Coleridge mocks a contemporary neo-Latin poet, and his reliance on the Gradus, in precisely such terms. First he makes the general point:
This style of poetry, which I have characterized above, as translations of prose thoughts into poetic language, had been kept up by, if it did not wholly arise from, the custom of writing Latin verses, and the great importance attached to these exercises, in our public schools. Whatever might have been the case in the fifteenth century, when the use of the Latin tongue was so general among learned men, that Erasmus is said to have forgotten his native language; yet in the present day it is not to be supposed, that a youth can think in Latin, or that he can have any other reliance on the force or fitness of his phrases, but the authority of the writer from whom he has adopted them. Consequently he must first prepare his thoughts, and then pick out, from Virgil, Horace, Ovid, or perhaps more compendiously from his Gradus, halves and quarters of lines, in which to embody them. [Coleridge Biographia Literaria (1817), ch 1]
Then, in a footnote, the specific:
In the Nutricia of Politian, there occurs this line:
Pura coloratos interstrepit unda lapillos.
Casting my eye on a University prize poem, I met this line:
Lactea purpureos interstrepit unda lapillos.
Now look out in the Gradus for Purus, and you find, as the first synonime, lacteus; for coloratus, and the first synonime is purpureus. I mention this by way of elucidating one of the most ordinary processes in the ferrumination of these centos.
The line from Italian poet Poliziano means: ‘the pure stream goes murmuring over little coloured pebbles’. The synonymical line means: ‘the milky stream goes murmuring over the little purple pebbles’. Actually the quoted Latin is from Poliziano’s Rustica (1480s) not his Nutricia. The ‘University poem’ from which the second line is quoted is the Oxford Prize Poem of 1789, Iter Ad Meccam [‘The Pilgrimage to Mecca’] by George Canning (1770-1827)—the same Canning who went on to become Prime Minister. Coleridge had been ridiculed in Canning’s reactionary newspaper The Anti-Jacobin, and the young STC had attacked the whole of Pitt’s Napoleonic War cabinet (which had included Canning). But he had later been introduced to Canning by Frere, and seems to have mellowed towards him. The actual force of the note, in other words, is an obscure, if gentle, mockery of a prominent political figure. ‘Ferrumination’ seals the joke: it is an Anglicisation of the Latin ferrumino, which means ‘to cement, solder, glue, unite, bind, join’. ‘Soldering’ is, of course, the principle strategy involved in canning (Peter Durand’s patent on his new method for preserving food using tin cans had been granted in 1810).

Still: absent an Erasmian absolute fluency in Latin, what was the neo-Latin poet to do? I don't believe (though I can't prove) that Coleridge fumbled through an actual copy of his old schooldays Gradus when he composed in Latin, but there's no denying that much of his Latin verse is derivative, fanciful rather than imaginative. Indeed, some of it hugs the coast so closely that it approaches the plagiaristic.

I think his praxis, in writing such poetry, involved one or two approaches. Sometimes, as with ‘Ad Vilmum Axiologum’ (‘To William Wordsworth’ 1808), Coleridge actually sat with a specific Latin poem in front of him—in this case a Latin poem by Ariosto—and reworked it, writing-out and adapting the original. On other occasions, he drew on his internal reference library. STC read very widely, in Latin and neo-Latin literature, and possessed an unusually capacious literary memory. It is surely likely that, as he put pen to paper, the compositional wheels span in his head and he withdrew likely-sounding half-lines and lines from that storehouse. Which brings me back to the brief ‘Lines for a Second Emblem’:
Eheu! dum me mea Psyche
This is a version of a line of neo-Latin verse by Samuel Johnson. Nothing suspect or Catholic about him as a source! Coleridge has read, and remembered: ‘qualia dii! vidi dum me mea nympha secuta est’, a line from a poem co-authored by Johnson and Stephen Barrett, ‘Contributions to Poems by Others’ (1745) that means: ‘ah, what sights I saw, ye gods, when my nymph walked with me!’ Coleridge shrinks this to a tetrameter, lopping off ‘qualia, dii!’ and substituting the more conventional alas, eheu, which, since it is a trochee, can substitute metrically for the two long syllables of vidi. Then, because Sara Hutchinson is more than just any old nymph, but is in some crucial sense his soul (his inspiration, love and life) he changes the trochaic nympha for the spondaic psyche. That's OK, though, because by curtailing he is also prosodically adjusting the anapestic hexameter of Johnson's line, availing himself of the convention by which the two unstressed syllables of an anapest can be swapped for a single stressed syllable, as with a spondee.

I don't want to labour the point, but the whole poem is assembled this way. Dulce decus is Horatian (is, indeed, right from the beginning of that schoolroom essential author: it's Odes 1.1, line 2). Pulchra comes, ‘lovely companion’, is common in Latin verse (Johannes Silos ‘Epigram CCV’ [1673]; Hugo Grotius uses the phrase in his Latin translation of the Greek Anthology, CLXXX). Me fugit eheu is a standard Latin tag, most famous in relation to the phrase derived from Vergil and Horace tempus fugit eheu. Quid juvat is from Claudian. And so on.

What this means, arguably, is that we are better served if we ‘read’ Coleridge's Latin poems precisely in terms of their intertexts:—as, in other words, poems as much about their prototypes. or more precisely about the way their prototypes express or reflect latter-day concerns, as for their own sakes. This motto poem is not a very good example of that, except in the sense that it is indicative of Coleridge's strategy. The Ariosto poem, and Coleridge's anguished reworking of it (already discussed on this blog), is a better example, but even there where STC deviates from his working text, he does so via a series of props and stays, a walking-frame of familiar tags and phrases he already knows fit the rigours of Latin prosody. Still: not just the specifics of the choices Coleridge makes in composing his partly or wholly refried neoLatin texts, but the fact that he chooses to write in Latin at all is significant.

Kenneth Haynes suggests that writing in a language other than their mother-tongue ‘gives writers the option to choose a language in order to reach, or to elude, a particular audience.’ Coleridge does both of these things: sometimes aiming to connect with a certain scholarly or (as with this motto) formal-traditional mode, other times aiming to free himself from the restrictions of Emnglish propriety, or prudishness, or perhaps simple manners. Latin is teh key language here, as Haynes notes:
Latin, in particular, was available both to enlarge one's audience in one respect (as when religious controversialists like Luther, Calvin, Milton and many others chose the international language) and to restrict is in another (by excluding the Latin-less from discussions of sensitive matters) ... Latin literature offered writers new literary possibilities, from the magnificence of the high style to the urbanely bawdy. [Kenneth Haynes, English Literature and Ancient Languages (Oxford Univ Press 2003), 19-20]
This utility of Latin outweighs, for Coleridge, the limitations of writing in the language, the way it shifts him back towards Fancy and away from Imagination.

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Church, State

[Note: this is an older post (pre-Brexit as you can tell) that I've re-upped. The thing is, going through the earlier postings to this blog I spotted some typos in this post and opened it to editing to correct them. BUT, when I went back to the blog everything pre-2015 seemed to have vanished. I'm not sure what's going on, but I suspect it's Gone For Good. Now, much of the pre-2015 material here has been written-up in one or other of my Coleridge books; but it's a worrying thought that the vagaries of internetdom are wiping away years of assiduously worked-up blogposts. Anyway, since the edit window was still open, and since I didn't seem to be able to locate this post on the actual blog, I thought I'd repost it. One consequence, mind, is that it's prompted me to stop dithering and actually pull together all my Coleridge and Latin posts into something resembling a book, lest they all disappear one morning, like breath into the wind. AR]

Here's me trying to pull some of my Church and State thoughts into a more coherent order (my read through of chapters 1-4 is here, and chapters 5-12 here). I have previously wondered: can he have coined the phrase ‘clerisy’ without being aware on some level of the rhyme with ‘heresy’? Is that a distraction, or a cunning piece of ironic wordplay? Or another fossilised thought from when I first read this book lo these many years since: there’s something compelling about writing a book setting out to nail-down the Constitution of Church and State when at the heart of your point is that none of the three words in the title have clear unambiguous meanings. After all, famously, Britain does not have a written Constitution: just a ragbag of parliamentary statute and judicial precedents.

And Coleridge himself notes that the word ‘State’ means both the entirety of the entity we might call ‘Britain’ including the church, and those aspects of entity we might call ‘Britain’ except the church. You might think that the very title of STC’s book means he is pointing to the second these, but it’s not as simple as that—the Church is not an add-on or extra to be bolted onto the State in Coleridge’s vision: it’s integral to it, historically, morally and practically. And as for defining the term 'Church'—why: Coleridge defines not one but three separate meanings for this word. There's the actual church (to which Coleridge belonged, and with whose congregants he worshipped of a Sunday), the ‘Church of Christ’, an other-worldly Platonic ideal, and a sort of tertium quid church that his book is kind-of about.

Indeed, given that it’s something of a cliché of Church and State studies that it is a complex and baffling text [‘the book is a perplexing mixture of political commentary, social theory, and historical analysis’; Peter Allen, ‘S. T. Coleridge's Church and State and the Idea of an Intellectual Establishment’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 46:1 (1985), 89] I was expecting to find my re-read a complexifying process. But actually it didn’t go down like that. The book is, I think, simpler than has been thought. The key, I think, is the ‘three churches’ idea. It is almost commonplace, in our Dawkinsy militant atheist times, to distinguish two aspects to religion. There’s religious beliefs as a set of metaphysical propositions to which the believer assents (assents in the strong, Newman sense of that word)—there exists a God, I have an immortal soul, God cares what I do in the world and so on. This is the level at which Dawkins engages: denying the truth of these beliefs. He thinks this is enough to pull-down the edifice of the Church; but as many people have pointed out ‘religious people’ are not individuals who are defined merely by a set of beliefs in their heads. They are also defined by membership of a particular community, and engagement with a particular social praxis. This is the second aspect of contemporary religion, about which Dawkins has almost nothing to say: not only attending church, but helping run the church jumble sale, running soup kitchens, meeting with friends for coffee, helping out and trying to live the values of your religion in the world. Coleridge certainly understood that the Church was these two things together. But one of the novelties of the Church and State volume is the way it is arguing for a third sense of ‘Church’, extramural to the sorts of things seen as ‘Churchy’. There are two main things here: one that we would nowadays call ‘general taxation and the welfare state’; and two that falls under the heading of education (primary, secondary, tertiary and research). In many ways, in the 21st-centry, these things are not ‘churchy’: they are not administered by the church (quite rightly not), not part of the usual duties of the church. Nor is STC saying that social workers, teachers and academics should be members of the church clergy. But he is saying that, even when they are not of the church, they are clergy-y. If you see what I mean. That there is something combined of a moulded church-ness and state-ness about this body of people he named ‘clerisy’.

This doesn’t bring us any closer to the most obvious question we surely want to pose of Coleridge’s Church and State: does it have anything to teach us today? Or is it a text of merely historical interest?

We can break this question into at least two, I think. One is: was Coleridge right? And right or not, is what he says still relevant today? Church and State makes a number of verifiable, or at least falsifiable, assertions and it is surely worth checking whether they are true or not. To pick out a couple: is his theory about the origin of the system of taxation as, essentially, religious tithes correct? (Short answer: no—taxation was a secular business in ancient Egypt and Persia; although titheing was also commonplace in the middle east). Whether this has any bearing on the real point STC is making—the advantages of disbursing tax income nationally in ways that are informed by a religious rather than secular rationale—is another matter.

What about the ‘clerisy’? Here matters get tangled. As I noted in the earlier post, one of the ways Coleridge’s clerisy idea developed is into the expansion of the university sector, not just to broaden educational opportunities for the citizenry but to furnish the nation with an intelligentsia. Given the glowing terms in which STC talks of ‘the clerisy’, it would be hard for any latter-day inheritor of the mantle—such as myself—to talk objectively about it. (We’re liable to say: ‘of course the State should pay for our upkeep—and pay us handsomely!’) But I don’t think Coleridge had, well, me in mind when he coined his term. It’s not just that I’m not religious, and that I’m part of a university system specifically set apart from the church. It’s that what we do (increasingly so, with the introduction of tuition fees) is simply not disseminated into every village and home of the realm.

This is one reason—a practical reason—why STC models the clerisy on the clergy. The clerisy’s job is to educate the nation, practically and morally; and to do that it needs to go into every village, even into every home. Priests already do that. My sense is that STC can’t imagine a secular organisation having that same access without it becoming a horrific secret-police-style invasion of privacy. (The 1820s, and the established of the Metropolitan Police Force, was a time when the French-style invasion of state apparatus of law, order and control into private life was fiercely debated and as fiercely opposed).

What about relevance? I want to limit this to the situation in the UK, simply to keep the discussion manageable; but that’s harder to do than it might otherwise be, since it is precisely globalisation that poses the biggest contemporary challenge to the argument Coleridge makes. Relevance becomes hard to assert.

It’s one thing to note how influential he was on the traditions of 19th-century Liberal and even Conservative political thought; it’s another to make the case for his continuing relevance. Indeed, it could be argued that the political world has changed since 1830 in ways that render Coleridge besides the point. It’s not just that the question of whether Catholics should be treated equally under the law is a dead one, for surely nobody would deny that they should. It is more to the point that two of the key salients of Coleridge’s discussion no longer obtain: first, religion is not the force it was—it no longer really makes sense, some might say, to talk of the UK as ‘a Christian nation’ for instance, partly because it is a much more ethnically and religiously diverse nation than it used to be, but also because Atheism has made so many inroads into popular belief. And secondly ‘we’ don’t really believe nations should be run by monarchs any more. The popularity of the House of Windsor has waned and waxed over the last few decades, hitting a low point immediately after the death of Diana (currently, and rather bafflingly to my eyes, the royal family is very popular); but nobody really thinks the Queen should be anything other than a figurehead. Coleridge proposes a checks-and-balances system of government of a particular kind, with the Upper House (‘tradition’) exactly balancing the powers of the lower (‘innovation’); but in the UK over the last century or so we have seen a steady erosion of the powers of the House of Lords, and an increasingly ‘Presidential’ style government by the Commons, which means the Cabinet, which means the P.M. This is not what STC would have wanted

This in turn leads to a question of whether the terms of the debate could be ‘transposed’ into a modern idiom. As it might be: STC talks about Catholics; today ‘we’ are more worried about—let us say—Muslims. But the questions are very similar: do Muslims ‘really’ belong to the UK, or is their allegiance necessarily to a foreign power in Mecca? Can they be trusted, or do they represent a sort of fifth-column within the state? Does ‘accepting’ them (whatever that means) weaken the identity of the UK as a Christian nation? This precise question has been asked more than once in Parliament and the media recently, actually; a few years ago the UK media worked itself into a lather about 'Muslim schools' in Birmingham supposedly 'indoctrinating' kids into Islam. The code-work here is 'radicalising'; which means (since it doesn't really mean, whatever the right-wing think, literally 'turning-into-a-terrorist') 'un-Britishizing'. This in turn could lead to a particular reading of Church and State, or perhaps an argument as to its contemporary relevance, of the sort which I’m sure I can leave to the reader as an exercise. A modern-day Coleridgean would say: we need to rebalance the constitution, taking power away from the executive of the Commons—and the P.M. in particular—and rebooting the Upper Chamber in some way that empowers it; and we need a third element (a President, perhaps, if the monarch no longer has any political credibility) to adjudicate. And indeed, in one big way such a transposition has a lot to recommend it. The political landscape today is polarised between ‘conservatives’ and ‘progressives’ to a much greater degree than was the case in Britain in 1830, when ‘radical’ was (largely) a term of abuse, and liberalism was pretty much indistinguishable from old-school Toryism of the pre-Thatcher 1970s. In this world, where political commentators tend increasingly to pick a side and argue polemically from it, there might be something quite radical in the notion that a healthy body politic should have both these forces constitutionally balanced equally, with some notional arbiter (monarch, President, HAL-style computer, whatever) to ensure that the balance remains equal. I don’t know of any contemporary commentator who is arguing that, though.

There’s a very obvious objection to be made here. What Coleridge means by a Conservative is very different to what a voter in 2021 understands by the term. Indeed, the change wrought by the Thatcher-Reagan reconfiguration of ‘conservatism’ may be the biggest of all the socio-cultural changes between 1830 and now. For Coleridge a conservative is a landowner aristocrat who wants to conserve the old ways, and to resist any modification or amelioration of them. Theirs is an essential feudal view of the way society should operate. Coleridge opposes them to a set of merchants, financiers and professional classes who want to mobilise social change to maximize wealth-generation. This latter group sound very like modern-day Tories (and US Republicans). It’s hard to deny, in fact, that in the terms that Coleridge puts forward, the ‘Commons’ won—they swept the board in fact. They are the only game in town. This (my notional neoColeridgean might say) has proved a pretty mixed blessing; and there it would be to the good if we re-instituted some politically structural way of putting the breaks on unfettered ‘growth’. According to this reading, the contemporary relevance of Church and State would be a matter of replacing the ‘Barons’ of Coleridge’s original design with—let’s say—the Greens of today: a political force premised upon the notion that we have to rein-in change, ‘progress’ and unregulated capitalism in order to preserve something absolutely valuable, the land itself. The problem here, I think, is that the Greens, though certainly popular, are too marginal a force in contemporary politics.

But stop a moment. Is ‘transposition’ into contemporary terms of reference the way to talk about this text? Put it another way: are monarchism, anti-Catholicism and the church all so passé? The news has recently been full of the abdication of Juan Carlos I of Spain, a monarch in exactly the sense that Coleridge would have understood the term who did exactly what Coleridge, in Church and State, says a monarch should do—after Franco’s death in 1975, he restrained the Falangist authoritarian party and brought the progressive democratic party back into the political arena. As for anti-Catholicism—this, it seems to me, is an immensely deep-rooted prejudice in British cultural life. It is not, of course, that active discrimination against Catholics is any longer a feature of the law of the land. But it’s pervasive in a way people looking from outside sometimes find hard to credit. Charles II converted to Catholicism on his deathbed in 1685: he was, actually, functionally a ‘Catholic’ in his private beliefs; but after the Restoration he kept that to himself, believing that the British people would simply not accept rule by a Catholic. His openly Catholic brother James succeeded him, and lasted barely 3 years before the Brits chased him out in a revolution still called ‘Glorious’, replacing him with a foreigner whose chief merit was his Protestantism. Does this have any contemporary relevance? Have we ever had a Catholic Prime Minister? (Answer: oh no). No Catholic has ever so much been leader of the Conservative or Labour parties—though Jews have held both positions. Tony Blair was a Christian, who steered clear of religion in his political dealings—Alastair Campbell famously said ‘we don’t do God’—and was an Anglican communicant throughout his term as PM. His wife, though, was Catholic; and almost as soon as Blair stepped down from being Prime Minister he himself converted. You think that timing was coincidental?

To judge by their dominance of the categories of ‘historical fiction’ and ‘screen drama’, the three historical periods which which contemporary Brits are most fascinated, or perhaps obsessed, are: the Tudors (all those sexy woman in elaborate dresses running the risk of getting their elegant swan-white necks chopped by the axe-man); the Victorians—everything from neo-Dickensian tales of urchins and prostitutes, to Steampunk and its variants—and World War 2. Putting the last one on one side for a moment, what is it that links the previous two? Outwith living memory, but times of national ‘belief’ that hinge, in crucial though largely hidden ways, on the relationship between Englishness and Protestantism, in contra-distinction to Catholicism. Henry VIII’s creation of the Church of England is the horizon of all those sexy Tudor stories. The emancipation of Catholics in 1829 is the context for (to return to the matter in hand) Coleridge’s Church and State.

‘Religion?’ you say. ‘No, no: class is the crucial thing. Or ethnicity.’ I don’t know. The main focus for the question of Catholicism was Ireland; and Ireland is still a live political issue—even after the Good Friday agreement and the reduction (though not cessation) of hostilities. ‘The Troubles’ shaped my own upbringing, in London in the 1970s as the IRA planted bombs to kill people like me. And the key question here is: why was it Irish nationalists who did this? There have been equally earnest Welsh and Scottish nationalist movements—the latter may be about to engineer an independent Scotland. But the Tartan Army never mobilized the way the IRA did. What this says to me is that these movements were not about ‘celtic-ness’, or about mere hostility to ‘England’, in both of which Scotland and Wales were surely as energised as was Ireland. They are about religion: wholly Protestant Wales, largely Protestant Scotland.

Some 1830 context. The Jacobite rebellion of 1746 had been a sectarian as well as a Tory-political attempt to revolution; and Scotland suffered oppression in its aftermath, up to and including legislative strictures. But by the early 1900s Scotland was more-or-less re-assimilated into the UK, with the enormous success of Scott’s novels throwing a Romantic glamour over the land. The Irish equivalent would be the Irish Confederate Wars, a full century earlier (dragging on through the 17th-century until the Battle of the Boyne in 1690). A hundred years earlier! Yet the reaction from the mainland was both much more severe and long-lasting. Here’s a quick summary of the anti-Catholic ‘Penal Laws’ (mostly enacted after 1690’s Battle of the Boyne, although some predate that battle): exclusion of Catholics from most public offices; a ban on intermarriage with Protestants (repealed 1778); Catholics barred from owning guns or serving in the armed forces (repealed in the Militia Act of 1793); Catholics not permitted to be MPs (not repealed until 1829); Catholics excluded from voting (until 1793); not permitted to study at Trinity College Dublin (repealed 1793); Catholics excluded from the legal professions and the judiciary (repealed, respectively, 1793 and 1829); on a Catholic’s death his legatee could benefit by conversion to the Protestant Church of Ireland; a ban on converting from Protestantism to Catholicism ‘on pain of forfeiting all property estates and legacy to the monarch’ and ‘imprisonment at His Majesty’s Pleasure’; a ban on Catholics buying land under a lease of more than 31 years (repealed 1778); a ban on custody of orphans being granted to Catholics on pain of a £500 fine; a ban on Catholics inheriting Protestant land; Roman Catholic lay priests permitted to preach only after registering to do so according to the terms of the Registration Act of 1704 (but seminary priests and Bishops could not do even this until 1778); when allowed, Catholic churches to be built only from wood, not stone, and away from main roads; ‘no person of the popish religion shall publicly or in private houses teach school, or instruct youth in learning within this realm' upon pain of twenty pounds fine and three months in prison for every such offence’ (repealed in 1782). Is that enough context?

STC thinks that what holds societies together is always an idea. By this he means something halfway between the conventional sense of ideals or notions inside the heads of the many citizens (what a Marxist-influenced thinker might call ‘ideology’)—and a more specifically teleological truth: an idealised destination or aim or purpose. For him the crucial question is not whether laws can be framed to repeal these anti-Catholic oppressions; it is whether British Catholics can buy-in to the idea of being British, rather than French, Roman and whatever else. And his answer to that question is implicit in his three churches. The first of those three is different depending on whether one is a Protestant or a Catholic Church; the third of those three (presumably; for who can fathom divine Providence?) will see the erasure of all petty doctrinal differences over transubstantiation or whatever else. But it is the second, the medial church, that is the crucial battleground.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Sara Amam


Click to embiggen. Notebook entry 3347 is that two-word phrase: Sara Amam. Sara of course is Sara Hutchinson, whom Coleridge loved with a hopeless and unreciprocated passion. I don't know what ‘amam’ means.

It's possible Kathleen Coburn unravels the meaning in her note; but although I own the ‘text’ half of the two-part Notebooks Vol 3 (1808-19), I don't happen to possess a copy of the ‘notes’ half, and in lockdown I can't just pop to my university library and check it out. [See below]

It looks like Coleridge is jotting down, in Latin, the bare fact of his continuing love for Asra, such that Sara Amam would mean something like ‘Beloved Sara’. The thing is: it doesn't mean that (‘beloved Sara’ would be Sara Amata). Amam is not part of the conjugation of amo. So unless this is a transcription or other error for Sara Amem (which would be the first-person present subjunctive ‘were I in love with Sara ...’, unlikely on several fronts) I'm not sure it makes sense. Nor is there any Liddell and Scott entry under (as it might be) ἀμάμ, although there is a word used in Sappho and elsewhere ἀμάμαξυς (‘a vine trained on two poles’): again, surely not what Coleridge is gesturing towards, howsoever apropos it might be as description of post-EPOCH Sara Hutchinson. Which leaves me with: nothing.

When lockdown lifts I'll go see if Coburn's note on this entry sheds any light. 


[Update] Chris Hind, via Twitter, has kindly sent me a scan of Coburn's note, which, it turns out, sheds no light on the matter at all. Hmm. 

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Coleridge quotes Cowley


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 7 January 2021

"Raised by her Love" (1808)

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

Asra Schonthinu

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 3 January 2021

"Fragment in Blank Verse" (1810)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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