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,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.
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!
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.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?’).
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.
Blow the wind southerly,with the famously anapestic
Blow the wind south o'er the
Bonny blue sea
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,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.
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.
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: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).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.
Eheu! dum me mea PsycheThis 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.
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]