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'?