Monday, 31 December 2012


They told me Heraclitus, in fact they promised me that you were dead;
They told me Πάντα ῥεῖ οὐδὲν μένει and other things you said
And συνάψιες ὅλα καὶ οὐχ ὅλα something something πάντα--
But death will put an end to all your suchlike philosophic banter.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Saturday, 29 December 2012

A brief history of European 18th-century Philosophy

Very brief. One paragraph.

18th-century philosophers thought and wrote about many things, and many of them were very clever people; but one debate in particular dominated their discourse: what Jerry Fodor recently called 'mind-stuff versus matter stuff':
One might hold that the world isn’t made entirely of matter ... [that] there is also a fundamentally different kind of stuff – mind-stuff, call it – and consciousness resides in that. Notoriously, however, this view has hard problems of its own. For example, if matter-stuff and mind-stuff are of fundamentally different kinds, how are causal relations between them possible? How is it possible that eating should be caused by feeling peckish or feeling peckish by not eating? For this and other reasons, mind-stuff has mostly fallen out of fashion. [LRB, Vol. 29 No. 10 · 24 May 2007; page 9]

Many 18th-century thinkers were motivated by a desire, the grounds and strength of which I don't have time to speculate about here, to retain the revealed religion known as 'Christianity' as part of their way of talking about the world. Descartes suggested that human beings are bodies + souls, the mind-stuff going through a magic router called 'the pineal gland' to enable it to interact with teh matter-stuff. But, for reasons akin to the ones to which Fodor alludes, plenty of people weren't persuaded by that. Other philosophers (Hume, Hartley, Priestly) claimed that there was nothing but matter-stuff, and mind-stuff was just an effect of the way the matter-stuff of the brain operated, not unlike (although this isn't, of course, an analogy any of those gentlemen used) 'speed' emerges from the proper operation of a motorcycle. Hartley believed in God, and used half his most famous book presenting 'proofs' for His existence; but since his account of human beings was entirely material some people accused him of inconsistency (Priestly, who is interesting here predominantly as a diseminator and analyst of Hartley) had an ingenious theory of his own that managed to keep Christianity as 'true' without sacrificing Hartley's materialism. Berkeley approached the problem from the other side, and denied that there was anything called 'matter' -- everything is mind-stuff. But not many people believed him. So there was a breach, between 'soul' and world, that haunted the thinkers of the 18th-century; and it haunted them in part because they worried that the path of truth might compel them to give up 'soul' altogether. This is one reason why Kant proved so influential: he argued, in the Pure Reason critique, that 'mind' and 'world' were not separate entities at all, because key aspects of the world (dimension, causality etc.) were actually the way the soul itself was structured. Coleridge and the second-generation Romantics he inspired took this to be a great healing of the breach. I'm not sure they were right, though.

Friday, 28 December 2012

The soldier's way

Tasso, Gerusalemme Liberata book 13, stanzas 38: our heroine has been transformed into a tree
‘He [Tancred] drew his sword at length, and with full force
Struck the tall tree; O wonderful! The wound,
As bursts a fountain from its sylvan source,
Gush’d forth with blood, and crimson’d all the ground.
Chilld horror seized the knight: yet, fix’d to sound
The mystery to its depth, and desp’rate grown,
Again he struck; when, hollow and profound,
As from a vaulted grave, in piteous tone,
Murm’ring he heard within a spirit deeply moan.
[The Jerusalem Delivered of Torquato Tasso, translated into English Spenserian verse by J H Wiffen (2 vols, 1824-5), 2:40]
He doesn't realise there's something odd about the tree after one sword-hack? Or he does, but hitting the creature a second time with a sword is the only way he knows of investigating further?

Thursday, 27 December 2012


This post, on Piccolo, struck a chord with me. I'm not sure if it did because thinking about its implications flatters me into feeling less glum about my many failures as a working novelist. But that is probably (probably! say rather, surely ...) missing the point.
Proust's point is that genuine novelty in the arts is always experienced as contrived, artificial, wilfully difficult, unnatural - i.e., not yet naturalised, customary. (By implication, if something is immediately and painlessly recognised as 'new and revolutionary', the very fact of recognition suggests it isn't). His other point is that the new is not and cannot be recognised. The categories, explicit or implicit, available to the reader, viewer or critic are those appropriate to the old, and unable to even register the new, which is experienced only as a kind of absence. How many new works (from Beethoven to Joyce) have been described - or dismissed- as chaotic, unharmonious, confused, sprawling, cacophonous. All the critic or auditor can hear or see is the absence of what they are used to. They lack the language to name the new. The new is an invitation, precisely, to invent such a language.

The new typically appears as a monster, a distortion or mutation of the old, the collapse of the familiar, of taste, of decorum, form, structure.

In another sense, all artistic products have elements of novelty, however minor, just as they all have elements of the familiar. A particular arrangement of words in a novel hasn't seen the light of say, even if the words themselves are trite and uninspired. Even an exact repetition is new as a repetition, and in terms of its context, effects, its baptism of the 'original' as an original (i.e. it becomes an original only when copied). The key thing is deciding whether the new elements are significant and in some way inaugural.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012


Why time must always pass --
the question's fair scary:
quid sit futurum cras
fuge quaerere.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012


Anthony Burgess (in A Mouthful of Air) argues that ancient language was more complex and synthetic, grammatically speaking; and that modern languages tend towards the simpler, atomistic and (he doesn't say this, but it's rather implied) degraded form.  He notes for instance that
'They will be loved' is the Ebglish for the Latin amabuntur. The English way -- and English is a progressive, self-simplifying language: the technical term is syncretic -- is to analyse a complex experience into irreducible particles: four words to the Latin one. [15]
Anyone who has studying the Classics must have been struck by how much more difficult the older languages seem to be. But Burgess hypothecates from this a radically different mode of being-in-the-world for our ancestors.
We [moderns] think of the conscious creation of a structure out of verbal atoms: our unit is the smallest possible verbal form. But the unit of primitive man would be more like a phrase, a clause, a total statement. He would learn to associate a segment of the flow of speech with a particular experience to be described or expressed. When we see a sunrise, we instinctively analyse into particles: sun, east, sky, red, gold, rising. Primitive man would see the process as a single experience, indivisible.
Is this right, I wonder? I mean, is there any evidence for it? Attractive notion, certainly.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Bowles 2

Cracking on, a tad belatedly, with more of this. The second poem from Sonnets, Written Chiefly in Picturesque Spots, During a Tour (1784):

Languid, and sad, and slow from day to day,
I journey on, yet pensive turn to view
(Where the rich landscape gleams with softer hue)
The streams, and vales, and hills, that steal away.
So fares it with the children of the earth;
For when life's goodly prospect opens round,
Their spirits beat to tread that fairy ground,
Where every vale sounds to the pipe of mirth.
But them, vain hope, and easy youth beguiles,
And soon a longing look, like me, they cast
Back o'er the pleasing prospect of the past:
Yet fancy points where still far onward smiles.
Some sunny spot, and her fair colouring blends,
Till cheerless on their path the night descends.
Bowles is, amongst other things, playing games with monosyllables, by way of stepping through a mournful, slow theme. The first line is 80% monosyllabic; the second 60%; the third 100%; the pattern looks as though it will repeat (line 6: 80%; line 5760%) but then it doesn't. 'Spirits' is disyllabic I suppose; although its quantity is strange -- a classical long syllable that reads more like a single stress than a trochee. The 100% monosyllable line is postponed to line 8 -- as if the poem is already slowing, lengthening, drawing out its form. Then it's
Line 9 80%
Line 10 80%
Line 11 60%
Line 12 60%
Line 13 55%
Line 14 60%
OK, so it's a disproportionately monosyllabic poem: let me not flog the point to death. I think what I'm suggesting is that there is something of a pulse, or ebb-flow, to the way the poem handles its monosylls. Languid and sad and slow.  Otherwise, the blot in the sonnet to my ear is 'pipe of mirth', which strikes an artificial, conventionalised note (playing a recorder outside, no matter how perkily, no longer correlates to 'mirth' in the sense the poem needs it to; and I'm not convinced it did the 1780s either).  I mind less the deliberate blurring of topographies, physical and temporal, the 'walk through the countryside' that is also somehow 'the walk through life.'  I assume the idea is: we are walking eastward, whilst the sun sets behind us. The land behind us, bathed in roseate light, is our youth.  There are peaks ahead where the sun still illuminates the grass. But we all know where we are going.  Don't we.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The 'Shaping Experience' bias

There's a very large and, I think, very important critical question about art I never see addressed; or at least, if it is discussed I don't know where and by whom.  I'll give some examples of what I'm talking about.

Let's take a man (for example) in his 40s.  As a kid he fell in love with the music of The Beatles, just like millions.  But although some of what he responded to, in that music, had to do with the skill of Lennon-McCartney-as-popular-composers, much more had to do with the extraordinary potency of music itself.  Nobody ever hears music in the abstract; we always listen to music embodied in one composition or another.  The thing is: whichever musical text happens to be the one that introduces you to the wonder of music itself will tend to receive, back over itself (as it were) a lustre it has not in and of itself earned.  Lennon-McCartney were a talented pair of songwriters; but they didn't invent music itself.  A good proportion, I'd say, more, a majority of the emotional impact of their work involves them piggybacking on Music Itself. Another example might be: 'I used to think Robert Graves' Claudius novels were brilliant; now I see what I was reacting to was the fascination of Roman history; and Graves's novels are rather clunkily put-together.'

The problem is: how can a critic separate out these aspects of a work of art?  It's a particular problem in SF, where the sort of short stories, novels and films that first blew our minds and introduced us to Sense-of-Wonder can shape our tastes, such that we prize works that imitate those earlier works, and we ignore their faults to the exclusion of other, better-written or better-made stuff.  But as with Music Itself, 'the Sublime' was not invented by Asimov's Nightfall (or whatever); the 'Visual Spectacular' was not invented by Star Wars, and (to select one particular key text of my own youth) Narrative and Enchantment not invented by The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings.

Saturday, 22 December 2012


Reading, and enjoying, Trilling's Sincerity and Authenticity (1972), in which is examined, to quote this impeccable summary, '"the moral life in process of revising itself," a period of Western history in which (argues Trilling) sincerity became the central aspect of moral life (first observed in pre-Age of Enlightenment literature such as the works of Shakespeare), later to be replaced by authenticity (in the more recent centuries).' Lots of thought-food. But, here's a sticking point for me:
The sincerity of Achilles or Beowulf cannot be discussed: they neither have nor lack sincerity. But if we are to ask whether Young Werther is really as sincere as he intends to be, or which of the two Dashwood sisters, Elinor or Marianne, is thought by Jane Austen to be the more truly sincere, we can confidently expect a serious response in the form of opinions on both sides of the question. [2-3]
I see what Trilling is getting at here, but I don't agree. For Beowulf, surely his sincerity is key? (That is to say: one of the important currents in Beowulf is about whether he is in Denmark merely to help the Danes, out of the goodness of his heart, or whether it is a bid for power. His 'sincerity' is proved, over the course of the poem: but it's not something we can be sure of at the beginning). And as for Achilles: well, this seems to me a profound and important question. I'd put it like this: what's more sincere than anger? I'm not sure I can think of anything.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Casimir and Watts

Coming late to Casimir -- but what a fasciating figure he is! A footnote to start with: Watts plagiarised him to write his hymns. That at least was the charge.  Here's a letter in The Gentleman's Magazine for 1785:

The gentleman who enquires after Casimir, the poet, p. 610, will receive much information from one of Dr. Knox's Essays, which is written expressly on the subject. I believe the whole of his works were never attempted in English. Nor do I think any person is likely to undertake such a translation, unless he be a Roman Catholick, as many of his pieces tum expressly upon the peculiarities of the Romish church. Dr. Watts seems to have been the most familial with him of any of our English poets. In some places he translates, or imitates, and refers to Casimir. Cut, almost in innumerable others, in various parts of his works, he borrows and makes no acknowledgement, except a kind,of general one, in the Preface to his Lyric Poems. One of his hymns is little more than a translation, from Casimir*; and there are others where particular turns of thought, at well as expressions, arc evidently borrowed from him, besides very many unacknowledged parts of his Horae Lyrae, The late pious Mr. Hervey, who certainly was no poet, attempted part of an ode from Casimir with considerable success. I am sensible that Dr, Watts by no means ranks high in the poetical world. The soft smoothness of his numbers, in my opinion, borders on effeminacy; and, if his works were published, with references at the foot of the page to authors from whom he has borrowed, no vast share of originality would fall to his lot. But yet there it one peculiarity of his religious pieces which tenders them valuable—they are level to the capacities of the lowest orders of mankind. You will excuse me, Mr. Urban, if I say, that I have heard very poor people, on a dying bed, repeat some of his verses with an emphasis that would have stopped the mouth of an Infidel. In this view, I esteem them very highly. But when I exercise the judgement of a scholar., or a criick, they appear in a very different light. Nevertheless, whatever they are as to merit, Casimir was certainly his exemplar. From him he has borrowed and copied more than any one will suppose till he takes the trouble of comparing them together. U. U.

*Compare Hymn IV Book II with Casimir Epod V
I don't know if anybody has noticed this, or chased it up. By the same token I don't know if anybody cares. But on that latter point I can at least make an educated guess.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

An undiscovered Coleridge poem?

The third of 'Satyrane's Letters', published in The Friend (1809), and later in the Biographia Literaria (1817), contains an account of Coleridge and Wordsworth meeting Klopstock in 1798. 'Wordsworth told him,' Coleridge reports, 'that I intended to translate a few of his odes as specimens of German lyrics.' These translations, if they were ever undertaken, have not been discovered.

Is it possible that the following anonymous 'Ode, from Klopstock' [from The German Museum, Or, Monthly Repository of the Literature of Germany, the North and the Continent in General (1801, 400)] is by STC?
Moons move round earths,
Earths round suns;
All the host of suns move
Round one great sun.
Our Father who art in Heaven.

On all these worlds, lightened and giving light,
Live spirits unresembling each other, in powers, in bodies;
But all Conceive God, and rejoice in God.
Hallowed be thy name.

He the great supreme of all,
Who can alone wholly conceive himself,
And in himself wholly rejoice,
Formed the vast design
For the happiness of all the Inhabitants of his Worlds.
To us thy kingdom come.

Well for them, that he, not they,
Their present, and their future regulated.
Well for them, well!
And well also for us.
Thy will be done in Heaven,
As it is on Earth.

He raises with the straw, the car on high;
He ripens the golden apple, the blushing grape;
He feeds the lamb on the hill, the roe in the wood;
But his thunder also rolls along;
And the hail lays it low
On the straw on the branch, on the hill, and in the wood.
Give us this day our daily bread.

Do mortals and sinners also dwell
High over the thunders path?
Does there the friend become the enemy?
Must there the friend by death be separated?
Our debts forgive us
As we forgive our debtors
Separate roads lead to the great end,
To happiness;
Some wind through desarts,
Yet in these some joys spring forth
And refresh the thirsty.
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
Adoration to thee, who the great sun encompassed
With suns, with earths and moons:
Who created spirits,
Regulated their bliss,
Raises the ears,
Calls to death,
Who leads through desarts to the great end and refreshes the traveller.
Adoration to thee,

For thine is the kingdom, the power,
And the glory,
For ever and ever. Amen.
There's no direct evidence linking this to STC, but it has a certain Coleridgean flavour, I'd say.  And Coleridge was certainly known (and known as a Germanist) to the London literary scene from which the editors (amongst them, the Rev Peter Will) sourced their copy.  And to speculate further, 1801 might be close enough to the (anonymous) publication of the Lyrical Ballads to mean that Coleridge would keep his name from this translation -- although such anonymity was also German Museum house style.  It's a possible, then; though it would be nice to have some harder evidence.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Why did Coleridge adopt the pseudonym 'Satyrane'?

Easy question, no easy answer. A note in Nov 1809 The Friend explains that the name is taken from Spenser’s Faerie Queene, where ‘Sir Satyrane’ is initially a wild man, the son of a satyr, whom Una tames. He protects her against attack by other satyrs, and battles inconclusively with the lawless ‘Sansloy’. Later in the poem he chances upon Florimell's girdle, which she had lost in the process of escaping a monster. Satyrane holds a three-day tournament in which he and he and his ‘Knights of Maidenhead’ fight all-comers for the right to possess the girdle. He wins this tourney, with the assistance of Britomart. Coleridge prefaces his explanatory note with a poem, that make clear the nickname was bestowed upon Coleridge by his friends:
(So call him, for so mingling blame with praise
And smiles with anxious looks, his earliest friends,
Masking his birth-name, wont to character
His wild-wood fancy and impetuous zeal)
‘Idoloclastes’ means ‘breaker of Idols’. As to other possible meanings of ‘Satyrane’ as a nickname, we have only speculation. Coleridge enjoyed playing interlingual puns with his initials ‘STC’, and the ‘Sa-Ty’ portion of ‘Satyrane’ looks enough like a rubbed-down version of ‘Samuel Taylor’ to be suggestive. ‘Rane’ might glance at the Latin for ‘frog’ (a famous Gilray cartoon of 1798 had ridiculed the new poets as a toad and a frog reading a book called ‘Poems by Toad and Frog’); or it might, less decorously, take in the Greek ῥανίς, which means ‘spot’ and more particularly ‘semen, sperm’. Maybe the name means 'S. T. Cum'. Maybe not.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Sweet rural Peckham

From the department of 'haven't things changed!' Here's The Poet, a Poem (1773) by the I'd-never-heard-of-him-either Percival Stockton. Percival dreams of quitting the noise and bustle of London and getting away, far away to the rural delights of ...
Oft with the love of simple nature smit,
May I the seat of noise, and folly quit
Its tainted manners, and its tainted air,
And to the calm of rural scenes repair;
Oft may I stray through Peckham's winding shades,
Sweet haunt of poets, and the tuneful maids;
In quest of imagery mount Haly-Hill,
Where varied views the eye, and fancy fill.
I was born in Peckham. All I'll say is: it's not like that nowadays.

Monday, 17 December 2012


Dead-hand Ward
bed & board.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Bacon's duplex

Francis Bacon talks of the sirens in terms of plague ('the bones of dead men littered the shores of their island ...' and so on). His answer is 'duplex': 'Huic malo remedium repertum est genere & modo duplex; alterum ab Ulyjse, alterum ab Orpheo'. Two ways of remedying this situation have been found: the way of Ulysses, and the way of Orpheus. Either you stop up your ears with wax, hurry past, and hope to escape -- or else (in effect) you out-sing the sirens, beguile them with your song rather than the other way about. I know which way I prefer.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Poem: Love made me laugh and cry

I'm going to pull this out of an earlier post, where it's buried at the bottom; because it's such a lovely little poem:
Love made me laugh and cry, but never did
I write except in fire, in water, or in wind;
Often I found that mercy
Was cruel, always feeling myself die as others lived.
Sometimes from a darker abyss I rose to the sky,
Sometimes I fell down again;
Here at last I make my final stand!
Giovambattista Strozzi. 1593.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Odes: the Mason-Keats line

These two Odes, by William Mason, appear next to one another in the sixth volume of Dodsley's popular and much-reprinted A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands: Printed by J Hughs, for J Dodsley, in Pall-Mall (1765). I think Keats read them, and they fed his own odes.


On my native shore reclin'd,
While Silence rules this midnight hour,
I woo thee. Goddess.
On my musing mind
Descend, propitious Power!
And bid these ruffling gales of grief subside:
Bid my calm'd soul with all thy influence shine;
As yon chaste orb along this ample tide
Draws the long lustre of her silver line,
While the hush'd breeze its last weak whisper blows,
And lulls old Humber to his deep repose.

Come to thy vot'ry's ardent prayer,
In all thy graceful plainness drest:
No knot confines thy waving hair,
No zone, thy floating vest;
Unsullied Honour decks thine open brow,
And Candour brightens in thy modest eye:
Thy blush is warm Content's ethereal glow;
Thy smile is Peace; thy step is Liberty:
Thou scatter'st blessings round with lavish hand,
As Spring with careless fragrance fills the land.

As now o'er this lone beach I stray,
Thy fav'rite swain oft stole along,
And artless wove his Dorian lay,
Far from the busy throng.
Thou heard'st him, Goddess, strike the tender string,
And bad'st his soul with bolder passions move:
Soon these responsive shores forgot to ring,
With Beauty's praise, or plaint of slighted Love;
To loftier flights his daring genius rose,
And led the war, 'gainst thine, and Freedom's foes.

Pointed with Satire's keenest steel,
The shafts of Wit he darts around;
Ev'n mitred Dulness learns to feel,
And shrinks beneath the wound.
In awful poverty his honest Muse
Walks forth vindictive thro' a venal land:
In vain Corruption sheds her golden dews,
In vain Oppression lifts her iron hand;
He scorns them both, and, arm'd with Truth alone,
Bids Lust and Folly tremble on the throne.


Oh! cease this kind persuasive strain.
Which, when it flows from friendship's tongue,
However weak, however vain,
O'erpowers beyond the Siren's song:
Leave me, my friend, indulgent go,
And let me muse upon my woe.
Why lure me from these pale retreats?
Why rob me of these pensive sweets?
Can Music s voice, can Beauty s eye,
Can Painting's glowing hand, supply
A charm so suited to my mind,
As blows this" hollow gust of wind,
As drops this little weeping rill
Soft-tinkling down the moss-grown hill,
Whilst through the west, where sinks the crimson day,
Meek Twilight slowly sails, and waves her banners gray.

Say, from Affliction's various source
Do none but turbid waters flow?
And cannot Fancy clear their course?
For Fancy is the friend of woe.
Say, 'mid that grove, in love-lorn state,
When yon poor ringdove mourns her mate,
Is all that meets the shepherd's ear,
Inspired by anguish, and despair?
Ah no, fair Fancy rules the song:
She swells her throat; she guides her tongue;
She bids the waving aspen-spray
Quiver in cadence to her lay;
She bids the fringed osiers bow,
And rustle round the lake below,
To suit the tenor of her gurgling sighs,
And sooth her throbbing breast with solemn sympathies.

To thee, whose young and polish'd brow
The wrinkling hand of Sorrow spares;
Whose cheeks, bestrew'd with roses, know
No channel for the tide of tears;
To thee yon abbey dank, and lone,
Where ivy chains each mould'ring stone
That nods o'er many a martyr's tomb,
May cast a formidable gloom.
Yet some there are, who, free from fear,
Could wander through the cloisters drear,
Could rove each desolated isle,
Though midnight thunders shook the pile;
And dauntless view, or seem to view,
(As faintly flash the lightnings blue)
Thin shiv'ring ghosts from yawning charnels throng,
And glance with silent sweep the shaggy vaults along.

But such terrific charms as these,
I ask not yet: my sober mind
The fainter forms of sadness please;
My sorrows are of softer kind.
Through this still valley let me stray,
Wrapt in some strain of pensive Gray:
Whose lofty genius bears along
The conscious dignity of song;
And, scorning from the sacred store
To waste a note on Pride, or Power,
Roves, when the glimmering twilight glooms,
And warbles 'mid the rustic tombs:
He too perchance, (for well I know
His heart would melt with friendly woe)
He too perchance, when these poor limbs are laid,
Will heave one tuneful sigh, and sooth my hov'ring shade.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Biographia Dramatica

Coleridge (in a footnote to BL chapter 18 [2:80]) makes mock of the tendency of inflating ordinary discourse into bathetic poetry. '‘As the ingenious gentleman under the influence of the Tragic Muse contrived to dislocate, "I wish you a good morning, Sir! Thank you, Sir, and I wish you the same," into two blank-verse heroics:—
To you a morning good, good Sir! I wish.
You, Sir! I thank: to you the same wish I.
This, I reckon, is elaborated out of the following example:
Pope, in his Art of Sinking in Poetry, which was published after the death of Rowe, has the following observation: "I have seen a play professedly writ in the style of Shakspeare, wherein the resemblance lay in one single line,
And so good morrow t'ye, good master lieutenant.
The satirist, however, was mistaken. The line is not in Jane Shore, but in Lady Jane Gray, which professes no imitation of Shakspeare; nor is the quotation a fair one, being interpolated to render it ridiculous.
And so good morning, good master lieutenant,
is the verse as printed by Rowe. [Biographia Dramatica, or a Companion to the Playhouse: containing Historical and critical Memoirs, and original Anecdotes, of British and Irish Dramatic Writers. Originally Compiled to the Year 1764 by David Erskine Baker, Continued Thence to 1782 by Isaac Reed, and brought down to the End of November 1811, with very considerable Additions and Improvements throughout by Stephen Jones (3 vols 1812) 2:341]
Cool title, no?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Christopher Smart, 'To the Rev. Mr. Powell, on the Non-performance of a Promise he made the Author of a Hare' (1752)

FRIEND, with regard to this same hare,
Am I to hope, or to despair?
By punctual post the letter came,
With P***ll's hand, and P***ll's name:
Yet there appear'd, for love or money,
Nor hare, nor leveret, nor coney.
Say, my dear Morgan, has my lord,
Like other great ones kept his word?
Or have you been deceiv'd by 'squire?
Or has your poacher lost his wire?
Or in some unpropitious hole,
Instead of puss, trepann'd a mole?
Thou valiant son of great Cadwallader,
Hast thou a hare, or hast thou swallow'd her?

But, now, me thinks, I hear you say,
(And shake your head) " Ah, well-a-day!
"Painful pre-em'nence to be wise,
"We wits have such short memories.
"Oh, that the act was not in force!
"A horse !—my kingdom for a horse!"
"To love—yet be deny'd the sport!
"Oh! for a friend or two at court!
"God knows, there's scarce a man of quality.
"In all our peerless principality—

But hold—for on his country joking,
To a warm Welchman's most provoking.
As for poor puss, upon my honour,
I never set my heart upon her.
But any gift from friend to friend,
Is pleasing in it's aim and end.

I, like the cock, would spurn a jewel
Sent by th' unkind, th' unjust, and cruel.
But honest P***ll ! Sure from him
A barley-corn wou'd be a gem.
Pleas'd therefore had I been, and proud,-
And prais'd thy generous heart aloud,
If 'stead of hare (but do not blab it)
You'd sent me only a Welch rabbit.

Nice: though I didn't get he reference to the cock who spurns a jewel. So I looked it up: it's Aesop of course. 'Many men pass talent unnoticed, but delight to find a piece of vulgarity; even as the cock spurns the jewel under foot, but crows over the earth-worm that he finds'.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Silly Kant 3 (Dogmatic Slumbers Edition): No Such Things As Analytic A Priori Truths

You'll have to excuse me if I appear dense here, or if I'm missing something important, but -- really?  Here's Roger, on Kant [p.18]:
Among true propositions, some are true independently of experience, and remain true however experience varies: these are the a priori truths. Others owe their truth to experience and might have been false had experience been different: these are a posteriori truths ... Kant argued that a priori truths are of two kinds which he called 'analytic' and 'synthetic' [A 6-10). An analytic truth is one like "All bachelors are unmarried" whose truth is guaranteed by the meaning, and discovered by the analysis, of the terms used to express it.
That'll do to start with (there's also this, from Wikipedia: 'Galen Strawson wrote that an a priori argument is one in which "you can see that it is true just lying on your couch. You don't have to get up off your couch and go outside and examine the way things are in the physical world. You don't have to do any science.";[1] a posteriori knowledge or justification is dependent on experience or empirical evidence (for example "Some bachelors are very happy"). A posteriori justification makes reference to experience; but the issue concerns how one knows the proposition or claim in question—what justifies or grounds one's belief in it.'

So far, so good, and so elementary. On what grounds, though, does Kant argue that a priori truths are true? Since one shortcut answer might be something like 'because a priori truths are tautological' I'm going to bracket a small section of a priori truths and call them 'tautological a priori truths'. These are statements of the 'A = A' sort, which are hard to argue against. But -- and this is my point -- it seems to me that any a priori truth that departs in any way from the simple tautology is possible to argue against, and since refuting such arguments always entails bringing in 'experience' (the very thing a priori truths are supposed to circumvent) I find myself wondering: are there any a priori truths at all? Is there any such thing?

Start with "All bachelors are unmarried". You say that to me. In reply I say: 'ah but Phil is a bachelor, but only because in a very real sense he's married to his job. Ergo he's a bachelor who is married.' You will then be compelled to point out that this is not the sense in which you meant 'married' in your original statement. But this can hardly help but tumble into a No True Scotsman fallacy. (As it might be: 'no, being "married" to your job is not actually being married. I meant: as in holding a marriage certificate.' And I reply: 'my friend Bob holds no such certificate, yet considers himself married to his civil partner Jim. Isn't he a married bachelor?' 'No,' you say. 'You're maliciously trying to pick holes in my initial statement.' To which I say: 'yes, yes I am.') Let's say you shift your ground and say, 'a better example would be: 5 plus 5 equals 10.' If I refute you by saying 'not in base 9 it doesn't' you are then faced with an infinite trail of supererogatory qualifications narrowing down the precise terms of your statement, any one of which can be refuted by a suitably ingenious and stubborn interlocutor. This last bit is the crucial thing. A clever enough antagonist will find ways in which the statement might not true. To avoid being driven back into the narrowest Tautolgical form of the a priori truth, you will be compelled to say something like: 'but you're not arguing in good faith! You know perfectly well in what sense I used the term "bachelor".' This is probably true, but it is not true a a prori -- it is, in fact, only true if we import experience.

This, then, is my claim: not that a priori truths are necessarily untrue, but that it would be possible for a suitable inventive individual to think of ways in which they might be untrue.  It's not that I necessarily think any given example of an a priori truth is untrue; that's not my argument, and doesn't need to be.  It's that I'm suggesting a suitably ingenious individual can find grounds for falsifying any a priori 'truth'. Or to put it another way: a priori statements depend upon 'good faith' at some level, and good faith is not a priori.

Monday, 10 December 2012


Who holds the place? Is the place fought over, like a military strategic goal? Are ‘hold’ and ‘place’ temporal or topographical terms?

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Eight more Strozzi

For completeness sake. (These are all from here)

Gelido suo ruscel chiaro, e tranquillo
M'insegnò Amor di state a mezzo'l giorno;
Ardean le selve, ardean le piagge, e i colli.
Ond' io, ch' al più gran gielo ardo e sfavillo,
Subito corsi; ma si puro adorno
Girsene il vidi, che turbar no'l volli:
Sol mi specchiava, e'n dolce ombrosa sponda
Mi stava intento al mormorar dell' onda.

Aure dell' angoscioso viver mio
Refrigerio soave,
E dolce si, che più non mi par grave
Ne'l ardor, ne'l morir, anz' il desio;
Deh voi'l ghiaccio, e le nubi, e'l tempo rio
Discacciatene omai, che l’onda chiara,
E l'ombra non men cara
A scherzare, a cantar per suoi boschetti,
E prati Festa et Allegrezza alletti.

Pacifiche, ma spesso in amorosa
Guerra co'fiori, e l'erba
Alla stagione acerba
Verdi insegne del giglio e della rosa,
Movete, Aure, pian pian; che tregua o posa,
Se non pace, io ritrove;
E so ben dove:—Oh vago, a mansueto
Sguardo, oh labbra d'ambrosia, oh rider, lieto!

Hor come un scoglio stassi,
Hor come un rio se'n fugge,
Ed hor crud' orsa rugge,
Hor canta angelo pio: ma che non fassi!
E che non fammi, O sassi,
O rivi, o belve, o Dii, questa mia vaga
Non so, se Ninfa, o Maga,
Non so, se Donna, o Dea,
Non so, se dolce ò rea?

Piangendo mi baciaste,
E ridendo il negaste:
In doglia hebbivi pin,
In festa hebbivi ria:
Nacque gioia di pianti,
Dolor di riso: O amanti
Miseri, habbiate insieme
Ognor paura e speme.

Bel Fior, tu mi rimembri
La rugiadosa guancia del bel viso;
E sì vera l'assembri,
Che'n te sovente, come in lei m'affiso:
Et hor del vago riso,
Hor del serene sguardo
Io pur cieco riguardo. Ma qual fugge,
O Rosa, il mattin lieve!
E chi te, come neve,
E'l mio cor teco, e la mia vita strugge!

ANNA mia, ANNA dolce, oh sempre nuovo
E più chiaro concento,
Quanta dolcezza sento
In sol ANNA dicendo? Io mi pur pruovo,
Nè quì tra noi ritruovo,
Nè tra cieli armonia,
Che del bel nome suo piu dolce sia:
Altro il Cielo, altro Amore,
Altro non suona l'Ecco del mio core.

Hor che'l prato, e la selva si scoiora,
Al tuo serena ombroso
Muovine, alto Riposo!
Deh ch'io riposi una sol notte, un hora!
Han le fere, e git augelli, ognun talora
Ha qualche pace; io quando,
Lasso! non vonne errando,
E non piango, e non grido? e qual pur forte?
Ma poiche, non sent' egli, odine, Morte!

Risi e piansi d'Amor; ne peró mai
Se non in fiamma, ò 'n onda, ò 'n vento scrissi;
Spesso mercè trovai
Crudel; sempre in me morto, in altri vissi!
Hor da' più scuri abyssi al ciel m'alzai,
Hor ne pur caddi giuso;
Stance al fin qui son chiuso!

Breezes, comfort of my tormented life
So cooling and gentle,
So sweet that it no longer seems bad
to burn, to die—except for the desire!
Banish frost, and clouds, and foul weather
Now that the lucid wave,
And the just-as-precious shade,
Entices them to play and sing in the groves
And meadows—Festivity and Merriment.

So peaceful, yet often in amorous
War with the flowers and the grass
The unripe season reveals the
Green insignia of the lily and the rose;
Advance, you Breezes, slowly, slowly, bring truce or respite,
If you cannot bring full peace, to me;
And I well know where!—O timid, shy one,
See! O ambrosial lips, o happy laughter!

Now like a rock she stands,
Now like a stream she flees,
And now roars like a wild bear,
Now sings like a pious angel, but that’s not her!
And what doesn’t she turns me into—stones,
Or rivers, or beasts, or Gods, in my wanderings?
I don’t know if she’s a nymph, or witch,
I don’t know if a woman or goddess,
I don’t know, whether sweet or heartless.

Weeping you kissed me,
And laughing you refused me:
In sorrow you were yielding
In happiness you were cruel:
Joy was born of tears,
Pain of laughter: O wretched
lovers, may they coincide
Forever—fear and hope.

Lovely Flower, you bring to my memory
The dewy cheek of her lovely face;
And yes so real is the resemblance,
That I as often look upon you as her:
And think of her sweet laugh,
Her now-serene look
Though I’m too blind to it. But how it flees,
O Rose, the mild morning!
And how you, like snow,
And my heart with thee, and my life, melt away!

My ANNA, sweet ANNA, oh always new
And ever brighter cadence,
How sweetly do I feel it
Just saying ANNA? I have searched,
But nowhere here among us
Nor even in the harmony of heaven,
Is a good name found that is so sweet:
As in Heaven, so in Love, there’s
nothing but the sounds of my heart.

Now meadow and forest grow dim,
Beneath your shadowy sky
Come forth, highest Repose,
Ah, may I rest but one night, one hour!
Wild beasts, birds and all living things know
some peace—but as for me,
Alas! when do not wander
When do I not cry, and weep? and even louder?
But since I am not heard, listen to me, Death.

Love made me laugh and cry, but never did
I write except in fire, in water, or in wind;
Often I found that mercy
Was cruel, always feeling myself die as others lived!
Now from a darker abyss I rose to the sky,
Now I fell down again;
Here at last I make my last stand!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

'Madrigal' by Giovambatista Strozzi (1593)

Gelido suo ruscel chiaro, e tranquillo
M'insegno Amor di state a mezzo'l giorno;
Ardean le solve, ardean le piagge, e i colli.
Ond' io, ch' al piu gran gielo ardo e sfavillo,
Subito corsi; ma si puro adorno
Girsene il vidi, che turbar no'l volli:
Sol mi specchiava, e'n dolce ombrosa sponda
Mi stava intento al mormorar dell' onda.

The icy brook, so clear and quiet,
Taught me about Love one summer noonday;
The woods on fire, the slopes on fire, and the hills.
Just like me--the greater the frost, the more I burn and sparkle,
Coursing onward, but adorned with such purity
That I only watched it, not wanting to disturb it:
So I reflected, sitting on a sweet and shady bank
Intent upon the murmuring of its waves.

I think that's right; but maybe somebody with better Italian than I (that would be, er, everybody) could correct me.

Friday, 7 December 2012


For some reason chapter 12 of the Biographia has proved unusually productive of untraced allusions and quotations. Perhaps it's because it's so very lengthy and dense. At any rate, here's yet another one.
There are others, whose prejudices are still more formidable, inasmuch as they are grounded in their moral feelings and religious principles, which had been alarmed and shocked by the impious and pernicious tenets defended by Hume, Priestley, and the French fatalists or necessitarians; some of whom had perverted metaphysical reasonings to the denial of the mysteries and indeed of all the peculiar doctrines of Christianity; and others even to the subversion of all distinction between right and wrong. I would request such men to consider what an eminent and successful defender of the Christian faith has observed, that true metaphysics are nothing else but true divinity, and that in fact the writers, who have given them such just offence, were sophists, who had taken advantage of the general neglect into which the science of logic has unhappily fallen, rather than metaphysicians, a name indeed which those writers were the first to explode as unmeaning.
Who is the eminent and successful defender of the Christian faith, who observed that true metaphysics are nothing else but true divinity? Engell and Jackson Bate say 'the "defender" has not been identified'. What do I say?
The 'defender' is English theologian Daniel Waterland (1683-1740), Master of Magdalene College Cambridge and Archdeacon of Middlesex. ‘I shall not be ashamed of making Use of true Metaphysicks to correct your Errors, and to establish the Son's Divinity, upon the fame Foot whereon Scripture has fixed it…. We should not, on This Account, be so unreasonable as to censure either Dr. Clarke, or his Friends, for procuring all the real Assistance They can from Metaphysicks; true Metaphysicks being nothing else but true Divinity: Let but your Reasonings be clear, solid, and pertinent, and we shall never find fault with them for being metaphysical.’ [Daniel Waterland, A Second Vindication of Christ’s Divinity, Or, A Second Defense of some Querie relating to Dr. Clarke’s Scheme of Holy Trinity (1723), 3-5]

Thursday, 6 December 2012

... and another one; or, Infinite Blindness

Again from chapter 12. Coleridge starts enumerating theses, and adds this 'scholium' to his second one:
A chain without a staple, from which all the links derived their stability, or a series without a first, has been not inaptly allegorized, as a string of blind men, each holding the skirt of the man before him, reaching far out of sight, but all moving without the least deviation in one straight line. It would be naturally taken for granted, that there was a guide at the head of the file: what if it were answered, No! Sir, the men are without number, and infinite blindness supplies the place of sight?
'...has been not inaptly allegorized...' But by whom? Nobody knows. Except me:
This is from William Wollaston’s The Religion of Nature Delineated (2nd ed., 1724), 67: discussing whether the universe must have a divine first-cause, or whether it might not be a series that extends infinitely. ‘Suppose a chain, hung down out of the heavens from an unknown height, and tho every link of it gravitated toward the earth, and what it hung upon was not visible, yet it did not descend, but kept its situation; and upon this a question should arise, What supported or kept up this chain: would it be a sufficient answer to say, that the first (or lowest) link hung upon the second (or that next above it), the second or rather the first and second together upon the third, and so on ad infinitum? For what holds up the whole? A chain of ten links would fall down, unless something able to bear it hinderd: one of twenty, is not staid by something of a yet greater strength, in proportion to the increase of weight: and therefore one of infinite links certainly, if not sustaind by something infinitely strong, and capable to bear up an infinite weight.’ In a footnote to this passage, he goes on: ‘This matter might be illustrated by other similitudes … but I shall set down but one more: and in that indeed the motion is inverted, but the thing is the same taken either way. … Suppose a row of blind men, of which the last laid his hand upon the shoulder of the man next before him, he on the shoulder of the next before him, and so on till the foremost grew to be quite out of sight; and some body asking, what guide this string of blind men had at the head of them, it should be answerd, that they had no guide, nor any head, but one held by another, and so went on, ad infin. would any rational creature accept this for a just answer? Is it not to say, that infinite blindness (or blindness, if it be infinite) supplies the place of sight, or of a guide?'

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Two more Coleridge allusions

Biographia chapter 12: '"I asserted that the world was mad," exclaimed poor Lee, "and the world said, that I was mad, and confound them, they outvoted me."' Engell and Jackson Bate say: 'Nathaniel Lee (c. 1653-92) Restoration dramatist, confined to Bedlam 1684-9, received many visitors, to whom he made epigrammatic remarks that found their way into a number of books. This one has not been traced.' [BL, 1:262].

Actually Coleridge found this anecdote in Priestley: ‘When Lee the tragedian was in a mad-house, and was asked by a stranger how he came there, he said he was outvoted. Being desired to explain himself, he replied, "I said the world was mad, and the world said I was mad, and they outvoted me."’ [John Towill Rutt (ed), The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley (25 volumes, 1797), 17:321].

A couple of paragraphs later, Coleridge quotes 'Doctrina per tot manus tradita tandem in vappam desiit!' It means 'a doctrine passed through so many hands ends up as vapid wine!'. Engell and Bate say: 'the source of untraced' [BL, 1:263]. It's from Thomas Burnet's Archaelogiae Philosophicae, sive Doctrina Antiqua de Rerum Originibus (1692), ch. 7: ‘doctrina illa, per tot manus tradita, & per tot saecula, tanquam vinum saepius transfundum, tandem in vappam desiit.’ (‘That doctrine, having been handed down through so many hands, and over so many centuries, is like wine that has been transfused over and over, and at last been left merely flat wine’).

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Mark 14:36

I'm surely missing something obvious: how does Mark know the words of Christ's prayer in the garden, since the disciples are all either asleep or else have gone away?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Coleridge's Synesius

Following up yesterday. In a footnote to chapter 12 of the Biographia, Coleridge boasts: 'In this biographical sketch of my literary life I may be excused, if I mention here, that I had translated the eight Hymns of Synesius from the Greek.' Show-off.  There are ten, not eight, hymns.

Anyway, these translations, if they ever existed, have been lost. Alan Stevenson, who translated all the Synesian hymns later in the century, noted in his preface ‘how deeply we must deplore that this translation by “the marvellous-eyed one” should never have been published. I have made diligent inquiries as to its fate; but can learn nothing of it.’ [Stevenson, The Ten Hymns of Synesius in English Verse (1865), xi]. It's a long shot, but is there a chance that this anonymous translation of Hymn IV (in The British Magazine of 1841) could be Coleridge's, or based upon his version? It reads as ropey enough, in terms of its versification; more like juvenilia than a mature poet. On the other hand the headnote implies (without actually saying) that the version was done specifically for the magazine. STC died in 1834. Altogether not very likely.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

from Synesius, Hymn 3

Synesius was a 4th-century AD pagan, then after conversion a Christian bishop in what is now Libya. Here's a portion (lines 187-200) from his third Hymn, with my translation afterwards.

Μύστας δέ Νόος
Τά τε καί τὺ λέγει,
Βυθὸν ἄρρητον
Σὺ τὸ τίκτον ἔφυς,
Σὺ τὸ τίκτόμενον,
Σὺ τὸ φώτιζον,
Σὺ τὸ λαμπόμενον,
Σὺ τὸ φαινόμενον,
Σὺ τὸ κρυπτόμενον,
Ἰδίαις αὐγαις.
Ἓν καὶ πάντα,
Ἓν καθ’ ἑαυτό,
Καὶ διὰ πάντων.

Mysteries of the mind,
speak of this thing and that,
your inexpressible depths
are what we dance around.
You are the Maker,
you the Made,
you the Light,
you the Illuminated,
you the Revelation,
you the Hidden
in your own gleam.
One and Everything,
one and Himself
and throughout everything.

Saturday, 1 December 2012


Bernard Williams thinks we value 'truthfulness' (sincerity, assertion) more than 'truth' (precision, accuracy). Of course it depends on the discourse: we may value the former in a politician or religious leader and the latter in an accountant or car mechanic.  But what is the opposite?  Do we despise 'mendacefulness' more than 'mendacity'?

Friday, 30 November 2012


'Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires ...'  But the latter surely contradicts the former: 'I am compelling you to do this thing; but I am asking you nicely to do it, at the same time.' Latent and manifest Imperialism.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Biographia Dialogia

What's with all the Biographia Literaria stuff, Adam?

I'm glad you asked. This term, I'm running a BL reading group at my university; we're going through it chapter by chapter. Accordingly, I'm refreshing my memory of the book, chapter by chapter, working through it. I'm struck, as I do so, how many of Coleridge's myriad references and quotations have never been traced or sourced. So I'm doing that as I go.

To what end?

I'm pulling together some academic something on Coleridge, plagiary and the BL.  Conceivably I'll published a new edition of the book, if I can find an academic publisher interested in such a thing. Maybe a monograph.


I know! It's one of those texts, foundational as far as literary criticism is concerned. I studied it as a student, and re-read it when I started academia (bits of it, anyway) in order to teach it.  But going through again in detail has been an eye-opener.

You realise that I'm a figment of your imagination? There's not actually a third-person asking you these questions?

Two things in particular have struck me.  One is just how massively the plagiarism issue is hidden in plain view; how much STC goes on about it, how centrally 'plagiary' defines 'fancy', and the extent to which the 'imagination' is a process of using the tools of plagiary against it, making something new out of the orts and scraps of --

Nobody cares, you know.

-- literary tradition.  The second thing is: how little other art there is in the book.  It's all: poetry, poetry, poetry (and, of course, metaphysics, metaphysics, metaphysics).  One reference to a painting is the only other mode I've come across: where's music? Dance? Sculpture? I always thought of Coleridge's aesthetic theory as an aesthetic theory that discussed all the arts; but now I'm wondering if it isn't much more specifically logocentric than that. And for Gospel-of-St-John religious reasons.

You done?

Sure. For now.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

One more Coleridge quotation

Today's is from Biographia chapter 12, near the beginning: 'Vir bonus es, doctus, prudens; ast haud tibi spiro.' The Latin means: ‘you are a good man, well-schooled, prudent, but it’s not for you that I breathe [ie ‘speak’].’ The second part is proverbial. ‘Let Mr Galt satisfy himself by addressing [criticisms] in the cautionary words of the Rosemary to the Sow: Sus, apage; haud tibi spiro’ [‘Galt’s Life of Byron’, Museum of Foreign Literature and Science 17 (1830), 506]—that is, the flower’s words to the pig are ‘go away, pig: I do not blow for you.’ The earliest printed example of this is Joachim Camerarius’ Sÿmbolorum et Emblematum (1590; not as Engell and Bate have it, ‘Symbolarum’). The first part, though, nobody seems to have traced. In fact it's quoted from Johannes Trithemius, Annales Hirsaugienses: Opus nunquam hactenus editum, & ab Eruditis (1590), in which Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV is described as ‘vir bonus, magnificus, prudens & doctus’ [2:215].

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Rain poem

The sky pours love
hushing the earth
mother and baby.

Cords of water,
stethoscope-thick, dark
as any grey was ever dark.

The rainstorm says what it has always said:
unhide your head; unhide your head.

Monday, 26 November 2012


They’ve just discovered a copy of Machiavelli’s rare 1519 2nd-edition of The Prince: ‘Symbole: ye Treatise Formerlye Known As Prince’.

There’s nothing stopping Asperger’s sufferers becoming major international poets. Just look at Rainman Maria Rilke.

Bad news: ITV have turned down my pitch for a new vegetarians-in-discomfort reality show, "I'm Full Of Celery -- Get Me A Root Beer"

‘When I buy bees it is God’s will I buy them from a man. The Bible is very clear on the topic of Women’s Bee-Shops.’

Loganberries. Watch out for them. They give you the runs, kill you soon after your 30th birthday.

Ingot-glorious Basterds. #metalfilms

Shire On You Crazy Diamond #tolkiensongs

Positive noises from the BBC re: my idea of combining ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ & ‘One Man And His Dog’: “Strictly COOM-BY, COOM-BY Dancing’.

Dear Authorities. Please rename Penny Farthings ‘Two-pound-coin Five-pee-pieces.’ This is the 21st Century. Yours, A. PS I am not a crank.

Like any serial killer I make furniture out of body parts of my victims. And now this fat-headed policeman wants to arrest me? *Headdesk*

And God said ‘fiat lux’. And so God created a luxury Italian car. ‘This is no use,’ God said, tetchily. ‘The headlights don’t even work.’

Hearing that George III’s urine was blue the citizens of Boston insisted he show them, insisting ‘no taxation without wee presentation!’

'Doctor Freud! People keep riding pushbikes across me.' 'I'm afraid there's nothing I can do. You're a cyclepath.'

I want to stuff my casual shoes with leaves. Crazy that I can’t manage it! There must be fifty ways to leaf your loafers!

The French wine industry finally decides to cash-in on James Bond. A franchise agreement has been signed to permit ‘Double-O Sauvignon’

The London Array has gone live, but is presently not generating any electricity. It’s a shame about Array.

To adapt Eliot: ‘It’s gidding it’s gidding it’s gidding kinda hectic/So POLICE stay off my back, or I will attack./And you don’t want that.’

Each 24 hour period used to have its own spine. Back in the day.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Intuition, Quidnunc mention

More hitherto untraced quotations/allusions in the Biographia.  Apologies; but I need to park all the instances of this sort of thing I discover for future reference.  The first is an especially dull one, too.  Bear with me.

‘Thus too,' says Coleridge, in chapter 10, 'have I followed Hooker, Sanderson, Milton and others, in designating the immediateness of any act or object of knowledge by the word intuition.’ OK.

Editors have traced the Miltonic use, not least because Coleridge quotes the passage he means (from Paradise Lost) at the bottom of this very paragraph. But they haven't traced the Hooker or Sanderson; Engell and Jackson Bate in fact assert that they think Sanderson doesn't use 'intuition' ('no particular example of the use of intuition has been found in the works of Bishop Sanderson'). They're wrong, though.

Take them one at a time.  Richard Hooker is much concerned with what he calls the fullest development of faith, ‘the intuitive vision of God in the world to come’ [Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie 1 (1594): 12:11]. And English theologian Robert Sanderson (1587-1663) talks in his The Case Determined: of the Military Life (1678) of ‘the intuition of Honour and Glory’ as a ‘lawful and commendable’ thing in a soldier. [The Works of Robert Sanderson (ed William Jacobson; 6 vols 1854), 5:112]. For completeness's sake, here's the bit in Paradise Lost (5:487-9) where the angel Raphael explains to Adam that ‘reason’ is either ‘Discursive, or Intuitive’, adding that ‘discourse/Is oftest yours, the latter most is ours.’ The distinction is one of immediacy of apprehension of truth (‘Discursive or Intuitive—, Tracing Truth from Argument to Argument, Discerning, Examining, Distingushing, Comparing, Inferring, Concluding. This is Discourse; whether with One Another, or Alone; whether in Words or Mentally. Intuitive is when the Mind Instantly perceives Truth as we with one Glance of the Eye Know if the Object is Red, Green, White etc.'[Jonathan Richardson, Explanatory Notes and Remarks on Milton's Paradise Lost (1734), 229].

The second one, though, is just smallbeer. In chapter 10 Coleridge recalls living at Nether Stowey, during the invasion panic of the Napoleonic Wars, when he and Wordsworth were suspected of being French spies. 'Far different were the days to which these anecdotes have carried me back. The dark guesses of some zealous Quidnunc met with so congenial a soil in the grave alarm of a titled Dogberry of our neighbourhood.' Engell and Bate gloss 'Quidnunc' thus: 'literally "what now?" Hence an inquisitive, gossipy person' [BL 1:193]. That's not right. In fact Quidnunc is the title character in the once-popular play, The Farce of the Upholsterer (1758) by Arthur Murphy. Young Bell loves Quidnunc’s beautiful daughter, but his way is blocked: ‘the Man’s distracted about the Balance of Power and will give his Daughter to none but a Politician.— … his Head runs upon Ways and Means, and Schemes for paying off the national Debt: The Affairs of Europe engross all his Attention, while the Distresses of his lovely Daughter pass unnoticed’ [Murphy, The Upholsterer, a Farce in Two Acts As it is Performed at the Theatre Royal in Covent-Garden (1763), 6]. Dogberry, of course, is the incompetent but self-satisfied night constable from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Saturday, 24 November 2012


Back to Coleridge. Did you miss him?

Actually, this is huge -- unless I'm perpetrating some obvious clunker, which I may well be.  But it seems to me that Coleridge criticism has been getting this Coleridgean coinage wrong.  It's a big part of the argument of the Biographia; the word even has its own Wikipedia page:
Esemplastic is a qualitative adjective which the English romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed to have invented. Despite its etymology from the Greek word πλάττω for "to shape", the term was modelled on Schelling's philosophical term Ineinsbildung – the interweaving of opposites – and implies the process of an object being moulded into unity. The first recorded use of the word is in 1817 by Coleridge in his work, Biographia Literaria, in describing the esemplastic – the unifying – power of the imagination.
It is first mentioned right at the start of BL Chapter 10. The italicised bit is Coleridge's imaginary interlocuter objecting to the word; the rest is Coleridge in his own voice, replying:
"Esemplastic. The word is not in Johnson, nor have I met with it elsewhere." Neither have, I. I constructed it myself from the Greek words, εἰς ἓν πλάττειν, to shape into one; because, having to convey a new sense, I thought that a new term would both aid the recollection of my meaning, and prevent its being confounded with the usual import of the word, imagination.
Now all the Coleridge critics and commentators tell us that the Greek [transliterated: eis ev plattein] means ‘make or shape into one’. Coleridge’s Notebooks for February-June 1813 contain the following, often quoted by critics as elucidating ‘esemplasy’ as a key Coleridgean concept:
His Imagination, if it must be so called, is at all events of the pettiest kind—it is an Imagunculation.—How excellently the German Einbildungskraft expresses this prime & loftiest Faculty, the power of co-adunation, the faculty hat forms the many into one, in eins Bildung. [Coleridge, Collected Notebooks III (ed. Kathleen Coburn, 1973), 4176]
In fact the ‘ein’ in the German Einbildungskraft means ‘in’, not 'one'; such that the word means ‘informing power’ rather than ‘one-forming power’. It’s unclear to whom Coleridge refers in the opening of this passage; possibly Southey. ‘Adunation’ is defined by Johnson as ‘an union; being joined.’  The Notebook entry goes to the experiment with English versions of the German: ‘Eisenoplasy or esenoplastic Power’. Nigel Leask [Biographia Literaria (Everyman 1997), 389] thinks it ‘noteworthy that Coleridge here [in chapter 10] suppresses the German origins of “esemplastic”, replacing it with a Greek etymology.’ It may be so; but that Greek etymology is interesting in its own right.

Watch out for the 'BUT!'. It's coming.

Πλάττειν is from πλάττω, ‘to form, mould or shape’ but the more usual form is πλάσσω—from this form we get πλάστος ‘formed, moulded’, the root of the English word ‘plastic’. Conceivably Coleridge specifies πλάττω because, as the Attic form of the word, it is the way it appears in Plato (for instance: Phaedrus 246c; Republic 420c), where it is used to mean—to quote Liddell and Scott—‘to form in the mind, form a notion of a thing.’ ‘εν’ means ‘in’; but—BUT!—‘εἰς’, whatever Coleridge scholars seem to assume, does not mean ‘one’ (‘one’ would be εἷς, ‘heis’). It is, rather, a preposition of place, towardsness, inwardness, in-ness and the like. Since Coleridge specifies ‘esemplasy’ not ‘hesemplasy’, and since he knew the importance of breathings to Greek vowels, we can assume this is intentional. The other thing to say about the ‘εἰς’ [‘to’, ‘into’] is that it too is Attic dialect: other Greek dialects prefer ‘ἐς’ ‘except that’ (to quote L & S again) ‘Poets use εἰς before vowels when metre requires a long syllable.’ The English pronunciation of ‘esemplasy’ with a short initial ‘e’ misses this; maybe we should get into the habit of saying ‘ēsemplasy’; something which would have the additional benefit of glancing at a pun in the Greek ‘ἦς’ [ēs] a variant of εἰμι [‘eimi’] (found for instance in Theocritus) meaning ‘I am’, or the “I am”. The upshot of this speculation (not, I concede, supported by—for example—any Coleridgean notebook scribbles) is that the invented Greek etymology of ‘esemplasy’ is there to emphasise not the oneness but he ideational subjectivity of the concept: that, in other words, it is something tied not so much to the oneness of the cosmos as the oneness of the soul.

Friday, 23 November 2012


The opening crashing chords of Turandot sound to my ear exactly like the soundtrack to a 1920s film about gangsters or dinosaurs. Normally I'd assume film composers were copying Puccini; but given that this opera was first performed in 1926 there's just the hunt of a possibility the vector of influence ran the other way ...

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Kant: Transcendental Idealism

I step hesitantly, since I don't doubt everything I am about to say in this blogpost has been argued over and over by Kantians; or, worse, hasn't been argued over and over because it's beneath contempt in its idiocy. But it's what has always bothered me about the premises of Kant's Transcendental Idealism
We have therefore wanted to say that all our intuition is nothing but the representation of appearance; that the things that we intuit are not in themselves what we intuit them to be, nor are their relations so constituted in themselves as they appear to us; and that if we remove our own subject or even only the subjective constitution of the senses in general, then all constitution, all relations of objects in space and time, indeed space and time themselves would disappear, and as appearances they cannot exist in themselves, but only in us. What may be the case with objects in themselves and abstracted from all this receptivity of our sensibility remains entirely unknown to us. We are acquainted with nothing except our way of perceiving them, which is peculiar to us, and which therefore does not necessarily pertain to every being, though to be sure it pertains to every human being. We are concerned solely with this. Space and time are its pure forms, sensation in general its matter. We can cognize only the former a priori, i.e., prior to all actual perception, and they are therefore called pure intuition; the latter, however, is that in our cognition that is responsible for its being called a posteriori cognition, i.e., empirical intuition. The former adheres to our sensibility absolutely necessarily, whatever sort of sensations we may have; the latter can be very different. (A42/B59–60)
OK; and here's the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Kant introduces transcendental idealism in the part of the Critique called the Transcendental Aesthetic, and scholars generally agree that for Kant transcendental idealism encompasses at least the following claims: 
[1] In some sense, human beings experience only appearances, not things in themselves. 
[2] Space and time are not things in themselves, or determinations of things in themselves that would remain if one abstracted from all subjective conditions of human intuition. [Kant labels this conclusion a) at A26/B42 and again at A32–33/B49. It is at least a crucial part of what he means by calling space and time transcendentally ideal (A28/B44, A35–36/B52)]. 
[3] Space and time are nothing other than the subjective forms of human sensible intuition. [Kant labels this conclusion b) at A26/B42 and again at A33/B49–50]. 
[4] Space and time are empirically real, which means that “everything that can come before us externally as an object” is in both space and time, and that our internal intuitions of ourselves are in time (A28/B44, A34–35/B51–51).
Right, so: I'm less interested for the moment in the question of whether the relationship between representations and things-in-themselves can be resolved, or whether the latter are necessary to Kant's theory. I'm interested in what K. says about the a priori forms of our sensible intuition. Wikipedia quotes John Watson's The philosophy of Kant Explained (1908), 62–72., so you can see how up to date my engagement is:
[Kant's] most influential contribution to metaphysics: the abandonment of the quest to try to know the world as it is "in itself" independent of sense experience. He demonstrated this with a thought experiment, showing that it is not possible to meaningfully conceive of an object that exists outside of time and has no spatial components and is not structured in accordance with the categories of the understanding, such as substance and causality. Although such an object cannot be conceived, Kant argues, there is no way of showing that such an object does not exist. Therefore, Kant says, the science of metaphysics must not attempt to reach beyond the limits of possible experience but must discuss only those limits, thus furthering the understanding of ourselves as thinking beings. The human mind is incapable of going beyond experience so as to obtain a knowledge of ultimate reality, because no direct advance can be made from pure ideas to objective existence.
There's a rightness about this; it has a common-sense-y 'an eyeball can see lots of things but not itself' vibe to it. But I don't think it is right. Let's replicate Kant's thought experiment.

Kant's argument is that space and time are not 'things'; they are forms of perceiving. The Wikipedia article I quote there goes on: 'both space and time and conceptual principles and processes pre-structure experience.' So in other words, Kant's point is that we see space and time when we look around us because (I read this analogy somewhere, but can't remember where) we are in effect wearing 'space and time spectacles' over our eyes.  A parallel case would be a man who had his corneas tinted yellow, and who accordingly would see a yellowish world. We can prove this, says Kant, because it is not possible to imagine a spaceless or timeless object, or entity, or whatever. So: I can think of a cube, in space; and I can imagine that the cube has vanished, but I can't imagine that the space in which I had previously imagined the cube has vanished. This appears to have persuaded many people.

My problem is that Kant takes these 'categories' as absolutes.  What I mean is: he says, in effect, 'we can imagine lots of objects that have spatial dimensions and that exist in time; but we cannot imagine no space and no time.' I don't disagree: I, personally, cannot imagine no space.  But I can imagine more or less space.

There's a parallel, I think, with what Bertrand Russell says about Berkeley in his History of Western Philosophy. Russell challenges Berkeley's 'idealism', the 'argument against matter.' That argument, according to Russell, 'is most persuasively set forth in The Dialogues of Hylas and Philonous (1713); for that is where Berkeley 'advances valid arguments in favour of a certain important conclusion, though not quite in favour of the conclusion that he thinks he is proving.'  That's what Russell says, at any rate. 'He thinks he is proving that all reality is mental; what he is proving is that we perceive qualities, not things, and that qualities are relative to the percipient.':
The characters in the Dialogues are two: Hylas, who stands for scientifically educated common sense; and Philonous, who is Berkeley. After a few amiable remarks, Hylas says that he has heard strange reports of the opinions of Philonous, to the effect that he does not believe in material substance. "Can anything," he exclaims, "be more fantastical, more repugnant to Common Sense, or a more manifest piece of Scepticism, than to believe there is no such thing as matter?" Philonous replies that he does not deny the reality of sensible things, i.e. of what is perceived immediately by the senses, but that we do not see the causes of colours or hear the causes of sounds. Both agree that the senses make no inferences. Philonous points out that by sight we perceive only light, colour, and figure; by hearing, only sounds; and so on. Consequently, apart from sensible qualities there is nothing sensible, and sensible things are nothing but sensible qualities or combinations of sensible qualities. Philonous now sets to work to prove that "the reality of sensible things consists in being perceived -- as against the opinion of Hylas -- that "to exist is one thing, and to be perceived is another.' That sense-data are mental is a thesis which Philonous supports by a detailed examination of the various senses. He begins with heat and cold. Great heat, he says, is a pain, and must be in a mind. Therefore heat is mental; and a similar argument applies to cold. This is reinforced by the famous argument about the lukewarm water. When one of your hands is hot and the other cold, you put both into lukewarm water, which feels cold to one hand and hot to the other; but the water cannot be at once hot and cold. This finishes Hylas, who acknowledges that "heat and cold are only sensations existing in our minds." [624-25]
Russell has this to say about this famous thought-experiment:
The argument about the hot and cold hands in lukewarm water strictly speaking, would only prove that what we perceive in that experiment is not hot and cold, but hotter and colder. There is nothing to prove that these are subjective. [628]
Russell has other arguments against Berkeley but I want to stick with this one. Within the spectrum of human experience, there is no such thing as absolute hot or absolute cold.  Of course there is such a thing as absolute zero, and I suppose an object that was so hot the molecules within it were agitated towards the speed of light would be 'absolutely' hot. But we're not talking about such exotic circumstances. 'Hot' and 'cold' describe a spectrum of relative measurements between (say) minus 50 and plus 120 degrees centigrade, because this is how human beings encounter hot and cold in the world. And when we do that encountering, what we actually experience is hotter or colder; which is to say, relative terms.

So, mutatis mutandi, with space and time.  I can imagine a three-dimensional object, says Kant, but I cannot imagine an absolute absence of dimension.  Perhaps so, but I can imagine a two dimensional object (Abbot's Flatland is an example of somebody imagining such a thing at length and in detail), and I can also imagine a one-dimensional object; not to mention a four- or five-dimensional object.  Not that these things actually exist; that's not Kant's point.  But that I can imagine them.  As with Berkeley's hot and cold, space and time are not proven to be absolutely in the mind by Kant's thought-experiment because space and time figure conceptually as asymptotes towards precisely the situation Kant denies.

There's something similar in Kant's critique of the Descartean cogito.  The problem, says Kant, is that 'it is not legitimate to use "I think" as a complete phrase, since it calls for a continuation -- "I think that ... (it will rain, you are right, we shall win ...)"  According to Kant, Descartes falls prey to the "subremption of the hypostasized consciousness": he wrongly concludes that, in the empty "I think" which accompanies every representation of an object, we get hold of a positive phenomenal entity, res cogitans, which thinks and is transparent to itself in its capacity to think.' [I'm quoting from here, p.13]  Of course I take the point that we don't 'think' in the abstract; that we are always thinking about something.  But though it's true that when we think we must think about something and cannot think about nothing, we can nonetheless think about more, or less; and at either end of that spectrum is the asymptote towards which thinking tends, and which returns us to a Descartean purity.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

What does 'exotericé' mean?

Now that I have an actual question to ask, I'll confess I'm starting to feel sorry I've driven all the traffic away from this blog with the pressure of relentless Coleridge trivia. But I'm going to ask the question anyway. What does exotericé mean?

It's in Biographia chapter 9; in a section where Coleridge is gently mocking Fichte:
Thus his theory degenerated into a crude egoismus, a boastful and hyperstoic hostility to NATURE, as lifeless, godless, and altogether unholy: while his religion consisted in the assumption of a mere ORDO ORDINANS, which we were permitted exotericé to call GOD; and his ethics in an ascetic, and almost monkish, mortification of the natural passions and desires.
The Princeton edition of the Biographia, edited by stalwarts Engell and Jackson Bate, gloss the word as meaning 'popularly', but I don't see where they get that from (they give no source). I can't, indeed, find a definition -- except that presumably it is from the Latin 'exoticus' ('foreign, exotic'). Google books returns but one instance of the word's usage that isn't Coleridge's Biographia: Georg Conrad Bergius and Johann Christoph Neander's Disputatio civilis (1653), where it's used (with, as in Coleridge, an accent on terminal 'e') to mean 'foreign' or 'exotic'. Isn't it likely that's what Coleridge meant, too? I'd gloss '... which we were permitted exotericé to call GOD' as '... which we were permitted unusually, or as a special concession to call GOD'. Am I wrong?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


It's dawning on me that's I'm not going to get properly on top of the Biographia unless I learn German. I should have learned it long before now, of course; it being one of the world's great languages, and crucial to philosophy.  Plus, it would give me the chance finally to read Klopstock, about whom 18th- and 19th-century British writers talked a lot, and whose Messiah I have never (I'm ashamed to say) read. He needs better PR: look at how that Wikipedia entry linked-to above, itself scavenged from an old Encyclopedia Britannica piece, describes the work:
The subject matter, the Redemption, presented serious difficulties to adequate epic treatment. The Gospel story was too scanty, and what might have been imported from without and interwoven with it was rejected by the author as profane. He had accordingly to resort to Christian mythology; and here again, circumscribed by the dogmas of the Church, he was in danger of trespassing on the fundamental truths of the Christian faith. The personality of Christ could scarcely be treated in an individual form, still less could angels and devils; and in the case of God Himself it was impossible. The result was that, despite the groundwork — the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Revelation of St John, and the model ready to hand in Milton's Paradise Lost — material elements are largely wanting and the actors in the poem, divine and human, lack plastic form. That the poem took twenty-five years to complete could not but be detrimental to its unity of design; the original enthusiasm was not sustained until the end, and the earlier cantos are far superior to the late ones. Thus the intense public interest the work aroused in its commencement had almost vanished before its completion. It was translated into seventeen languages and led to numerous imitations.
I love the non sequitur of that last sentence.  Here's how the 1821 English translation of the poem (by the beautifully-named G H C Egestorff) begins:
My Soul, degenerate man's redemption sing,
Which the Messiah in his human state
On earth accomplished, by which, suffering, slain
And glorify'd, unto the Love of God
The progeny of Adam he restor'd.
Such was the everlasting Will divine.
Th' infernal Fiend opposed him, Judah stood
In opposition proud; but vain their rage:
He did the deed, he wrought out man's salvation.

Yet, Wondrous Deed, which th' all-compassionate
Jehovah alone completely comprehends,
May Poesy presume from her remote
Obscurity to venture on thy theme ? —
Creative Spirit, in whose presence here
I humbly' adore, her efforts consecrate,
Conduct her steps and lead her, me to meet,
Of transport full, with glorious charms endow'd
And power immortal, imitating Thee.
Invest her with thy fire, Thou who the depth
Of deity discernst, and dost erect
Thy sanctuary in the breast of mortal man!
Pure be the heart, devoid of all offence,
Then I, though with a mortal's feeble voice,
May venture the Incarnate Son to sing, —
May venture on the awful path, forgiv'n
If ever with unsteady pace I move.

Ye Sons of earth, can ye the dignity
Appreciate to which ye were exalted,
When the Creator of the universe
Your state assumed, the Saviour to become
Of his appostate creatures? Listen then,
And heed my song, hut more especially ye,
Ye noble few, ye dear unfeigned friends
Of the Messiah, who with pious hope
And confidence dare the tremendous day
Of awful retribution humbly meet;
Regard it and e'er by a life devout
Sing grateful praises to th' Eternal Son.
Not from the holy city far remote,
That now through blindness ignorantly spurn'd
The crown of high election, rendering thus
Herself unhallowed; wont to be the plane
Of the Eternal's Glory, of the prophets
The succouring abode, an altar now
Of blood, by hands of heinous murderers shed;
There' the divine Messiah now withdrew,
And separated from a people who
External honours oft on him conferr'd,
But these of that pure feeling were devoid,
Which faultless in the sight of God remains.

The Son divine concealed himself from them.
They strewed his path with palm, they filled the air
With shouts and loud hosannas; but the loud
Acclaims of their unholy joy were vain,
They knew not him whom they saluted — King!
Their eyes discerned not the Lord's Anointed.
God from the heavens came down. The powerful voice:
Behold, I glorified mine only Son,
And I will glorify him yet again! —
The presence of the deity proclaim'd.
But they had been by aggravated crime
Too much debased , his words to comprehend.
Jesus mean while, yet once more solemnly
The purport of the covenant to avow,
That he would rescue man from death and sin;
Approach'd the awful presence of the Father,
Who had in anger turned his countenance
From th' earth, and reascended to the heav'ns,
Because man, obdurate, regarded not
The gracious call in the propitious hour.
East of Jerusalem a mountain rears
It's hoary brow, whose lofty summit oft
E'en as the sanctuary of the Most High,
The Saviour in it's lonely haunts receiv'd
When he devoted nights to close communion
With his Eternal Father.
I break off there, depressed that Egestorff perpetrates the 'its/it's' error I spend so much time correcting in students' essays.  Otherwise -- well, this is HEROICALLY dull stuff.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Another previously untraced Coleridge quotation

I keep stumbling upon these.  In Chapter 9 of the Biographia Coleridge discusses humble men who are moved by religious vision to write books of theology. After praising German Christian mystic Jakob Böhme (1575 - 1624) and Englishman George Fox (1624-91), founder of the Society of Friends, Coleridge goes on to discuss men who
in simplicity of soul, made their words immediate echoes of their feelings. Hence the frequency of those phrases among them, which have been mistaken for pretences to immediate inspiration; as for instance, "It was delivered unto me," "I strove not to speak," "I said, I will be silent," "but the word was in my heart as a burning fire," "and I could not forbear." Hence too the unwillingness to give offence; hence the foresight, and the dread of the clamours, which would be raised against them, so frequently avowed in the writings of these men, and expressed, as was natural, in the words of the only book, with which they were familiar. "Woe is me that I am become a man of strife, and a man of contention,—I love peace: the souls of men are dear unto me: yet because I seek for light every one of them doth curse me!"
The italicised bits are all from the Bible. But where is the passage "Woe is me ... them doth curse me!" quoted from? James Engell and W. Jackson Bate admit they don't know:
Though untraced, the passage suggests Fox (the use of "Light" and reference to a "man of contention",) whom C. may also refer to, below, as one for whom neither the world nor the world's law was a "friend". [Biographia Literaria (2 vols; Princeton Univ. Press 1984), 1:150]
But this passage isn't Fox, as it happens. It is from an anti-Slavery sermon by an English preacher called George Barrell Cheever:
‘“Woe is me,” exclaimed Jeremiah, “for I am become a man of contention and strife.” I love peace, and I love my people, and I love my country, and out of love I speak to them this word of the Lord. I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury, yet every one of them doth curse me. [George Barrell Cheever, God Against Slavery: And the Freedom and Duty of the Pulpit to Rebuke It, as a Sin Against God (1800), 40].
Cheever's first sentence is quoted from Jeremiah 15:10. There’s no evidence that Coleridge knew Cheever, although Cheever’s book certainly praises Coleridge (‘…as that great writer, Mr.Coleridge, once remarked… [74]). Anti-slavery! The unfriendliness of the world and its laws is thus explained.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


Wavering it always flows
Horseless it neighs
Whooping and dinning-down it goes
To storm hell’s ways.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Did Coleridge coin the word "substrate"?

I can see a whole phalanx of posts with variants of this title stretching out to the crack of doom. But nobody's interested (I'm barely interested myself) so I'll make this my last.  James Engell, W. Jackson Bate and the OED agree: 'OED cites C (in an annotation on Jeremy Taylor) as the first to use the word "substrate" as a noun for "substratum".'  Engell and Bate think he got it by Englishing Kant's das Substratum when writing chapter 8 of the Biographia. But the word was in fairly widespread use before him. It had long been used as an adjective (Theophilus Gale talks of 'substrate matter' in 1677; and Richard Baxter -- whom Coleridge read and annotated in furious detail -- talked of 'the substrate act' in 1675. But it was also used as a standalone noun:
7. Pimento, Jamaica Pepper, Allspice. —  This tree rises to the height of thirty feet, and is found almost every where in the woods of Jamaica ... It grows luxuriantly, and bears well, in every richer mould, on a gravelly substrate, and rarely fails expectation, planted any where. [Edward Long, The History of Jamaica: Or, General Survey of the Antient and Modern State of That Island (3 vols; 1774), 3:703]
The earliest I can find for this use of 'Substrate' as a noun for soil is 1671.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Spondee, iamb, iamb, spondee

Mist hates sharpness; acid-bath mist.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Did Coleridge coin the word "intensify"?

The OED thinks he did.  Indeed, he himself claimed that he did (Biographia Literaria, 1:7)
Intensify. I am aware, that this word occurs neither in Johnson's Dictionary nor in any classical writer. But the word, to intend, which Newton and others before him employ in this sense, is now so completely appropriated to another meaning, that I could not use it without ambiguity: while to paraphrase the sense, as by render intense, would often break up the sentence and destroy that harmony of the position of the words with the logical position of the thoughts, which is a beauty in all composition, and more especially desirable in a close philosophical investigation. I have therefore hazarded the word, intensify: though, I confess, it sounds uncouth to my own ear.
So did Coleridge invent this word? Well, no, he didn't. It was in earlier use earlier. Here's one example: ‘They [Catholic schools] cheapen, they defend, they intensify learning; and all this is more than an equivalent for the injury which may arise from their connection with specific creeds’ [‘Chandler’s Life of Bishop Waynflete’, The Monthly Review 67 (1812), 67]. So there we have it.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Hartley's Arguments for Life After Death

David Hartley's Observations on Man (1749) is in two parts. Part One advances a fundamentally (though he sometimes says otherwise) materialist, rational explanation for sentience, thought and consciousness, as a function of the physical body, nerves and brain.  Part Two argues the correctness and necessity of Hartley's own Christian faith.  That's interesting, that conjunction -- it reflects Hartley's own life, as both a phsyician-scientist and an Anglican.

Now, I want to make sure I understand the various and, it seems to me, rather contradictory reasons Hartley gives in Volume 2 Section 3 of his book, 'A Future State After The Expiration of This Life'.  Here they are:
First, That if is not possible to produce any evidence against a future state; so that the probability for it must at least be equal to that against it, i.e. to the fraction ½; if we speak according to the precise language used in the doctrine of chances. We are apt indeed to conclude, that because what we see is, so what we see not, is not; and consequently that there is no future state; i.e. we make our ignorance of the means by which our existence is preserved after death, and of the manner in which we are to exist, an argument against it. But this is utterly inconclusive. Our ignorance is a nothing, and therefore can be no foundation to go upon; and we have every day instances of the mistakes which reasoning from it would lead us into.
'We cannot say there isn't an afterlife' is true, but a strange datum to adduce as the first point of your argument that there is an afterlife. More, I'm unconvinced that the balance of probability is 50;50 as Hartley asserts here -- I mean, on a strict understanding of how probability works. I don't know if there's a horse in the staff kitchenette of the Department of English at Royal Holloway. I don't know because I can't see into the kitchenette from where I'm sitting: but the fact of my ignorance does not lift the probability of there actually being a horse in the kitchenette to 50%. Other factors (who would bring a horse there? How would they get it up two flights of stairs? Why would it go into such a small room? and so on) reduce that probability markedly. It's possible that there's a horse in the kitchenette, but it's not as possible as the alternative that there isn't. The interesting thing here is that Hartley leads off with this argument, as if it's his strongest.
Secondly, The subtle nature of sensation, thought, and motion, afford some positive presumptions for a future state. The connection of these with matter, and their dependence on it, are perhaps more fully seen in the foregoing account of vibrations and association, than in any other system that has yet been produced. However, there remains one chasm still, viz. that between sensation, and the material organs, which this theory does not attempt to fill up. An immaterial substance may be required for the simplest sensation; and if so, since it does not appear how this substance can be affected by the dissolution of the gross body at death, it remains probable, that it will subsist after death, i. e. that there will be a suture state. Or if we take the system of the materialists, and suppose matter capable of sensation, and consequently of intellect, ratiocination, affection, and the voluntary power of motion, we must, however, suppose an elementary infinitesimal body in the embryo, capable of vegetating in utero, and of receiving and retaining such a variety of impressions of the external world, as corresponds to all the variety of our sensations, thoughts, and motions; and when the smallness and wonderful powers of this elementary body are considered in this view, it seems to me, that the deposition of the gross crust at death, which was merely instrumental during the whole course of life, is to be looked upon as having no more power to destroy it, than the accretion of this crust had a share in its original existence, and wonderful powers; but, on the contrary, that the elementary body will still subsist, retain its power of vegetating again, and, when it does this, shew what changes have been made in it by the impressions of external objects here; i.e. receive according to the deeds done in the gross body, and reap as it has sowed. Or, if these speculations be thought too refined, we may, however, from the evident instrumentality of the muscles, membranes, bones, &c. to the nervous system, and of one part of this to another, compared with the subtle nature of the principle of sensation, thought, and motion, infer in an obvious and popular, but probable way, that this principle only loses its present instrument of action by death. And the restitution of our mental and voluntary powers, after their cessation or derangement by sleep, apoplexies, maniacal and other disorders, prepares for the more easy conception of the possibility and probability of the same thing after death. As therefore, before we enter upon any disquisitions of this kind, the probability for a future slate is just equal to that against it, i. e. each equal to the fraction 4 ; so it seems, that the first step we take, though it be through regions very faintly illuminated, does, however, turn the scale, in some measure, in favour of a future state; and that, whether the principle of thought and action within us be considered in the most philosophical light to which we can attain, or in an obvious and popular one.
This is another odd one; as if to say 'I have shown in part 1 how consciousness may be produced out of purely material, physical phenomena; but I could be wrong.' Well I guess you could; but isn't this a rather self-defeating way of proceeding? The second paragraph is odder too: 'consciousness ceases at sleep and yet is restored on waking; perhaps death is like that' -- as if dreams and all the physical twitchings of the sleeping person mean that consciousness has ceased (of course it hasn't); or, even if it had, as if that had any necessary connection to what happens at death. What else?
Thirdly, The changes of some animals into a different form, after an apparent death, seem to be a strong argument of the forementioned power of elementary animal bodies; as the growth of vegetables from seeds apparently putrefied is of a like power in elementary vegetable bodies. And all these phænomena, with the renewals of the face of nature, awaking from sleep, recovery from diseases, and seem in the vulgar, most obvious, and most natural way of considering these things, to be hints and presumptions of a life after the extinction of this.
Following on from the former argument: three things are here lumped together. That some viruses or seeds may be deep frozen, perhaps for a long time, and still be viable when thawed out (although Hartley adduces no complex organisms, which he'd have to do if he wanted to suggest a parallel with human beings); that sleep is just like death and that therefore waking up proves we shall live after our death; that getting poorly is just like death, which proves that, since we get better, so shall we 'recover' from death. These latter two are not like the first one; and the last in particular is very weakly argued (since death by definition is the disease from which we don't recover).
Fourthly, The great desire of a future life, with the horror of annihilation, which are observable in a great part of mankind, are presumptions for a future life, and against annihilation. All other appetites and inclinations have adequate objects, prepared for them; it cannot therefore be supposed, that this sum total of them all should go ungratified. And this argument will hold, in some measure, from the mere analogy of nature, though we should not have recourse to the moral attributes of God; but it receives great additional force from considering him as our father and protector.
My young daughter's great desire for a huge unicorn made of glitter to carry her through the sky is, by this logic, proof that such an entity exists. Hartley goes on:
If it be said, that this desire is factitious, and the necessary effect of self-love; I answer, that all our other desires are factitious, and deducible from self-love, also; and that many of those which are gratified, proceed from a self-love of a grosser kind. Besides, self-love is only to be destroyed by, and for the sake of, the love of God, and of our neighbour. Now the ultimate prevalency of these is a still stronger argument for a future life, in which we may first love God, and then our neighbour in and through him.
But the problem with this is not that the desire for an afterlife is selfish, so much as that desire is not a correlative of necessary existence. I desire intensely to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (not for selfish reasons, you understand; in order to do good works with the money). That very specifically doesn't mean it will happen.
Fifthly, The pain which attends the child during its birth or passage into this world, the separation and death of the placenta, by which the child received its nourishment in utero, with other circumstances, resemble what happens at death. Since therefore the child, by means of its birth, enters upon a new scene, has new senses, and, by degrees, intellectual powers of perception, conferred upon it, why may not something analogous to this happen at death? Our ignorance of the manner, in which this is to be effected, is certainly no presumption against it; as all who are aware of the great ignorance of man, will readily allow. Could any being of equal understanding with man, but ignorant of what happens upon birth, judge beforehand that birth was an introduction to a new life, unless he was previously informed of the suitableness of the bodily organs to the external world? Would he not rather conclude, that the child must immediately expire upon so great a change, upon wanting, so many things necessary to his subsistence, and being exposed to so many hazards and impressions apparently unsuitable? And would not the cries of the child confirm him in all this? And thus we may conclude; that our birth was even intended to intimate to us a future life, as well as to introduce us into the present.
'Why may not this be true?' doesn't cancel out 'why should it be true...?' The dissimilarities between a baby being born and an old man dying so massively outweigh the similarities. OK; I'm not very impressed with this reasoning so far.
Sixthly, It would be very dissonant to the other events of life, that death should be the last; that the scene should conclude with suffering. This can scarce be reconciled to the beauty and harmony of the visible world, and to the general prepondency of pleasure over pain, and subserviency of pain to pleasure, before-mentioned. All the evils of life, of which We are judges, contribute some way to improve and perfect us. Shall therefore the last which we see, and the greatest in our apprehensions, quite extinguish our existence? Is it not much more likely, that it will perfect all such as are far advanced, and be a suitable correction and preparatory to the rest ? Upon supposition of a future eternal life, in which, our happiness is to arise from the previous annihilation of ourselves, and from the pure love of God, and of our neighbour, it is easy to see how death may contribute more to our perfection, than any other event of our lives; and this will make it quite analogous to all the others. But that our lives should conclude with a bitter morsel, is such a supposition, as can hardly consist with the benevolence of the Deity, in the most limited sense in which this attribute can be ascribed to him.
'A loving God would not permit us to be born only to die' presupposes the Loving God, which is a cheat, in the present circumstances. But the problem with the reasoning here is that it says nothing about the survival of individual consciousness. Say, as many scientists do, 'DNA is immortal' and is continuing to 'perfect' its various ways for making more DNA and ensuring its continuing immortality.
Seventhly, All that great apparatus for carrying us from body to mind, and from self-love to the pure love of God, which the doctrine of association opens to view, is an argument that these great ends will at last be attained ; and that all the imperfect individuals, who have left this school of benevolence and piety at different periods, will again appear on the stage of a life analogous to this, though greatly different in particular things, in order to resume and complete their several remaining tasks, and to be made happy thereby. If we reason upon the designs of Providence in the most pure and perfect manner, of which our faculties are capable, i.e. according to the most philosophical analogy, we shall be unavoidably led to this conclusion. There are the most evident marks of design in this apparatus, and of power and knowledge without limits every where. What then can hinder the full accomplishment of the purpose designed? The consideration of God's infinite benevolence, compared with the prospect of happiness to result to his creatures from this design, adds great strength to the argument.
'Design' is a non-starter, I'm afraid.  The watchmaker's blind. Bong!
Eighthly, Virtue is, in general, rewarded here, and has the marks of the divine approbation; vice the contrary. And yet, as far as we can judge, this does not always happen; nay, it seems to happen very seldom, that a good man is rewarded here in any exact proportion to his merit, or a vicious man punished exactly according to his demerit. Now these apparent inequalities in the dispensations of Providence, in subordinate particulars, are the strongest argument for a future state, in which God may shew his perfect justice and equity, and the consistency of all his conduct with itself. To suppose virtue in general to be in a suffering state, and vice in a triumphant one, is not only contrary to obvious facts, but would also, as it appears to me, destroy all our reasoning upon the divine conduct. But if the contrary be laid down as the general rule, which is surely the language of scripture, as well as of reason, then the exceptions to this rule, which again both scripture and reason attest, are irrefragable evidences for a future state, in which things will be reduced to a perfect uniformity. Now, if but so much as one eminently good or eminently wicked person can be proved to survive after the passage through the gulph of death, all the rest must be supposed to survive also from natural analogy. The case of martyrs for religion, natural or revealed, deserves a particular consideration here. They cannot be said to receive any reward for that last and greatest act of obedience.
'It would not be fair if the just were punished and the unjust rewarded, as often happens in this life, and no restitution or compensation ever made for this unpleasant fact ...' Where is it established that life is, or must be, fair?
Ninthly, The voice of conscience within a man, accusing or excusing him, from whatever cause it proceeds, supernatural impression, natural instinct, acquired associations, &c. is a presumption, that we shall be called hereafter to a tribunal; and that this voice of conscience is intended to warn and direct us how to prepare ourselves for a trial at that tribunal. This, again, is an argument, which analogy teaches us to draw from the relation in which we stand to God, compared with earthly relations. And it is a farther evidence of the justness of this argument, that all mankind in all ages seem to have been sensible of the force of it.
'My feelings of guilt prove that there must exist, somewhere, a Judge.' Of course, perhaps the judge is, er, me? Isn't that actually a definition of guilt?
Tenthly, The general belief of a future state, which has prevailed in all ages and nations, is an argument of the reality of this future state. And this will appear, whether we consider the efficient or final cause of this general belief. If it arose from patriarchal revelations, it confirms the scriptures, and consequently establishes itself in the manner to be explained under the next proposition. If it arose from the common parents of mankind after the flood, it appears at least to have been an antediluvian tradition. If mankind were led into it by some such reasons and analogies as the foregoing, its being general is a presumption of the justness of these reasons. The truth of the case appears to be, that all these things, and probably some others, concurred (amongst the rest, apparitions of the dead, or the belief of these, dreams of apparitions, and the seeming passage to and from another world during steep, the body being also, as it were, dead at the same time); and that, as the other parts of the simple, pure, patriarchal religion degenerated into superstition and idolatry, so the doctrine of a future state was adulterated with fictions and fables, as we find it among the Greeks and Romans, and other pagan nations.
'Lots of people have believed in an afterlife. It's undemocratic of you to hold a contrary belief.' Can't argue with that.

One more thing: I hadn't realised, til I actually read his book (Priestley's version of Hartley's argument makes much of this too) that he believed in the doctrine of 'soul sleep':
PROP. XC. It seems probable, that the Soul will remain in a State of Inactivity, though perhaps not of Insensibility, from Death to the Resurrection. Some religious persons seem to fear, lest by allowing a state of insensibility to succeed immediately after death, for some hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, the hopes and sears of another world should be lessened. But we may affirm, on the contrary, that they would be increased thereby. For time, being a relative thing, ceases in respect of the soul, when it ceases to think. If therefore we admit of a state of insensibility between death and the resurrection, these two great events will fall upon two contiguous moments of time, and every man enter directly into heaven or hell, as soon as he departs out of this world, which is a most .alarming consideration.
That the foul is reduced to a state of inactivity by the deposition of the gross body, may be conjectured from its entire dependence upon the gross body for powers and faculties, in the manner explained in the foregoing part of this work.