Thursday, 21 October 2021

Coleridge's Farting Nightingale

Coleridge's ‘conversation poem’ ‘The Nightingale’ first appeared in Lyrical Ballads (1798). It was a replacement piece: originally Wordsworth and Coleridge were going to include a different poem, Coleridge's ‘Lewti’. Indeed, some early proofs of the Lyrical Ballads volume have ‘Lewti’ set up in type and listed on the contents page. But there was a problem, or so Wordsworth thought. In April 1798 Coleridge had published ‘Lewti’ under his own name in the Morning Post. But Lyrical Ballads was to be an anonymous volume, no names on the title page, and this prior publication compromised that. People would surely, Wordsworth thought, put two and two together and link Coleridge's name with the book. So, late in the process of the publication, the two men agreed to substitute the hitherto unpublished ‘Nightingale’ instead. 

I'm not going to talk specifically about the poem itself in this post, although it's worth the talking: a very interesting poem, to which I'll surely come back. As Christopher Miller notes: ‘nothing could be more traditional than writing a poem about a nightingale; it was a perennial emblem of the poet pouring out beautiful music in the dark.’ But, as Miller says, Coleridge's treatment of this topic entails an ‘interplay of tradition and innovation’: on the one hand, the melancholy bird of Milton and the sorrowful Greek myth of Philomela, raped, silenced by having her tongue cut out and finally transformed into a nightingale; on the other, Coleridge enjoying a lovely night, with his best friend Wordsworth, a ‘gentle Maid’ (that is, Dorothy) and his own baby son Hartley. [Miller, ‘Coleridge and the English Poetic Tradition’, in Frederick Burwick (ed) The Oxford Handbook of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (OUP 2009), 525] Like the nightingale, and like Philomela, Hartley is ‘capable of no articulate sound’, but unlike the traditional melancholy associations of those two, but like the actual nightingale father and son can hear singing under the stars, Hartley is full of joy: at the moon and stars, at the birdsong, at being with his Dad, a ‘tipsy Joy that reels with tossing head’.

My focus in this blog is not on the poem as such, but on a para-text of the poem, a sort of doggerel preface. When Coleridge first sent the piece to Wordsworth, he added this self-deprecating prelude:
In stale blank verse a subject stale
I send per post my Nightingale;
And like an honest bard, dear Wordsworth,
You'll tell me what you think, my Bird's worth.
My own opinion's briefly this—
His bill he opens not amiss;
And when he has sung a stave or so,
His breast, & some small space below,
So throbs & swells, that you might swear
No vulgar music's working there.
So far, so good; but then, ’od rot him!
There's something falls off at his bottom.
Yet, sure, no wonder it should breed,
That my Bird's Tail's a tail indeed
And makes its own inglorious harmony
Æolio crepitû, non carmine.
This is clear enough: the ‘head’ of the poem, a description of a beautiful night and a quotation from Milton, is stately and beautiful; the ‘tail’ or (to use a word Coleridge would not, though that's the implication of the text here) ‘arse’ of the poem is about a giggling baby. Babies produce a quantity of stuff out of their bottoms, of course; as do birds. What about that Latin? Well, it's a sort of parody of Horace. Odes 4.3 addresses Melpomene, Muse of Lyric Poetry, and praises Rome as the true inspiration for the poet: sed quae Tibur aquae fertile praefluunt/et spissae nemorum comae/fingent Aeolio carmine nobilem; ‘... but the waters that flow through the fertilising Tiber, and the thick leaves of the groves, will ennoble [a poet] in his Aeolian verse.’ Aeolus was the Greek god of wind. Elsewhere in the Odes (3.30, since you ask) Horace claims that he was ‘the first to have adapted Aeolian verse to Italian tunes’; which is to say, the first Latin poet to rework the Greek forms (four-line alcaic and sapphic stanzas mostly) to Roman language and themes.

STC expects Wordsworth to recognise the reference to Aeolio carmine, and to laugh at the way he has changed it. Crepo means ‘to rattle, crack, creak, rustle, clatter, tinkle’ (it's the root of our English word crepitate) and also ‘to boast, to prattle, to chatter’. But Coleridge isn't using the word in either of those senses. Because there's a third meaning: crepo also means ‘to fart’. The Latin at the end of Coleridge's little verse-preface there can be Englished as: ‘Aeolian farting, rather than song’. Wind, you see.  

We think of neo-Latin as a serious, even ponderous idiom: all those scientific tomes, all that theological discussion! But a lot of neo-Latin was quite lighthearted, and some was thoroughly scatological. For instance: farting. Here's an old blog from this very site about a bit of John Milton's Latin on that subject. Or consider Spanish neo-Latin scholar Manuel Martí (1663-1737), famous for his Hellenism and classical scholarship, who also wrote a book called Pro crepitu ventris (Madrid, 1737), ‘In Celebration of the Winds of Farting’. Here is a page from one of those bibliographies of curious volumes, an entire library assembled by a French count on the subject of farting and other bottom-related matters: Catalogue des livres rares et précieux de la bibliothèque de feu M. le comte de Mac-Carthy Reagh (1815) [‘de feu’ means ‘of the late’ or ‘of the recently deceased’]. You can see Martí's volume in there: popular enough to have been reprinted in 1768.

Ah, those eighteenth-century French aristocrats! Nothing better to do with their time and wealth than assemble libraries of très singulièr et rares arse-themed volumes. No wonder there was a revolution and they all got guillotined.  

Still, I'd suggest that there is something more than mere low humour at work here. Coleridge was fascinated by all this stuff, and for him there was a serious—or, say rather (since serious doesn't capture what he finds so engaging and important about it) importance and eloquence in it all. Certainly, his notebooks are full of references to shitting, farting and other bowelly-scatological subjects. I'm going to conclude this blog with a lengthy quotation from the second half of the old post linked-to there.  

You see, I take all this in Coleridge as more than mere lavatorial humour, or occasional ribaldry; as something rather more notable; indeed, as touching on something quite profound and important in Coleridge's poetic and philosophical imagination. 

Consider the following two notebook entries, neither of them merely jokey. Here is Coleridge considering a bowl of piss:
What a beautiful Thing Urine is, in a Pot, brown yellow, transpicuous, the Image, diamond shaped of the of the [sic] Candle in it, especially, as it now appeared, I having emptied the Snuffers into it, & the Snuff floating about, & painting all-shaped Shadows on the Bottom. [Dec. 1803, Notebooks 1:1766]
This is the very essence of the Coleridgean notebooks, and one of the things aficionados love about them (Seamus Perry calls the notebooks ‘the unacknowledged prose masterpiece of the age ... a work, by turns, of philosophical profundity, descriptive beauty, verbal brilliance and human comedy—and sometimes tragicomedy, and sometimes tragedy’, and I agree with him). That STC could spin such a beautifully vivid and expressive paragraph about something so apparently unpromising as the contents of his pisspot seems to me a marvellous thing. It might have been merely pretentious, but somehow it isn't: rather it reverts our attention back onto something we have been acculturated to consider abject and untouchable to bring out its aureate loveliness.

Transpicuous means transparent, but Coleridge is surely thinking of Milton (‘that light/Sent from her through the wide transpicuous air,/To the terrestrial Moon to be as a star’, Paradise Lost 8:140-142), which positions the piss less as a fluid and more as a medium, as, indeed, a kind of lens through which we see certain things more clearly. It is a candlelit colour, warm and precious, and those little slips of the pen (‘the of the’) run the risk of distracting us from how exquisitely this little section of prose plays with language. At the risk of sounding like Malvolio pulling the cs, us and ts from his lady's letter: look at how prolific this passage is with ‘p’s and ‘i’s and ‘s’s of piss: pot, appeared, painting, is-in-in-it-it-I-into-it, transspicuous shaped especially as snuffers snuff shaped shadows. Or again, look how rapidly Coleridge's imagination skips from association to association in what amounts to a chain of Latin punnery, consciously framed as such or otherwise: urine in Latin is urina; pot in Latin urna; burnt-colour (brown, yellow) uro; ‘to plunge into water’, like a diver (or like an dicarded snuffer) is urino. And shadow (umbra) isn't that far away. Coleridge isn't piddling around here: he is shaping a verbal text that captures beauty in the unmentionable, the discarded, the impolite.

And finally here is a notebook entry from a few years later, about a hawk in flight: unpublished in Coleridge's lifetime, but to me a piece worthy to stand with Shelley's ‘To A Skylark’:
The soil that fell from the Hawk poised at the extreme boundary of Sight thro' a column of sunshine—a falling star, a gem, the fixation, & chrystal, of substantial Light, again dissolving & elongating like a liquid Drop—how altogether lovely this is to the Eye, and to the Mind too while it remained its own self, all & only its very Self—. What a wretched Frenchman would not he be, who could shout out—charming Hawk's Turd!—[Sept 1808; Notebooks, 3:3401]
This seems to me gorgeous writing, but I have to concede those critics who have deigned to notice it haven't taken it so seriously as I do. John Worthen, for instance, notes the ‘rapturous’ tone of the paragraph, but swiftly qualifies his judgement: Coleridge, he says, ‘also knew such language teetered on the edge of absurdity’ [Worthen, The Cambridge Introduction to Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Cambridge Univ Press 2010), 76]. I'm not sure he did know that, because I'm not sure that such language does, actually. 'Frenchman' is a generic insult, of course; but the entry is saying: don't be that Frenchman. Delight in the hawk's turd! It is, in its own specific way, a miracle of flight (turdus in Latin is a variety of bird—it means thrush, of course); and as such becomes a rebus for the spiritually transcendent beauty of all created things, poetry not the least. This particular notebook entry continues:
O many, many are the seeings, hearings & tactual Impressions of pure Love, that have a Being of their own—& to call them by the names of things unsouled and debased below even their own lowest nature by Associations accidental, and of vicious accidents, is blasphemy—What seest thou yonder? X.—The lovely countenance of a lovely Maiden, fervid yet awe-suffering, with devotion—her face resigned to Bliss or Bale, &c &c.—Y. A Bit of Flesh.
That which cannot be seen unless by him whose very seeing is more than an act of mere sight. ... The Polyclete that created the Ἀφροδίτη Καλλίπυγος thought in acts, not words—energy divinely languageless—(ο λογος εκ θεῳ και συν θεῳ θεος)—δια τον Λογον, oυ συν επεσι—thro' the word, not with words.
The last bit of Greek glosses the famous phrase with which St John's opens his gospel, and means ‘(the word from God and with God, God)—via the Word not with words’. Nor is it irrelevant that it is the famous sculpture named in the previous bit of Greek ‘Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks’ (we could say: ‘Aphrodite Cute-Arse’) that enters into Coleridge's thought as an embodiment of the expression of non-verbal beauty. This sexualised bottom balances the implied functional shitting bottom, as a way of dignifying sexual desire and bodily functions, rather than dragging classical sculpture into the gutter. This is not the edge of any absurdity, unless we want to expand that word to encompass the leap of faith as such. It is Coleridge saying that the dropping turd of the hawk in flight is beautiful, as the backside of Aphrodite is beautiful: transcendentally so. To treat it as vulgar, either for comic or lustful purposes, is actually a kind of blasphemy. This, to rework Blake's famous phrase, is Coleridge seeing Heaven in a grain of shit.

Coleridge's notional interlocutors in that notebook entry, X and Y, do not see the same thing when they see a woman. For the latter she is only flesh to be lusted over; but the former really sees her, sees her for what she is, and that means he sees that something spiritually fine has been erected out of a universally excremental material. Dickens, a generation later, makes a similar play with the word dust: the ‘dust-heaps’ that are the source of the Boffins' fortune in Our Mutual Friend are collections of all the rubbish of London, and contain waste matter wet as well as dry, faecal as well as functional (indeed, the ‘night soil’ men of London made good money repurposing human and animal shit as fertilizer; for though not every crop can be safely grown in the former waste, some, like tomatoes, can). Behind the social reportage of an actual feature of 19th-century London life is a spiritual insight, as is often the case with Dickens. In this case, the whole novel is haunted by one of the most famous of Biblical verse: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. We may sanitize this mortal verse (Genesis 3:19) by thinking of something powdery and dry, but human corruption is rather wetter than drier, rather more excremental than powdery—and so, after all, is human conception. We don't produce a clean dry pollen like the plants of the field, after all. Indeed, whilst I'm no connoisseur of modern porn (I know: they all say that ...) I've often been struck that one of the most pathological aspects of that ubiquitous form of contemporary cultural production is now weirdly clean it all is: how washed and buffed, how depilated and teeth-bleached and plastic the players all are; how all human dirtiness and shoddiness and ordinary inadequacy has been banished from the whole performance. In that, Coleridge's X and Y mini-conversation seems to me still to have real relevance.

I don't want to stray from the Coleridgean point, for I do think these sorts of questions genuinely engaged him. Read his autobiography, and you can't help but be struck by how much grief his own bowels gave him. Severe constipation is one of the side-effects of opium (that is, heroin) addiction, and STC often had to endure what he understandably enough saw as the demeaning indignity of repeated enemas: clyster pipes inserted into his anus by an old female nurse for the purpose of forcably irrigating out his compacted shit.

For STC constipation was more than a mere physical inconvenience. He took it as symptomatic of a more *clears throat* fundamental spiritual problem: a blockage of the soul, an inability to work through and move healthfully on in his life and his work that Coleridge autodiagnosed as a pathology of the will. Being helpless in the grip of opium addiction will tend to do that to a person, I suppose. Nowadays we are less inclined to blame addicts. But Coleridge certainly blamed himself, vehemently and often self-laceratingly. In July 1808, prompted by stabbing stomach pains from a prolonged constipated episode so severe that he actually thought he might die, he wrote in his notebook: ‘O misery! when the occasion of premature Death is that which makes Death terrible! Savage Stab! that transpierces at once Health and Conscience! Body and Spirit!—ΩΠΜ’ [Notebooks, 3:3352] Those last three Greek letters, that Oh, Pee, Em, indicate the root of the issue. A drug like heroin takes away the shittiness of the world, and therein lies precisely its problem. That it takes away the actual, normal passage of excrement is almost too apposite.

Here, I think, we touch upon one of the great, if almost entirely overlooked, themes of Coleridge's intellectual and imaginative life. A book like Edward Kessler's Coleridge's Metaphor's of Being (Princeton Univ. Press 1979) does solid critical work isolating a series of focus-points for Coleridge's core poetic ideas: what Kessler calls ‘the Eddy-Rose’ (a sort of composite metaphor that combines eddies, whirlpools and the like with the patterns of petals of a beautiful flower); phantom life; Limbo and so on. But Kessler doesn't talk about the turd, in part because respectable published-in-his-lifetime Coleridge, critic and poet, doesn't bring turds into his work very often. But the notebooks are full of it, and as metaphors of being go it is, I think, hugely important. I understand why critics have generally avoided writing about it; but it does seem to me distorting.

The whole process of eating, drawing sustenance, and shitting out waste is an organic through-line that iterates the dream of health, both physical and more importantly spiritual, as far as Coleridge is concerned. His greatest poetic achievements are potent dramatisations of the breakdown of that healthful flow. The subterranean river in ‘Kubla Khan’ flows not out into the open ocean, but round and down in a turbid eddy that loses itself somewhere hidden and sunless. The Ancient Mariner's cursed, blocked voyage replicates a whole string of nightmare-death-in-life constipations (until, at least, a mystic Christian blessedness and forgiveness intervene: but even there the Mariner is caught in a recurring cycle of obsessive-compulsive retellings of his tale). ‘Christabel’ can't even (if you'll excuse me) shit out its own ending, so trapped it is in its recirculation of blocked and morbid desire. For Coleridge, shit, like the beauteous airborne turd of the flying falcon, is a symbol of health, of through-flow and freedom.

My friend Alan Jacobs has coined the phrase “excresacramental” for a particular sort of art, a Swiftian cacography that articulates not only the expressivity but actually the holiness of the abject-physical. From the point of view of the Incarnation, God becoming man is not God becoming the bizarrely soap-washed, clean-linen, dazzling-bleached-smile icon of modern cleanliness that many images of Jesus peddle to modern-day believers, complete with cleaner-than-clean halo shine, like the gleam of newly rinsed glasses in the dishwasher. It is, rather, the non-material taking on flesh and all that flesh is heir to. It is God becoming dust, wet and foul-smelling as well as dry and smoky.

The point is, as Coleridge might say, that unless you can truly see that the hawk shitting its load into a sunbeam is as beautiful and holy an image as the white dove flying over blue waters beneath a new rainbow, then you haven't actually seen what beauty in the world fully means. The paraclete is also un(para)clean. For Coleridge, an apprehension of that place where religious transcendence, pure love, sexual desire (for instance, desire for a well shaped set of buttocks) and the healthy bowel-movement all express one another is not a satirical denigration of love: there's nothing of Swift's ‘Celia Celia Celia shits’ horror in STC's writing. Rather it is a strangely, unusually, wonderfully expressive epitome of the central mystery of a genuinely religious writer: the spiritualisation of matter, the materialisation of spirit. One end of the nightingale produces sublime, uplifting song, and the other end farts and shits, and both are integral to the whole sight of Coleridge's poetic vision. Samuel Taylor Kakaleridge.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

By Charles James Fox On His Deathbed


Click to embiggen and, indeed, clarify.

So: I've been reading Walter Scott's St Ronan's Well (1823), and came across the above-reproduced note. In Chapter 6 the love-interest in the novel, beautiful young Clara Mowbray, has yet to be introduced into the story, and the young hero Francie Tyrrel, who has returned to the Scottish spa-town of St Ronan's Well hoping to be reunited with her, hears her described by the fashionable ladies at dinner in Coleridgean terms:

“I own, madam,” [Tyrrel said], “I was a little surprised at seeing such a distinguished seat unoccupied, while the table is rather crowded.”

“O, confess more, sir! ... What if the Dark Ladye should glide in and occupy it?—would you have courage to stand the vision, Mr. Tyrrel?—I assure you the thing is not impossible.” ...

“Who is expected?” said Tyrrel, unable with the utmost exertion to suppress some signs of curiosity, though he suspected the whole to be merely some mystification of her ladyship.

“How delighted I am,” she said, “that I have found out where you are vulnerable!—Expected—did I say expected?—no, not expected.
She glides, like Night, from land to land,
She hath strange power of speech.
—But come, I have you at my mercy, and I will be generous and explain.—We call—that is, among ourselves, you understand—Miss Clara Mowbray, the sister of that gentleman that sits next to Miss Parker, the Dark Ladye, and that seat is left for her.—For she was expected—no, not expected—I forget again!—but it was thought possible she might honour us to-day, when our feast was so full and piquant.—Her brother is our Lord of the Manor—and so they pay her that sort of civility to regard her as a visitor—and neither Lady Binks nor I think of objecting—She is a singular young person, Clara Mowbray—she amuses me very much—I am always rather glad to see her.”

“She is not to come hither to-day,” said Tyrrel; “am I so to understand your ladyship?”

“Why, it is past her time—even her time,” said Lady Penelope. [St Ronan's Well, ch 6]

A footnote at this point directs the reader's attention to the endnote at the head of this post.

Two things interest me here. One is the reference to Coleridge's poem ‘The Ballad of the Dark Ladie’ (1799), a fragment of sixty lines that was intended to be a full-fledged ‘Gothic’ ballad of about one-hundred-and-ninety. It's an interesting if rather critically-neglected poem, this; and the function of the reference to it here in Scott's novel is ironic (the joke is that superannuated, affected Lady Penelope Penfeather sees everything through a ‘Romantic’ filter. When we finally meet Clara she is nothing like Coleridge's doomed Gothic maiden). It's tempting to read ‘The Ballad of the Dark Ladie’ as a dry-run for Coleridge's later Ancient Mariner, a gender-swapped version of a couplet from which is what Lady Penelope actually quotes in the above passage. (Is this a joke at the expense of her ignorance, maybe? Or is her fluency with Coleridge a sign of the depth of what nowadays we would call her fandom of STC?)

But there's another thing. When ‘Dark Ladie’ was first published [in the Morning Post, 21st Dec 1799] it was preceded by a 34-stanza ballad-form prologue. When ‘Dark Ladie’ was published in book-form (in the 2nd edition of Lyrical Ballads in 1801) Coleridge separated this prologue, trimmed seven stanzas from it top-and-tail and published it as a separate poem called ‘Love’. In his Princeton edition of Coleridge's Poems (2001; 16:605), J C C Mays says this:
The originally drafted ‘Introduction to the Tale of the Dark Ladie’ and the later, pruned version, ‘Love’, were popular from the first, and were frequently reprinted in newspapers and anthologies in C's lifetime. Walter Scott told the actress Sarah Smith, ‘the verses on Love ... are among the most beautiful in the English language’ [Scott Letters III:400] and John Gibson Lockhart described the poem as ‘better known than any of its author's productions ... many hundreds of our readers have got it by heart long ago, without knowing by whom it was written’ [Blackwood's Magazine, Oct 1819]
I won't quote the whole poem (you can read it here, if you like), though it begins:
All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame.

Oft in my waking dreams do I
Live o'er again that happy hour,
When midway on the mount I lay,
Beside the ruined tower.

The moonshine, stealing o'er the scene
Had blended with the lights of eve;
And she was there, my hope, my joy,
My own dear Genevieve!
... and ends:
She half enclosed me with her arms,
She pressed me with a meek embrace;
And bending back her head, looked up,
And gazed upon my face.

'Twas partly love, and partly fear,
And partly 'twas a bashful art,
That I might rather feel, than see,
The swelling of her heart.

I calmed her fears, and she was calm,
And told her love with virgin pride;
And so I won my Genevieve,
My bright and beauteous Bride.
What intrigues me about Scott's note, at the top of this blogpost, is the suggestion that Whig politician Charles James Fox so loved this poem that he had it read to him on his deathbed. I've spent a while poking around in biographies and online resources to see if I can find any corroboration for this fact, but without success. Where did Scott (a deep-dyed Tory and no friend of the Whiggish-radical Fox) hear it? From the horse's mouth, perhaps—which is to say, not from Fox himself, but from someone present at his end? Or was it a common story? If so I can't track it down anywhere else.  

Is it true? (If so, why does nobody else talk of it?) Fox certainly loved poetry, although his real passion was for classical verse: he carried an edition of Horace in his pocket wherever he went. The 4-vol Memorials and Correspondence of Charles James Fox (1857) is full of passages celebrating Greek and Latin classics, with the occasional praising note concerning his ‘great partiality to the Italian poets’, whilst at the same time deprecating Milton (‘there is a want of flow, of ease, in his blank verse which offends me more perhaps than it ought’). Fox does express a favourable opinion of Spenser, and there's plenty of flow and ease in Coleridge's ‘Love’, so it's not impossible that Fox rated it. And in 1806, when Fox died, Coleridge had begun, and had not yet completed, the process of crossing the political topography of left-and-right, radical-to-Tory. Young STC had been inspired by Fox's writing, and although slightly-older STC criticizes Fox's closeness to Napoleonic France in Essays on His Times, he does so respectfully enough. And we know that Wordsworth sent a copy of the 1801 Lyrical Ballads to Fox, so he would have known, or at least had the opportunity to read, the poem.

It would be nice to have some other confirmation, nonetheless.

And then, whilst poking around, I came across the following in a critical study of Crabbe:

The source here appears to be Crabbe himself, which opens the possibility that Scott heard the story that Fox read ‘Love’ on his deathbed from Coleridge himself (certainly possible). Did all the Romantic poets go around boasting that Charles James Fox selected one of their poems to read immediately before shuffling off his mortal coil?

[‘Comforts of a Bed of Roses’ (1806), in which Gillray depicts Death crawling out from under Fox's covers, entwined with a scroll inscribed ‘Intemperance, Dropsy, Dissolution’.]

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Buried Together

This is a notebook entry written some time between 1808 and 1810, when Coleridge was experiencing his most acute despairing-yearning for Sara Hutchinson, his ‘Asra’. The passage here folds in lots of STCs and plays on ΣΑΡΑ/AΣΡΑ in Greek, together with the Greek verb συνθάπτω, which means ‘to bury together’, ‘to bury more than one person in a grave’. Kathleen Coburn translates the lines:      

If that looks a little blurry, click on it and it will embiggen and clarify.

Coburn is broadly right, here (and the Σ'ΑΡΑ/ΣΑΡΑ pun at the end is important) except in one particular: this rather morbid conceit, of Coleridge and the woman he loved, but who didn't love him back, being buried in the same grave, does not proceed from a ‘Coleridgean compound for “persons buried in the same grave”.’ Which is to say, the compound is not Coleridgean. It's Biblical.

The verb συνθάπτω is used several times in the New Testament. It's used in Romans 6:4: ‘therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.’ It's also in Colossians 2:12: ‘Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.’ I'd submit that this puts a distinctly less morbid gloss on Coleridge's heart-broken yearning for Asra, here. It's not a kind of Blue Öyster Cult ‘Don't Fear The Reaper’ style suicide-pact; it's a yearning, more pathetic than creepy and not for the first time in STC's life cathecting his erotic and personal desire for Sara Hutchinson through religion, for a rebirth.

"Craving the Flesh of the Starling"

 In 1808 (maybe a little later, in 1809 or 1810) Coleridge copied this passage into his notebook.

This means ‘one who is accustomed always to eat partridge sometimes craves the flesh of the starling. It is surely impossible for the owl to imitate the nightingale.’

Where is it from? ‘Untraced’ is all Kathleen Coburn can give us. In fact it's from the dedication to Il malmantile racquistato colle note di Puccio Lamoni, di Lorenzo Lippi (1688). The deal here is that Lorenzo Lippi, very famous in his day as a painter of portraits and heroic subjects, came after his death to be better known for his Malmantile Racquistato, a racy mock-heroic poem written in Florentine dialect. Here's wikipedia:

[In 1660] he wrote his humorous poem named Malmantile Racquistato, which was published under the anagrammatic pseudonym of Perlone Zipoli. The Malmantile Racquistato is a mock-heroic romance, mostly compounded out of a variety of popular tales; its principal subject matter is an expedition for the recovery of a fortress and territory whose queen had been expelled by a female usurper. It is full of graceful or racy Florentine idioms, and is counted by Italians as a testo di lingua. Lippi is remembered more for this poem than by his paintings. It was published posthumously in 1688.
Presumably Coleridge had come across a copy of this 1688 edition. Lippi's point is that, after a career of paintings characterised by their serious artistic merit and gravity, he felt he could excuse himself where a more trivial and lighthearted production was concerned.

Friday, 12 March 2021

Coleridge's Latin Verse


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Church, State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Sara Amam


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

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

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

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


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