Monday, 14 November 2022



In the Biographia Literaria (1818), Coleridge talks, inter alia (inter multa alia) about — though he doesn’t call it this — ‘xenoglossy’: that is, the ability manifested by some people to speak in a language other than their own, despite never having learned that other language. The story goes like this: a few years before Coleridge arrived in Germany (in 1798) there was, ‘in a Roman Catholic town’ in the north of the country, a minor cause célèbre.

A young woman of four or five and twenty, who could neither read, nor write, was seized with a nervous fever; during which, according to the asseverations of all the priests and monks of the neighbourhood, she became possessed, and, as it appeared, by a very learned devil. She continued incessantly talking Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, in very pompous tones and with most distinct enunciation. This possession was rendered more probable by the known fact that she was or had been a heretic. … The case had attracted the particular attention of a young physician, and by his statement many eminent physiologists and psychologists visited the town, and cross-examined the case on the spot. Sheets full of her ravings were taken down from her own mouth, and were found to consist of sentences, coherent and intelligible each for itself, but with little or no connection with each other. Of the Hebrew, a small portion only could be traced to the Bible; the remainder seemed to be in the Rabbinical dialect. All trick or conspiracy was out of the question. Not only had the young woman ever been a harmless, simple creature; but she was evidently labouring under a nervous fever. In the town, in which she had been resident for many years as a servant in different families, no solution presented itself. [Biographia, ch 6]
I tried to track down further information about this case when I edited the Biographia for EUP, but without success. I presume it was a small-town matter, without any ensuing national or international fame; it didn't, I think, make it into any contemporary newspapers or books, and had Coleridge not heard about it first-hand it would probably have been forgotten.

It was, however, far from an isolated example. Indeed, ‘Xenoglossy’ is now an area of study in its own right, something I realised having come across Ian Stevenston’s Unlearned language: New Studies in Xenoglossy (University Press of Virginia, 1984). Stevenson was Carlson Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia Medical School, so a respectable academic (this book is the sequel to an earlier volume of his called, just, Xenoglossy [1976], which I haven’t seen).

Now Xenoglossy — empirically, a real thing, which is to say, something that happens and is reported in the world — presents us with a problem of explanation that itself entails a different kind of problem: for one mode of explanation of the phenomenon leads us into the Land of Woo: of parascience, reincarnation, telepathy, angelic or demonic possession, and by extension, astrology, crystals, UFOs, belief in the England football team’s world-cup-winning prospects etc. These latter are not respectable academic discourses, although the otherwise-respectable Prof Stevenson found himself drawn magnetically into them, or at least into theorising reincarnation. This is a danger that, I suppose, keeps otherwise interested parties from investigating the phenomenon.

Stevenson’s Unlearned Language gives us two carefully evidenced and accredited case-studies, both from the later 20th-century. First is Dolores Jay, a middle-aged American woman married to a Methodist minister. One day her husband, who had studied hypnosis as part of his ‘ministry of healing’, hypnotised Dolores so as to relieve some backache from which she was suffering. Under hypnosis she began speaking German, a language she otherwise did not know, had never studied or spoken before. Intrigued, her husband hypnotised her repeatedly, and discovered not just that Dolores was speaking German, but [a] when speaking German she did not think she was called Dolores (‘Ich bin Gretchen’ she announced) and [b] that the kind of German she was speaking was not contemporary, but bore the traces of an older-fashioned and parochial style and idiom. Stevenson suggests she was speaking the German of about 1860, and of a sort that might be spoken ‘in an isolated rural community in Northern Germany’.

The second case study concerns Uttara Huddar, an Indian woman from Maharati, who taught at the University of Nagpur. Whilst hospitalised for a minor illness Huddar began practising meditation, and was surprised to discover that, in that state, she could speak Bengali, ‘a language that was previously unknown to her’ (her mother-tongue was Marathi). This Bengali-speaking version of Huddar claimed to be called Sharada, a early 19th-century Bengali woman. Huddar did not need to be hypnotised to unlock this language, and unlike Jay did not only speak in reaction to specific questions, but talked for long periods ‘apparently spontaneously’. There was no clear trigger for her Xenoglossy once it had been brought out by her initial meditation, though Stevenson speculates that her Bengali-speaking episodes were related to certain phases of the moon.

Stevenson goes into each case-study in much detail, and provides transcripts of the German and Bengali speechifying of the two women (their xenoglossy was recorded on tape machines) in the book’s appendices. Both women were of good character, without general predilection towards or specific motivation to lie. Both could converse fluently — that is, they did not rely on a few stock phrases, or make utterance merely as parrots do. Stevenson goes to some length to identify what he insists are lexical features that identify the speech as from the 1860s and 1820s respectively (he also quoted other analyses carried out by language experts that he claims support what he says).

How to explain it? One, materialist explanation would occam’s razor these cases by calling them mendacious: these two women were either lying to those around them — that is, they were fakes, who spoke perfectly good German and Bengali but were pretending not to — or else they were lying, as it were, to themselves. It’s possible they both genuinely believed themselves ignorant of these tongues when actually they did have some knowledge. We could speculate that their actions were resolved subconscious urges to which they did not have conscious access.

Stevenson isn’t having any of that. He proposes two explanations, one of which he dismisses. The dismissed one is telepathy: that some other parties, who could speak German and Bengali, were beaming that knowledge into the minds of Jay and Huddar. Stevenson doesn’t believe that’s possible. Which leaves him, he thinks, only one explanation: reincarnation. For Stevenson, the reason American Jay can speak German is that she is the reincarnation of German-speaking Gretchen from the 19th century. In his last chapter he speculates that violent, premature death may make such reincarnation more likely in itself, and more likely to result in a consciousness in which those earlier life-memories are merely dormant, rather than fully subsumed.

I don’t believe this for a moment, I must say. More, I’m not sure this book, though written in a scholarly manner, with citations for all claims and evidence laid out fairly, makes its case convincingly. I’m no Germanist, but even I can see that the Dolores Jay transcripts are mostly Dolores answering ‘ja’ or ‘nein’ to a set of questions, several of which are rather leading. As for Uttara Huddar, here’s William Frawley’s opinion, from his review of Stevenson’s book [in Language, 61:3 (1985), 739]:
With Dolores Jay, the data, given in an appendix [suggests] that the subject cannot carry on anything like German discourse: she is excellent at answering yes/no questions, but that is about all; the lexicon is extremely limited. The Bengali data, also in the appendix, are given in translation, so it is impossible to judge this subject’s ability in Bengali adequately. In each case, one must rely on testimony, with signed affidavits, by speakers of German and Bengali that the subjects can, indeed, speak the xenoglossically manifest languages … Stevenson underplays the fact that, in Case 2, the woman speaks Marathi (related to Bengali), has studied Sanskrit (from which both Marathi and Bengali derive), lives in a town where there are ten thousand Bengalis, and has very poor Bengali pronunciation (as testified by the experts). Could the subject be speaking some form of pidgin Bengali? Science has not been given its due here.
This doesn’t sound so nearly dazzling, I think.

The data still require explanation, of course, but we can perhaps provide one without resorting to theories of reincarnation. It is surely relevant that each women is from a specific culture that, in the case of Jay, is glossolalian (the Pentecost is attested in the Bible after all, and ‘speaking in tongues’ has a high profile and status in many North American churches), and, in the case of Huddar, believes in reincarnation. In both cases we can imagine a motivation, perhaps occluded to the individual concerned, to do with asserting identity, or being heard and noticed, or being connected with the past (and therefore to do with continuity, and belonging), that gets filtered through the respective individual’s cultural priors. This need not be a conscious act of fakery.

Not that fakery can be ruled out, of course, in every case. Here’s one example — I would say— from Ernest Bozzano’s Polyglot Mediumship (1932). A séance was held in London on February 27th, 1924, attended by amongst others the Welsh writer and playwright Caradoc Evans. The medium, an American woman, calling herself ‘Valiantine’, insisted she spoke no Welsh. She addressed Caradoc Evans, in English, claiming to be the spirit of his dead father. Evans replied: ‘speak to me in your own language’, which the medium then did, answering questions about where Evans senior had died and giving a detailed description of the house in Carmarthen where he had lived. The conversation was, we are told, ‘cut short’, although it seems Evans was perfectly convinced he had been speaking to his father. The balance of probabilities here, especially given the widespread evidence of fraudulent practice by so many so-called mediums, is that ‘Valiantine’ actually spoke Welsh and was lying when she said she couldn’t — perhaps she was Welsh and was affecting an American identity for her commercial work — and that, moreover, she had done some research on her celebrated guest, knowing that he would be coming to her séance, being ready to ‘cut off’ all conversation, blaming some spiritualist loss-of-signal, once the questions moved her out of her comfort zone. As Derren Brown has shown over and over, people will do very much more than meet you halfway, and will fill-in a great many blanks with their own preconceptions, hopes and desires, if you are unscrupulous enough to pretend what you are not, and give them a wire-frame with which to work.

What about Coleridge? He was not a believer in reincarnation, and he’s not persuaded that this this case evinces demonic possession; but he does, in the Biographia, offer an explanation for the German housemaid’s surprising abilities in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. STC reports that a young doctor, called to examine the case, proved ‘determined to trace her past life step by step; for the patient herself was incapable of returning a rational answer’:
He at length succeeded in discovering the place, where her parents had lived: travelled thither, found them dead, but an uncle surviving; and from him learned, that the patient had been charitably taken by an old Protestant pastor at nine years old, and had remained with him some years, even till the old man’s death. Of this pastor the uncle knew nothing, but that he was a very good man. With great difficulty, and after much search, our young medical philosopher discovered a niece of the pastor’s, who had lived with him as his house-keeper, and had inherited his effects. She remembered the girl; related, that her venerable uncle had been too indulgent, and could not bear to hear the girl scolded; that she was willing to have kept her, but that, after her patron’s death, the girl herself refused to stay. Anxious inquiries were then, of course, made concerning the pastor’s habits; and the solution of the phenomenon was soon obtained. For it appeared, that it had been the old man’s custom, for years, to walk up and down a passage of his house into which the kitchen door opened, and to read to himself with a loud voice, out of his favourite books. A considerable number of these were still in the niece’s possession. She added, that he was a very learned man and a great Hebraist. Among the books were found a collection of Rabbinical writings, together with several of the Greek and Latin Fathers; and the physician succeeded in identifying so many passages with those taken down at the young woman’s bedside, that no doubt could remain in any rational mind concerning the true origin of the impressions made on her nervous system.
Just as Stevenson finds in his case studies evidence to support his prior belief in reincarnation, so Coleridge finds in this tale support for his prior belief — which was that the human memory is infinitely capacious, that we forget nothing and only suppress it to avoid being overwhelmed by the Niagara-gush of sensation and memory. Coleridge believed that when we die, and rejoin the infinite, absolutely all our life’s memories of absolutely everything, down to the most trivial, will be accessible to us again.

I don’t think our memories are infinite, as Coleridge did, but I’d have to assume that xenoglossy relates in some way to memory. I wonder if, given the well known linguistic plasticity and capaciousness of young brains (something we lose as we grow up), various languages other than the main one(s) spoken at home don’t get, to some extent, taken aboard, stored in some cached way, and are liable to reemerge to surprise even us. But I don’t know.

As for Stevenson, his belief in life-after-death and reincarnation led to some other psychiatrists and academics dismissing him as a crank, although he still has his followers in the parascientific world. Before he died he set-up a combination lock with a secret word or phrase and deposited it in a filing cabinet in his department. He told his colleagues that he would pass the code to them after his death, thereby proving his theories. He died in 2007. According to Wikipedia, his colleague Emily Williams Kelly told The New York Times: “Presumably, if someone had a vivid dream about him, in which there seemed to be a word or a phrase that kept being repeated — I don’t quite know how it would work — if it seemed promising enough, we would try to open it using the combination suggested.” So far the lock remains unopened.

Wednesday, 2 November 2022

Coleridge's Hummel-Bee (1823)

Coleridge, on holiday in Ramsgate in 1823, saw (or heard) a bumblebee fly past his head, and wrote this in his notebook:

An Air, that whizzed δία ἐγκεϕάλου (right across the diameter of my Brain) exactly like a Hummel Bee, alias, Dombeldore, the gentleman with Rappee Spenser, with bands Red, and Orange Plush Breeches, close by my ear, at once sharp and burry, right over the Summit of Quantock, item of Skiddaw at earliest Dawn, just between the Nightingale that I had stopt to hear in the Copse at the Foot of Quantock, and the first Sky-Lark, that was a Song-Fountain, dashing up and sparkling to the Ear’s Eye, in full Column, or ornamented Shaft of Sound in the Order of Gothic Extravaganza, out of Sight, over the Corn-fields on the Descent of the Mountain, on the other side out of sight, tho’ twice I beheld its mute shoot downward in the sunshine like a falling Star of melted Silver— [CN 4:4994; PW 592; 1823]
The entry then shifts to verse:
Flowers are lovely; Love of is flower-like;
Friendship is a shelt’ring Tree;
O the joys, that came down shower-like,
Of Beauty, Truth, and Liberty—
When I was young, ere I was old—
O Youth that wert so glad, so bold,
What quaint Disguise hast thou put on.
Wouldn’t make believe, that thou art gone,
O Youth! Thy Vesper Bell has not toll’d
O Youth, so true, so fair, so free,
Thy Vesper Bell has not yet toll’d—
Thou always &c
Thou always were a Masker bold!—
To make believe, that thou art gone!
Ah! was it not enough that Thou
In they eternal Glory should’st outgo me?
Wouldst thou not Grief’s sad Victory allow?
Hope’s a Breeze that robs the Blossoms
Fancy feeds on murmurs the Bee
Coleridge later augmented and published this as ‘Youth and Age’ (it appeared in several annuals in the later 1820s, and was collected in STC’s Poetical Works in 1828). 

Verse, a breeze mid blossoms straying,
Where Hope clung feeding, like a bee—
Both were mine! Life went a maying
With Nature, Hope, and Poesy,
When I was young!

When I was young?—Ah, woful When!
Ah! for the change 'twixt Now and Then!
This breathing house not built with hands,
This body that does me grievous wrong,
O'er aery cliffs and glittering sands,
How lightly then it flashed along;—
Like those trim skiffs, unknown of yore,
On winding lakes and rivers wide,
That ask no aid of sail or oar,
That fear no spite of wind or tide!
Nought cared this body for wind or weather
When Youth and I lived in 't together.

Flowers are lovely; Love is flower-like;
Friendship is a sheltering tree;
O! the joys, that came down shower-like,
Of Friendship, Love, and Liberty,
Ere I was old!

Ere I was old ? Ah woful Ere,
Which tells me, Youth's no longer here!
O Youth! for years so many and sweet,
'Tis known, that Thou and I were one,
I'll think it but a fond conceit—
It cannot be that Thou art gone!
Thy vesper-bell hath not yet toll'd: —
And thou wert aye a masker bold!
What strange disguise hast now put on,
To make believe, that thou art gone?
I see these locks in silvery slips,
This drooping gait, this altered size:
But Spring-tide blossoms on thy lips,
And tears take sunshine from thine eyes!
Life is but thought: so think I will
That Youth and I are house-mates still.
Let’s go back to the beginning: start with the bee (you can click these, to embiggen):
The Greek means “across my brain”, as STC's own parenthesis tells us. A “Rappee Spencer” is a type of jacket, named after the 2nd Earl Spencer, worn when taking snuff (and so generally covered in snuff dust): rappee is another word for snuff, from the French tabac râpé, “grated or powdered tobacco”; and a Spencer jacket was “pompadour”, which is to say, scarlet or bright pink cloth, cut short at the back and to a flaring pattern. It is from Earl Spencer that we get the idea that a smoking jacket should be red.
Finish the outfit off with red-orange velvet trousers. I must say, I love this gentleman bee! 

Perhaps we think orange and red an unusual coloration for a bumblebee—yellow and black is more conventional, after all—but I take it that Coleridge sees red as the darker of the two hues, and orange as running on a continuum from yellow, so not too far away. And actually, I think there’s a contemporary fashion note here. Around 1800 a new, bright orange dye was developed from chromate of lead and caustic lye, and for a while orange became a go-to colour for the fashionable dresser. Here's The Gentleman's Monthly Miscellany in 1802, reporting on the latest craze:

From this bee Coleridge’s associative writing goes to a memory of his younger days, in the Quantocks, hearing bees and also birds. The transition is abrupt to “right over the Summit of Quantock”, and time shifts in STC's memory back many years and back to the start of the day, “at earliest Dawn, just between the Nightingale that I had stopt to hear in the Copse ... and the first Sky-Lark.” This latter bird, so often the topic of Romantic poetry praising its liquid song, flies out of hearing, “tho’ twice I beheld its mute shoot downward in the sunshine like a falling Star of melted Silver—”

It is, in other words, the sound of the bee (sharp and burry), not his fashionable suit of clothes, that really engages Coleridge’s imagination. The buzz of the bee is contrasted with the ‘dashing up and sparkling’ songs of the Sky-Lark, striking what, in splendidly illogical zeugma, Coleridge calls ‘the ear’s eye’. Only a few years before, writing the Biographia, Coleridge had ridiculed Oliver Goldsmith’s couplet:
No more will I endure love's pleasing pain,
Or round my heart's leg tie his galling chain
… though it’s hard to see that this ‘ear’s eye’ is any less absurd. Of the Goldsmith line STC says, somewhat sternly: “our faulty elder poets sacrificed the passion and passionate flow of poetry to the subtleties of intellect and to the stars of wit; the moderns to the glare and glitter of a perpetual, yet broken and heterogeneous imagery, or rather to an amphibious something, made up, half of image, and half of abstract meaning.”

But here, only half a decade after the Biographia, STC's thoughts amphibiously move from seeing-ears to architecture, materialising the evanescent sonic beauty of the bird’s song into marmoreal figures of ‘full Column, or ornamented Shaft of Sound in the Order of Gothic Extravaganza’. These shafts rise up, and continue out of sight—Coleridge repeats the phrase twice, ‘out of Sight, over the Corn-fields on the Descent of the Mountain, on the other side out of sight’, as if his ear’s eye is searching for the pillar’d song, and not finding it. Finally, before he moves to poetry, he notes a soundlessness in the bird’s ‘mute’ plummet, ‘like a falling star of melted silver’. Red, orange, silver; buzz, birdsong, silence; a sound running δία ἐγκεϕάλου like an architectural spar, something solid (those occasions when Homer uses the phrase δία ἐγκεϕάλου the reference is always to an arrow or a spear physically bisecting the brainpan of a falling warrior) which is then offset by the upright pillars of birdsong.

The poem that follows this gorgeous paragraph, in either its first incomplete version or the version that was eventually published, is something of a let-down after such a brilliantly freewheeling associative section of poetic-prose. Something of the dynamic of the horizontal (bees buzzing from flower to flower) and vertical (those trees going straight up, those showers coming straight down) remains, and in the final version this is added to with the vertical-horizontal ‘aery cliffs and glittering sands’ Coleridge's youthful body (‘this breathing house not built with hands’) used to traverse with ease—but with this later draft, the bee is moved to the second line, and the poem soon leaves it behind. Now old age has come, a ‘masker’, to force a ‘strange disguise’ upon Coleridge’s sense of self: whence he works to his conclusion. ‘Life is but thought’, so Coleridge can use the power of his imagination to think himself young again. In a note on the MS, James Dyke Campbell wrote “from the German of Gleim”, ‘a source,’ says J C C Mays, ‘which has remained untraced’. This is, I suppose, Campbell’s guess, long after Coleridge’s death (although maybe he had inside information, from Coleridge himself). Mays thinks it refers only to the last two lines of the final version of the poem, the ‘Life is but thought’ idea, in which case it is presumably to Gleim’s ‘Das Leben ist ein Traum’, 1784. But it's possible Campbell's annotation refers to the entire poem, including the prose notes that function as the loam out of which the seed of the text sprouts, in which case I wonder if Coleridge wasn't thinking of this short poem by Gleim:
Die Gärtnerin und die Biene

Eine kleine Biene flog
Emsig hin und her, und sog
Süßigkeit aus allen Blumen.

“Bienchen,” spricht die Gärtnerin,
Die sie bei der Arbeit trifft,
“Manche Blume hat doch Gift,
Und du saugst aus allen Blumen?”

“Ja,” sagt' sie zur Gärtnerin,
“Ja, das Gift laß ich darin!”

A little bee flew
Busy back and forth, and drew
Sweets from all the flowers.

“Little Bee," says the Gardener,
whom she meets as she goes
"Many blooms are poisonous,
Yet you suck all the flowers?”

“Yes,” she tells the Gardener,
“Yes, I leave the poison inside, there!”
Maybe not.  But the bees are there in both versions of the poem, along with their flowers and their nectar, and sweet youth and poisonous old age are Coleridge's main theme: the contrasts that structure the poem, those verticals and horizontals, decrepit age and vigorous youth (Gleim's Süßigkeit and Gift). Dumbledore, now repurposed as the name of a fictional wizard, is an antique name for bumble-bee, and combines two elements: the bumbling, dumbling, mazy motion of the insect in flight, and the noise it makes: “dore” or “dor”, is the word for a buzzing insect (from Old English dora, “one that hums”), related to the Old English drān “drone”). The sound, the motion, although also implying the rich dorade colours, golden yellow, pompadour, velvet and by opposition the “falling Star of melted Silver” into which the bee transforms itself in the crucible of Coleridge's imaginative memory.

Sunday, 2 October 2022

Coleridge’s “Church and State”: Thoughts

Here's a stab at getting my Church and State thoughts in order (my read through of chapters 1-4 is here, and chapters 5-12 here). I have previously wondered: can Coleridge 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 sometimes worshipped of a Sunday), the ‘Church of Christ’, an other-worldly divine 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 this book 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. This book is, I think, simpler than has been thought. The key, I think, is the ‘three churches’ idea. 

We should distinguish two aspects to religion; indeed, not grasping this was one of the flaws in the whole Dawkins/New Atheism movement earlier this century. So: 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. By denying the truth of these beliefs he thinks he's done enough to pull-down the edifice of the Church. But as many people 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, belonging 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 argues 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 the 21st-century these things are not seen as ‘churchy’, or at least they are not administered by the church (quite rightly not, it seems to me), 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 merely a historical curio, of its time and now exploded, out-of-date?

We can break this question down a little more. One aspect is: was Coleridge right in arguing what he does in this book? And right or not, is what he says still viable 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). Does this have any bearing on the real point STC is making, though—that is, the advantages of disbursing tax income nationally in ways that are informed by a religious rather than secular rationale? I'm not sure it does.

What about the ‘clerisy’? Here matters get a little 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. (People like me are of course liable to say: ‘naturally 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 is simply not disseminated into every corner 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 Coleridge proved 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’, 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, the death of Elizabeth II resulted in an outpouring of genuine grief and loyalty, but I'd be surprised if that good-feeling is carried over into the reign of Charles III); 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. It has been excerbated by the behaviour of the Tory PMs since Brexit—itself a bitter example of a country divided almost exactly down the middle, in which one side has forced an extreme version of their political vision on the whole country, disregarding and indeed mocking as ‘traitors’ and ‘remoaners’ the half that disagreed, without the mediating influence of a Coleridgean sovereign to ameliorate the extremism. Johnson's 2019 prorogation of Parliament was, in fact, him as PM defanging and dismissing the Houses of Commons and Lords to prevent them assuming precisely such a role. The consequences have been, over and above the economic catastrophe of Brexit itself, a polarisation and demeaning of the climate of the country as a whole: more violent and angry and partisan. A fully STC/Church and State set-up, we might think, would have avoiding this disaster.

This in turn leads to a question of how far the terms of the debate mounted in Coleridge's book can be ‘transposed’ into a modern idiom. STC's bugbear is Catholics. Today ‘we’ are more worried about—let us say—Muslims (for valences of we that don't include actual followers of Islam, of course). 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? The code-work here is 'radicalising'; which means (since it doesn't really mean, whatever UKIP 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 might 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 actually empowers it; plus we need a third element (a President, perhaps, if the monarch no longer has any political credibility) to adjudicate the two. And indeed, in one big way such a transposition has a lot to recommend it. Brexit is only one iteration of a larger issue, which is that 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 2022 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? Back in 2014 Juan Carlos I of Spain formally abdicated: he had been a monarch in exactly the sense that Coleridge would have understood the term, which is to say, he did exactly what 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? Until very recently the answer to that question was: no. Indeed, no Catholic had 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, is Catholic; and almost as soon as Blair stepped down from being Prime Minister he himself converted. You think that timing was coincidental? The exception that proves the rule: Boris Johnson, by my reckoning, the first UK P.M. to have beem a Catholic, although we might add (a) though he was baptised a Catholic he was actually confirmed into the Church of England and spent most of his career as a notional Protestant; his return to Catholicism, if that's what it was, only came to light when he married his third, or thirteenth (I forget) wife in a Catholic church, 29th May 2021. And (b) one short year later he was announcing his resignation. His replacement, Liz Truss, is an Anglican.

I don't mean to descend into mere conspiracy theorising: Johnson was forced out of office for several reasons, and being a Catholic was not one. But I do suggest that Coleridge's focus on Catholicism as the ‘Other’ was not mere personal or individual prejudice, but tapped-in to something deeper in the British collective psyche. 

So for example: to judge by their dominance of the categories of ‘historical fiction’ and ‘screen drama’, the three historical periods with 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? They are both outwith living memory, but are nonetheless 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, nowadays. Or ethnicity.’ I don’t know. Maybe you're right. 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, 28 September 2022

Reading Coleridge’s “Church and State”: Part Two (Chaps 5-12)

Chapters 1-4, here. Those first four chapters are the prelude to the main discussion of Constitution of Church and State. We know this because STC opens chapter 5 with: ‘after these introductory preparations, I can have no difficulty in setting forth the right idea of a national Church.’ We leave the Levites behind to pot a history of the Church of England as a third estate, after the Lords Temporal and the Commons. The ‘Nationality’ (STC’s term for that portion of the national wealth extracted from the private hands of landowners and aristos by titheing) is there for the financial maintenance of this third estate. The twist is that, according to Coleridge, their duties were only partly ‘spiritual’—preaching, burying, marrying and so on. More important was that the church provided an educative and cultural lead. The clergy were
a permanent class or order, with the following duties. A certain smaller number were to remain at the fountain heads of the humanities, in cultivating and enlarging the knowledge already possessed, and in watching over the interests of physical and moral science; being, likewise, the instructors of such as constituted, or were to constitute, the remaining more numerous classes of the order. This latter and far more numerous body were to be distributed throughout the country, so as not to leave even the smallest integral part or division without a resident guide, guardian, and instructor; the objects and final intention of the whole order being these — to preserve the stores, to guard the treasures of past civilization, and thus to bind the present with the past … but especially to diffuse through the whole community and to every native entitled to its laws and rights, that quantity and quality of knowledge which was indispensable both for the understanding of those rights, and for the performance of the duties correspondent. [44-45]
The clergy also had an ‘international’ role, in maintaining the nation’s ‘character of general civilization’, something which STC rather strikingly places ‘equal with, or rather more than’ tax-funded armies, navies and air forces (not that last one, obviously) as ‘the ground of its defensive and offensive power.’ What is it stops Putin invading? Why, a phalanx of our cultured and acculturing vicars, of course.

So the model is: the Lords (temporal) work for ‘permanence’, the Commons, merchants, professionals and so on—work for ‘progression’. And? ‘The object of the National Church, the third remaining estate of the realm, was to secure and improve that civilization, without which the nation could be neither permanent nor progressive.’ ‘Clergy’, STC insists, is the same word etymologically as ‘clerk’, the educated or learned man. And here we get two central Coleridgean ideas. First the difference between the perfect ‘Church of Christ’ and the actual church. The first of these is an ekklesia. This is the Greek word for ‘church’ in the NT: from the older Greek for ‘assembly’, any place where people assembled, from where the call went out (ἐκ “out” καλέω “I call”); but Coleridge takes it in a special sense. The ‘out’ means ‘out of this world’; and the communion of this ‘Church’ is ‘the communion of such as are called out of the world’. I don’t honestly know whether STC means, by this, people who have departed the world altogether—who have, that is, died and gone to Christ; or whether he means people who have done the hermetic or monkish thing and left behind all worldly things. It probably doesn’t matter, since the emphasis here is not on this ‘out-of-the-world’ of the church; it’s on the in-the-world version of the church, the church that engages with actual peoples’ day-to-day living, and for that Coleridge coins the term ‘enclesia’, the ‘in-called’, what STC defines as ‘an order of men chosen in and of the realm, and constituting an estate of that realm’

The second thing is the Big Idea to have come out of this book—the ‘clerisy’. Here’s what the chapter says:
The CLERISY of the nation, or national church, in its primary acceptation and original intention, comprehended the learned of all denominations;—the sages and professors of the law and jurisprudence, of medicine and physiology, of music, of military and civil architecture, of the physical sciences, with the mathematical as the common organ of the preceding; in short, all the so called liberal arts and sciences, the possession and application of which constitute the civilization of a country, as well as the Theological. The last was, indeed, placed at the head of all; and of good right did it claim the precedence. But why? Because under the name of Theology, or Divinity, were contained the interpretation of languages; the conservation and tradition of past events; the momentous epochs, and revolutions of the race and nation; the continuation of the records; logic, ethics, and the determination of ethical science, in application to the rights and duties of men in all their various relations, social and civil; and lastly, the ground-knowledge, the prima scientia as it was named, — PHILOSOPHY. [47]
In the first edition this definition gets hived off under the slightly strange sub-header ‘PARAGRAPH THE FIRST’. It’s been a pretty influential notion, not least in my own day-job profession of ‘Academic’. Because STC is clear that the duties of the clerisy are largely pedagogic: primarily to dispose of ‘materials of NATIONAL EDUCATION, the nisus formativus of the body politic, the shaping and informing spirit, which, educing or eliciting the latent man in all the natives of the soil, trains them up to be citizens of the country, free subjects of the realm’. ‘Nisus formativus’ means the forming force, the formative urge; and ‘educing’ (Latin: educo ‘I lead out, I draw out; I raise up, I erect”; via e ‘from, out of’; and duco ‘I lead, I conduct’) puts me in mind of my old English teacher at school, Mr Broadstairs. ‘Education is a drawing out, not a putting in’ he would announce ringingly: 'drawing out! not putting in!' ... and, ignoring our titters, he would then proceed to cram in as much as he could of the stuff we needed to pass the exams. Ah, the joys of a state school education.

So, yes; the UK’s reliance on church schools (true to this day, although to a lesser extent than was the case in the 1820s) is a function of this idea of Coleridge’s clerisy: compare the resolutely secular school provision of France. But more to the point the development and expansion of the university sector in the later 19th and throughout the 20th-centuries was—right up to the Thactherite redefinition of education as a function of market-force-led adding value in a strictly monetary sense—a concerted and large-scale attempt precisely to realise a non-clerical clerisy, to create a new class—the academics—that would function as a British intelligentsia, with these larger Coleridgean ideals in mind.

I’ll come back to the notion of the ‘clerisy’ in a moment. First a quick scan through chapter 6 (51-63)—a brief history of Henry VIII’s Reformation, and how it went wrong: in a nutshell, the pre-Reformation church had abused the Nationality for its own glory; Henry VIII, having seized the Nationality, should have returned this wealth to the nation by spending liberally on [1] ‘universities and the great schools of liberal learning’, [2], paying for ‘a pastor, presbyter, or parson in every parish and [3] ‘a schoolmaster in every parish’
— namely, in producing and re-producing, in preserving, continuing, and perfecting, the necessary sources and conditions of national civilization. [56]
But Henry didn’t do this. Luckily for Coleridge’s purposes, he is not presenting the actual church Henry set-up as the model. ‘Let it be borne in mind,’ he reminds the reader, with some asperity, ‘that my object has been to present the idea of a National Church, not the history of the Church established in this nation.’ [61].

Chapter 7 (63-71; ‘Regrets and Apprehensions’) notes that the nation is more prosperous than it was in Tudor times. Despite the absence of a ‘clerisy’ in the fullest sense, merchants, financiers, lawers and other professionals have grown rich. But, in rather clotted polemical style, STC spends this chapter attacking this wealth:
Yea, the machinery of the wealth of the nation made up of the wretchedness, disease and depravity of those who should constitute the strength of the nation! Disease, I say, and vice, while the wheels are in full motion; but at the first stop the magic wealth-machine is converted into an intolerable weight of pauperism! [65]
The antiquated cod-Biblicalisms of this aside, there’s a strikingly up-to-date Occupy-esque outrage about all this. Coleridge lays into ‘Game Laws, Corn Laws, Cotton Factories, Spitalfields, the tillers of the land paid by poor rates, and the remainder of the population mechanized into engines for the manufactory of new rich men’. He attacks ‘a swarm of clever, well-informed men’ governing without wisdom or heart—‘Despotism of finance in government … and hardness of heart in political economy’ [69], and points to the fruit of such behaviour in mass alcoholism and a huge explosion in crime:
Gin consumed by paupers to the value of about eighteen millions yearly: … crimes quadrupled for the whole country, and in some counties decupled.
None of this was mere rhetoric. In the 1820s 14 million gallons of gin were being consumed annually  [Peter Mathias, The Brewing Industry in England, 1700-1830 (Cambridge Univ. Press 1959), 375]. Gin drinking was widely perceived as a social problem of long-standing, and one which had been exacerbated by the reduction of Gin Duty in 1826, which, by lowering the price, resulted in an increase in gin-related drunkenness. As for crime—well in 1809 5,330 criminal trials resulted in 3,238 prosecutions. In 1815 those numbers had risen to 7,818 and 4,883 respectively, and by 1829 (when STC was writing Church and State) the numbers were 18,675 and 13,261. ‘Quadrupled’, in other words, is no exaggeration. [Figures for England and Wales, from B .R Mitchell, British Historical Statistics (Cambridge Univ. Press 1988), 783]

So: Britain was going to hell in a handcart. What to do? Chapter 8 has the answer: a proper reorientation of the potential of the Nationality. Coleridge proposes, in essence, a sort of ur-Welfare State, although one with a primary focus on (religiously led) education and only secondarily on the maintenance of paupers—and even then only those too old and infirm to work.
Determin[ing] the nationalty to the following objects: 1st. To the maintenance of the Universities and the great liberal schools: 2ndly. To the maintenance of a pastor and schoolmaster in every parish: 3rdly. To the raising and keeping in repair of the churches, schools, &c., and, Lastly: to the maintenance of the proper, that is, the infirm, poor whether from age or sickness. [72]
What’s interesting here, in hindsight, is that STC is not making the case for what actually (in essence) came to pass—that general taxation should be used to fund a welfare state. He’s adamant that the clerisy should be, at heart, agents of the National Church, not of the secular government. He concludes chapt. 8 with a gushing panegyric to the Church of England, lifted from Biographia Literaria (‘Protestant Church Establishment, this it is, which the patriot, and the philanthropist, who would fain unite the love of peace with a faith in the progressive amelioration of mankind, cannot estimate at too high a price—It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire’ and so on). Chapter 9 stresses the things that would disqualify a person from being a member of the clerisy: two big no-nos, one bigger than the other (it would be ‘a foul treason against the most fundamental rights and interests of the realm’):
what the reader will have anticipated, that the first absolute disqualification is allegiance to a foreign power: the second, the abjuration — under the command and authority of this power … — of that bond, which more than all other ties connects the citizen with his country. [83-84]
A third thing creeps in as this chapter proceeds: the ‘compulsory celibacy’ of the clergy. No need for the clerisy to so limit their procreative urges. It is, clearly enough, a dig at the Catholics, this.

We’re now declaredly into the ‘practical conclusion’, as Coleridge calls it, of the volume. Chapter 10 praises the necessity of the King as a unifying point for the nation: ‘as the head of the National Church,or Clerisy, and the protector and supreme trustee of the NATIONALTY’. STC makes several points in this chapter. Here's one:
The first condition then required, in order to a sound constitution of the Body Politic, is a due proportion of the free and permeative life and energy of the nation to the organized powers brought within containing channels.
These two forces (‘free and permeative’ on the hand, ‘containing channels and organizing powers’ on the other) need to be in balance, but that balance can’t be relied upon to happen naturally. That’s why a monarch is needful, to adjudicate. And so to chapter 11, on the powers of Parliament and the necessary limitations of same, with the emphasis on the latter. Finally chapter 12 sums up: Parliament on its own is too fallible, too subject to the ‘fluctuating majorities’ of the popular vote—‘an Omnipotency which ha[s] so little claim to Omniscience’. As for the Lords, they may ‘be reasonably presumed to feel a sincere and lively concern, but who, the experience of ages might teach us, are not the class of persons most likely to study, or feel a deep concern in, the interests here spoken of, in either sense of the term CHURCH; — i.e. whether the interests be of a kingdom “not of the World”.
Knowing this, our ancestors chose to place their reliance on the honour and conscience of an individual, whose comparative height, it was believed, would exempt him from the gusts and shifting currents, that agitate the lower region of the political atmosphere. [119]
And the book concludes with a consideration of whether the King’s coronation oath restricts him from giving royal assent to the emancipation of Catholics. I say ‘concludes’: not for the first time in his publishing career Coleridge adds lengthy appendices—two long disquisitions on the ‘Idea of the Christian Church’ and another on the ‘Third’ Church ‘Neither National nor Universal’, which puts the boot into Roman Catholicism. But, lacking world enough and time, I won’t go into those two essays here. Then there’s a ‘Letter to a Friend’, about the specifics of the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Bill (the second edition entitled this ‘AIDS TO A RIGHT APPRECIATION OF THE ACT ADMITTING CATHOLICS TO SIT IN BOTH HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT’) and a glossary explaining the terminology of the preceding letter. The volume ends with a long letter, originally sent to Edward Coleridge in July 1826, here added-in as ‘Appendix’, which touches on some of the fundamentals of STC’s own faith. Phew!

Tomorrow I'll post some thoughts on the whole thing, with particular attention to contemporary relevance etc.

Reading Coleridge’s “Church and State”: Part One (Chaps 1-4)

Andrew Elfenbein has it right. ‘Victorianists,’ he says, ‘have not been entirely ignorant of Coleridge's tract ...’  Is there a but? There is a but:
But it is generally relegated to the tomb of intellectual history, a victim of concise paraphrase. Paraphrases do not get Coleridge wrong, but they kill off his intellectual seriousness, ambition, and emotional longing. They do not convey why so many Victorians cared as much as they did about what Coleridge wrote. [Elfenbein, ‘Samuel Taylor Coleridge, On the Constitution of the Church and State (1829)’, Victorian Review 35:1 (Spring 2009), 19]
And care they did! This short book directly inspired and informed the political and social theories of John Stuart Mill, Thomas Arnold, Matthew Arnold, Henry Sidwick, F D Maurice and many others. Gladstone called the book 'masterly', and attempted to govern by its principles.

It's a book that really deserves to be better known; and for that reason I’m now going to lay out precisely the kind of paraphrase Elfenbein is deprecating in that opening quotation. I’m doing so because it seems to me a useful first step in getting a hold of Church and State. This work, as Peter Allen says, ‘became his most immediately influential work, has inspired a succession of distinguished social critics and remains essential reading in the history of thought on educated elites’; but he’s also spot-on that ‘as descriptive catalogues go Church and State is brilliantly suggestive and maddeningly elliptical.’ [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), 89-106; 89] So let me quickly step through the argument of this short book. I’m going to refer to the different chapters, even thought STC’s first edition doesn’t divide the work that way—Henry Nelson Coleridge’s 1839 edition, issued five years after Coleridge’s death, replaces the first two subheadings (‘Prefatory Remarks’, ‘Concerning the Right Idea of the Constitution’ and so on) with ‘Chapter 1’, ‘Chapter 2’, and then cuts up the remaining block of text into another 10 sections numbered chapters 3-12. And I shall follow him, even though it’s the first edition (available free online in its entirety from Google Books) from which I’m working here.

Chapter 1 starts with some remarks on the historical circumstance out of which the book was written: ‘the Bill lately passed for the admission of Roman Catholics into the Legislature’ (which is to say: the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829). But the third paragraph gets to the meat of the issue without further to-doing. STC defines what he means by ‘Constitution’ and by ‘National Church’.
The true Idea of a CONSTITUTION, and, likewise, of a NATIONAL CHURCH. And in giving the essential character of the latter, I shall briefly specify its distinction from the Church of Christ, and its contra-distinction from a third form, which is neither national nor Christian, but irreconcileable with, and subversive of, both. [3]
The latter is a three-part distinction. There is the actual Church (in Coleridge's case the Anglican Church) made up of its priests and its congregation, owning certain properties such as church-buildings, and performing religious services on Sundays and at other times, and doing all the things Anglicanism does—from organising fêtes on up. That’s A. Then there’s a kind of spiritual perfection of ‘the Church’, what it means to be a member of the body of Christianity in the eyes of God, under the species of eternity. That’s B. Then, Coleridge insists, there is a third thing meant by ‘Church’, which is somehow strung between the two. Park that idea; we’ll come back to it. For now we need to know what STC means by ‘idea’. Not Platonic form—not ‘generally held belief about’ a thing and not an notion abstracted from specific examples of a thing in the world. Coleridge means something much more teleological.
By an idea, I mean, (in this instance) that conception of a thing, which is not abstracted from any particular state, form, or mode, in which the thing may happen to exist at this or at that time; nor yet generalized from any number or succession of such forms or modes; but which is given by the knowledge of its ultimate aim. [3]
STC’s idea of the state, and of the Church, is where these two things should be going. In the next paragraph STC says that many people can conceive of what is meant by Church and State, few possess the idea of either. Most people, he says, do not possess an idea, they ‘are possessed by it’ [4]. I'm not sure about that myself, but OK.

He gives the example of Rousseau’s Social Contract. As a ‘conception’, STC says, which is to say, positing it as something that literally and historically happened, it is clearly bobbins: ‘at once false and foolish’. No two humans ever signed such a contract, thereby inspiring others to structure society according to the rational equity of contractualism. But, says Coleridge, as an idea, the social contract is a powerful good.
But if instead of the conception or theory of an original social contract, we say the idea of an ever-originating social contract, this is so certain and so indispensable, that it constitutes the whole ground of the difference between subject and serf, between a commonwealth and a slave-plantation. And this, again, is evolved out of the yet higher idea of person in contra-distinction from thing—all social law and justice being grounded on the principle that a person can never, but by his own fault, become a thing, or, without grievous wrong, be treated as such; and the distinction consisting in this, that a thing may be used altogether and merely as the means to an end; but the person must always be included in the end. [7-8]
This, of course, is a Kantian ethics; and quite right too. What’s distinctively Coleridgean is the notion that the ‘social contract’ is valuable inasmuch as it tends towards an ideal future in which we contract freely with one another as autonomous individuals, each treating each always as an ends in itself rather than as a means to an end.

Likewise, STC insists, with ‘free will’; it makes more ethical sense to think of this as an ‘idea’ than to delve into the brain chemistry of it as an actual fact. And thus, says Coleridge, is the ‘Constitution’ of the State. There is no actual British Constitution; but the idea of the Constitution is demonstrated by ‘our whole history from Alfred onward’ [11]. It is a principle, and thus exists ‘in the only way in which a principle can exist,—in the minds and consciences of the persons whose duties it prescribes, and whose rights it determines. In the same sense that the sciences of arithmetic and of geometry, that mind, that life itself, have reality ; the Constitution has real existence, and does not the less exist in reality, because it both is, and exists as, an IDEA.’ He goes on to compare ‘life’ as determined by ‘a vital principle’; and draws a parallel with the planets orbiting the sun. Kepler and Newton established certain facts about orbital mechanics, which is all to the good; ‘but the principle of gravity, the law in the material creation, the idea of the Creator, is pre-supposed in order to the existence, yea, to the very conception of the existence, of matter itself.’ [14]

He ends the first chapter by lamenting the potential confusion of the term ‘State’. There are, he says, two senses in which the word signifies: there’s a larger sense, where State means ‘the entire realm, including the Church’ and a narrower sense in which the State is the secular architecture of social life, distinguished from the spiritual and religious architecture we call Church.

Chapter 2 picks up on this, and explores ‘the Idea of a State in the larger sense of the term, introductory to the constitution of the State in the narrower sense’. The main theme here is that the state is a balance—I’m tempted to say, a dialectic—of ‘permanence’ and ‘progression’. He glances at Roman history before setting out his stall: there are two main power blocs in modern society: on the one hand ‘the agricultural or possessors of land’ and on the other the ‘citizens’ (‘the mercantile, the manufacturing, the distributive, and the professional bodies, under the common name of citizens’). The former, broadly, want to keep things as they have always been; the latter, broadly, want to change things—as they see it, to change things for the better. The chapter then gallops through several historical examples: Dante’s Florence was a free principality, but Austria and Spain have degraded Italy into a feudal state, running-down commercial innovation and concentrating all power in the landowners' hands, such that Italy is now a nation of slaves ‘from the Alps to the Straits of Messina’. Britain, STC argues, is better placed: because the landowners own half the means of legislation—that is, the House of Lords—and the citizens own the other half—the House of Commons—with the monarch, by granting or withholding royal assent, acting as a kind of ‘beam’ or halfway point.
That harmonious balance of the two great correspondent, at once supporting and counterpoising, interests of the State, its permanence, and its progression; that balance of the landed and the personal interests was to be secured by a legislature of two Houses; the first consisting wholly of barons or landholders, permanent and hereditary senators; the second of the knights or minor barons, elected by, and as the representatives of, the remaining landed community, together with the burgesses, the representatives of the commercial, manufacturing, distributive, and professional classes, — the latter (the elected burgesses) constituting the major number. The king, meanwhile, in whom the executive power is vested, it will suffice at present to consider as the beam of the constitutional scales. [27]
And so to the two brief chapters three: ‘on the National Church’ [30-35] and four ‘the Hebrew Commonwealth’ [35-42]. Here Coleridge sketches a history of religious establishment, drawing on the origins of ‘the church’ amongst the Scandinavian, Celtic, Gothic and Semitic tribes. This strikes me as a slightly eccentric narrative, but fair enough: nations get established, and land is distributed between ‘individual warriors’ and ‘heads of families’ and suchlike aristocrats; but the whole wealth of the land is not snaffled up by these people; a ‘reserve’ (what STC called the ‘Nationality’, opposed to the ‘Propriety’ of individual estates) is set aside ‘for the nation itself’. Chapter 4 then elaborates one specific example of this from the history of Israel. Twelve tribes, eleven of which divided the ‘Propriety’ amongst themselves; but Moses insists each have to pay a tithe to the tribe of Levi, who are intrusted not only with the material ‘Nationality’ of this commonwealth but also, and more importantly, with the duty of advance the ‘moral and intellectual character’ of the nation.

The implication of this chapter is that Coleridge could tell a similar history concerning ‘the Celtic, Gothic, and Scandinavian’, but with two crucial salient differences. One is that these tribes have been historically feudal in essence, and more-or-less hostile to the mercantile and professional classes—where with Solomon the Jewish people actively embraced such (as we would say nowadays) ‘wealth-creating’ opportunities—hence all the Jewish merchants, money-lenders and professionals. The other is that these other tribes were polytheistic where the Jews were monotheistic. Both these things, STC thinks, are relevant to the history of Christianity.
Relatively to the Jewish polity, the Jehovah was their covenanted king: and if we draw any inference from the former, the Christian sense of the term, it should be this—that God is the unity of every nation; that the convictions and the will, which are one, the same, and simultaneously acting in a multitude of individual agents, are not the birth of any individual; “that when the people speak loudly and unanimously, it is from their being strongly impressed by the godhead or the demon. Only exclude the (by no means extravagant) supposition of a demoniac possession, and then Vox Populi Vox Dei.” [44]
That last bit loosely quoted from William Wordsworth’s Convention of Cintra (1808). Anyhow, Coleridge closes this chapter with the notion that ‘it was in the name of the KING, in whom both the propriety and the nationalty ideally centered.’

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Prickett's "Words and The Word" (1986) and Coleridge

Stephen Prickett's Words and "The Word": Language, Poetics and Biblical Interpretation (1986) is about more than Coleridge; far more than I can touch on here. But I wanted, in a slight departure for this blog, to review what he does say about Coleridge. It's a pretty famous work, of course; at least among those who explore the intersections between scripture and literature, although it probably gets cited more often by theologians than literary critics.


Words and The Word is an unusually wide-ranging work of literary and theological scholarship, very dense (or, if you prefer, rich) and as such it really does resist easy summary. In a nutshell, Prickett goes back to the eighteenth-century to trace the intricate lines of thought that sought to establish how we should read the Bible, and by extension what mode is the best one in which to approach the divine. He argues that nowadays there is a wall (a 'glacial moraine', he calls it, following Hermann Usener: gletscherwall) separating biblical studies and the study of literature. He traces this back to the influence of Germany had on the establishment of universities in the later 19th-century, but notes that, for a short time, things looked different in England:
The work of Robert Lowth had made possible a new aesthetic appreciation of biblical poetry, and the fact that the first generation of English Romantic poets, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, so far from rejecting Christianity like Humboldt were devout Christians of one kind or another, helped them to find in the Bible far more powerful sources of inspiration than their German contemporaries or their immediate predecessors of the Enlightenment. [1-2]
Nonetheless, Prickett thinks, by the end of the 19th-century, and for various reasons, 'the same wall that divided German scholarship had been successfully transplanted into English institutions and thought'. The consequence of this, he argues, has been a prolonged crisis not just in biblical hermeneutics, but literature as well ('in particular, poetry') which he thinks 'has also suffered a crisis of meaning in the twentieth century' [2]. The book as a whole is a superbly fine-grained, sometimes rather labyrinthine, discussion of the best way of apprehending the biblical 'word': science, hermeneutics, cultural contextualisation, 'the religious and the poetic', paradox, prophesy and metaphor.

According to Prickett Robert Lowth plays a key role in this larger story, on account of his 1754 treatise Praelectiones Academicae de Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum, later translated into English by George Gregory as Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews (1787), and very often reprinted. 'Epoch making', Prickett calls this volume [41]. Now, one of the things Lowth argues is that a prose translation of the Hebrew songs can capture perfectly well many of the poetic qualities of the original. Prickett thinks this directly informed Wordsworth’s thesis, so important in the 1800 Preface to Lyrical Ballads, that poetry and prose are not opposites, and that more than mere metrical regularity defines the former—dignity, passion, authenticity and so on. Coleridge discusses precisely this in the Biographia, including some of his own prose-poetic Biblical translations. It’s a cliché to note (though that doesn’t stop it being true) that Wordsworth’s ‘Preface’ was one of the modern era's single most influential interventions into poetics; and for Prickett this has implications for how we read the Bible as much as it has for how poetry gets written. So for example, in his discussion of Manley Hopkins, Prickett notes that ‘for Hopkins the rediscovery of the Bible as “poetry” did not mean the progressive rediscovery of formal distinctions between verse and prose so much as a rediscovery of the meaning behind the traditional constructs.’ [Prickett, 119]. For Lowth, the calm and rational mind expresses itself in a way we might nowadays call 'scientific'—'the language of reason is cool, temperate, rather humble than elevated, well-arranged and perspicuous'—where where the passionate and agitated mind falls naturally into poetry:
The language of the passions is totally different:—the conceptions burst out in a turbid stream, expressive in a manner of the internal conflict; the more vehement break out in hasty confusion; they catch (without search or study) whatever is impetuous, vivid, or energetic. In a word, reason speaks literally, the passions poetically. The mind, with whatever passion it be agitated, remains fixed upon the object that excited it; and while it is earnest to display it, is not satisfied with a plain and exact description; but adopts one agreeable to its own sensations, splendid or gloomy, jocund or unpleasant. For the passions are naturally inclined to amplification; they wonderfully magnify and exaggerate whatever dwells upon the mind, and labour to express it in animated, bold, and magnificent terms. This they commonly effect by two different methods; partly by illustrating the subject with splendid imagery, and partly by employing new and extraordinary forms of expression, which are indeed possessed of great force and efficacy. [Lowth, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, 140]
One idea that runs through the work of many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers is that 'poetry is the natural language of religion', and that 'the Bible was to be treated as belonging to a higher, more sublime order of discourse than prose', which latter was 'an inferior and late medium fit only for describing the mundane and practical world of everyday affairs' [Prickett, 40]. The business of translating Hebrew and Greek into English becomes more than a series of practical textual difficulties; it stands for a chasm between divine revelation and mundane existence that is, in a strict sense of the term, sublime. Samuel Tongue summarises:
However, as Prickett claims, ‘…the idea of a language of primal of original participation in this sense is only possible to an age that no longer possesses it.’ A sense of the ‘original text’ in an ‘original language’ becomes a major project of discovery and animating absence for both types of Bible. The historical critics attempt an archaeology of biblical linguistics to excavate the authority of the ‘original’; poets and writers go on to attempt a new sense of the ‘originality; of religious-poetic genius in the sublime aesthetic authority of the poetic Bible. [Samuel Tongue, Between Biblical Criticism and Poetic Rewriting: Interpretative Struggles over Genesis 32:22-32 (Leiden: Brill 2014), 41; quoting Prickett, 86]
'Animating absence' is a well-chosen phrase. This necessary belatedness, this (Prickett doesn't use this term, but there was a lot of this sort of stuff about in 1986) aporia, is in an important sense constitutive of Christianity. Words and The Word doesn't discuss the Qu'ran—if Prickett wrote the book nowadays, I wonder if he would have done this—but the contrast is a fascinating one. Muslims are required to apprehend their holy book in its original Arabic, a feature of the core Islamic belief in the Qu'ran's 'inimitability' or I'jaz. There's really nothing like this in contemporary Christianity. Even self-professed literalists in as-it-might-be the US Bible Belt rest their claims that scripture must be interpreted literally on translations of scripture, rather than on the original Hebrew or Greek, languages very few of them are inclined to acquire. Islam is not like this; and one of the things I take Prickett to be arguing (in his roundabout way) is that in a sense it is this very non-inimitability that has proved constitutive of the modern development of Christianity. Not in the sense that Romantics like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey felt licensed to disregard the 'original' in their poetic recreations (on the contrary, Prickett is clear that 'the most noticeable feature of the English "poetic" theological tradition leading from Lowth to the Romantics is its essential conservatism' [124]); but in the sense that a poetic apprehension of religion opens up rather than closes down 'meaning', that it is about animating absences, or opacities, as much as semantic presences.

Indeed, when considering this question Prickett can get very, well, prickly. He has a particular dislike for both the New English Bible and the Good News Bible, both of which he considers not only manifestly inferior to the King James Version, but based on a fundamental misunderstanding, viz. that it is possible to 'write out the meaning plainly' of the Bible.
This belief that religious experience, and the historic record of mankind's deepest questionings and insights can only be adequately described today in the slack, verbose and cliché-ridden language of international communication would be disconcerting if it were not ... so evidently self-defeating. How far is it possible, in the words of the Good News Bible's Preface, 'to use language that is natural, clear, simple and unambiguous', when the Bible is not about things that are natural, clear, simple and unambiguous? or for the linguistically-enfeebled modern theologians struggling on the New English Bible to 'write out the meaning plainly' of what to the taut and concise translators of the seventeenth-century was essentially ambiguous and obscure? [Prickett, 10]
Ouch. This is a little unfair, I think: neither the NEB nor the GNB present themselves as the only works capable of 'adequately' describing the Bible; and the belief that the bible is intrinsically complex, elusive and opaque, whilst flattering the kind of person (like me, I confess; like Prickett, I assume) who tends to valorise difficulty and density, surely doesn't really describe the bible as such, many portions of which are perfectly clear and intelligible. There's clearly merit in making scripture more accessible to the sort of people who would be turned away by the difficulty of the KJV. But you take his point, and there's something rather stirring in his desire to realign the Bible and poetry, or more modestly the Bible and literary criticism, in order ‘to restore a wholeness of approach that has been disastrously fragmented over the past hundred and fifty years’ [197].


What, in this larger context, does Prickett have to say about Coleridge? Words and The Word returns to my man several times, and could have done a lot more with him. He doesn't, for instance, discuss STC's close friendship with Hyman Hurwitz, the preeminent Hebraicist of his era in Britain, a friendship that included Coleridge editing and correcting the English of Hurwitz's Vindiciae Hebraicae, being a Defence of the Hebrew Scriptures as a Vehicle of Revealed Religion (1820) and translating Hurwitz's lengthy Hebrew lament 'On the Death of the Princess Charlotte' (1817). But Prickett does note how Coleridge located a wholeness of expressive poetic symbolicism in scripture, and quotes the famous passage from The Statesman's Manual to the effect that
the histories and political economy of the present and preceding century partake in the general contagion of its mechanic philosophy, and are the product of an unenlivened generalizing understanding. In the Scriptures they are the living educts of the imagination; of that reconciling and mediatory power, which incorporating the reason in images of the sense, and organizing (as it were) the flux of the senses by the permanence and self-circling energies of the reason, gives birth to a system of symbols, harmonious in themselves, and consubstantial with the truths of which they are the conductors. [LS, 29]
Prickett discusses this passage, but I think misses a nuance. In his own copy of The Statesman's Manual, Coleridge scratched out 'educts' and wrote-in 'Produce', and then added this marginalium: 'Or perhaps these μóρφωματα of the mechanic Understanding as distinguished from the 'ποίησεις' of the imaginative Reason might be named Products in antithesis to Produce—or Growths.' The distinction between the two Greek terms, also developed in the Biographia, is elaborated in the headnote to this blog.

I take it that Coleridge sees no functional difference between an educt, or a force that draws something out of us, and a ποίησεις or 'making', a force that 'produces' something in us. Coming out and going in are, he thinks, the same in this case. Or to be more precise, where the sacred 'myths' (in a non-judgmental sense of the word) of scripture are concerned these actions are indistinguishable. Prickett doesn't go into any of that, and when he says 'Biblical narrative ... lives as extensions from the creative or "poetic" imagination' [44] he's only sort-of right: I think Coleridge has in mind a more reciprocal arrangement than is implied by 'extension'. But Prickett is surely right that Coleridge sees the poetic symbol as essentially 'bi-focal', 'always partaking' (to quote The Statesman's Manual again) 'of the Reality which it renders intelligible' and 'abid[ing] itself as a living part in that Unity, of which it is the representative'.
A symbol is thus the opposite of a generalization. The latter is a kind of lowest common denominator, deduced by the understanding from outward events according to the dead arrangement of a mechanical philosophy. In contrast, to describe a symbol, he uses the metaphor of a lens: it is 'translucent'—focusing the universal generality through the concreteness of a particular example. [Prickett, 44]
'There is more [in it] that finds me,' was how Coleridge described the Bible 'than in all other books put together.' This is a beautifully reciprocal way of putting it: you go into your Bible, and your Bible goes into you. You look for things in the Bible; the Bible finds things in you.

In the 'Book of Nature' chapter Prickett brings Coleridge back in. There's a good account of his reading of Horne Tooke's linguistic system: 'Tooke believed that he had shown the stable and unchangeable nature of words. Coleridge fell delight upon his "proof" and rapidly deduced the opposite: the flux and constant change of language. Hartley had assumed a fixed relationship between words and ideas; in attempting to prune back all words to their roots, Tooke had shown Coleridge the astonishing diversity and luxury of the undergrowth that had sprung up' [Prickett, 136-37]. Prickett quotes one of STC's letters:
Are not words etc parts and germinations of the plant? And what is the Law of the Growth?—In something of this order I would endeavour to destroy the old antithesis of Words and Things, elevating, as it were, words into Things, and living Things too.
This is another iteration of Coleridge attachment to the word-made-flesh Logos as the cornerstone of his religious and literary life. There's some stuff on desynonymy, from the 1819 'Philosophical Lectures' (which concept Paul Hamilton, in Coleridge's Poetics (1983) applies as the key to unlock the whole of Coleridge's thought, although not entirely convincingly), but just as things get going we read this:
One could say much more about Coleridge's theories of language. It is a fascinating subject and one that has by no means been fully explored. [138]
And off we go elsewhere. A shame! Instead Prickett argues that most of Coleridge's attempts at desynonymising have failed to catch on. They 'proved over-subtle and too complex to have passed into the language':
His distinction between 'types' and 'symbols' has not survived; his attempt to anglicize the Kantian polarity of 'Reason' and 'understanding' survives only in relation to Idealist philosophy rather than in standard usage; and the carefully elaborated bnaries of Church and State such as 'opposite' and 'contrary' have not passed even into the technical vocabulary of dialectics whose terms are more often from Germany and France. [Prickett, 141]
This is broadly right I think (although 'opposite' and 'contrary' do figure as distinctions in the Greimas square; and that's proved quite influential. Fredric Jameson seems to build all his books around them, for instance. Greimas, as a literature specialist, presumably knew about Coleridge). Aha, you're thinking: what about the distinction between 'imagination' and 'fancy', one of Coleridge's most influential ideas? Surely that piece of desynonymising has passed into popular currency? But Prickett's not having that:
This distinction has suffered a curious and possibly unique fate in the history of semantic separations. On the one hand it has become famous—every student of literature in the English-speaking world finds himself supposed to have heard of it; on the other, it is scarcely ever used, and never in common speech. [Prickett, 141]
I'm not sure that's correct, actually; but it's hard to know how the assertion could be proved, one way or the other. Prickett thinks the imagination/fancy distinction actually folds three separate concepts into its dyad, which is correct (I think); and makes the case that the fusing of the two modes of imagination is actually what Coleridge intended (which I'm not so sure about). Prickett ties his discussion together with the logos ('the subordinate logos of nature is a repetition in the finite human mind of God's eternal act of creation' is how he puts it, which is tricky), and quotes The Statesman's Manual one last time:
The great book of Nature has been the music of gentle and pious minds in all ages, it is the poetry of all human nature.
This leads into a kind of Prickettian peroration:
We are here very close to what Abrams has designtaed 'apocalypse by cognition'. Behind the continual Romantic reiteration of the 'poetic' as a metaphor for religious experience lies what we have seen is the very ancient association of poetry with divinity, but here the 'peculiar language of heaven' has been translated into a typology of psychological and spiritual states. As in Dante, poetry is a kind of imaginative psychopomp leading the soul towards a mystical and otherwise inexpressible bliss, or 'apocalypse', in which the partaker is caught up in the divine vision. But just as Schiller's 'third kingdom' of aesthetic liberation ... is not merely an internal state, but also a social one, so Coleridge's poetic 'apocalypse' is at once individual and communal. The difference is that Coleridge's mature theory of language and his later Trinitarian Anglicanism (as always in his thought, all elements are connected) no longer involves seeing this transformation as part of a future ideal state, but, in true New Testament style, proclaims that it is already here. [Prickett, 144]
In other news: 'Imaginative Psychopomp of Bliss' is the name of my next band.