‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Thoughts on reviews, 1808

From the preface to Francis Hodgson, Lady Jane Grey: a tale, in two books: with miscellaneous poems, in English and Latin (1808), viii-ix:
But, after this due acknowledgment to the public, who can never be co'nfounded with the Reviewers, (notwithstanding the trouble they take to identify themselves with the majority), I must say a few words of the poem wherein I have addressed these gentlemen in the present collection. If it be urged that I should pay the critics nothing but compliments, when I have met with so much praise from them, I do fairly confess that I value their praise as little as I fear their censure. I know them; the solemn mockery of their trade is indeed no secret to many; it is a little developed in this volume; and, perhaps, they may be more fully detected hereafter, with their fellow impostors of sundry kinds and denominations. Not that they need expect the honour of individual execution; but they may enjoy a share, should they survive long enough, in some comprehensive sentence.

Let me not here be misunderstood as arrogantly presuming to condemn all periodical critics. I am aware of the benefit which their office, well-executed, confers upon literature. I only mean to assert that it is too generally prostituted to purposes of private interest. Nor am I singular in this opinion. It gains strength, for the fact increases in notoriety, every day. Reviews save trouble, and arm a man for conversation without much reading; their plan is consequently popular; but the encouragement given to every new publication of the kind shews the established censors to be unsatisfactory. Their great faults are garbled quotations; essays extracted from the work before them, and inserted in their critiques as original; imperfect representations of the plan as well as of the execution of works; and, what is very foolish, virulent and indiscriminate abuse. If it be further objected to me, that in this hint to the Reviewers- I use the very language which I blame in them, let it be remembered, that some of the leading dogs in the pack (though, as staunch hounds, they should have been silent at a fault) have opened violently upon me; that they began the attack; that their charges are general and unsubstantiated, mine specific, and supported by examples; that delicate satire is lost upon the vulgar; that Johnson justly ridicules striking soft blows in a battle, and Swift shooting arrows against a brick wall; and that Dryden in his Mac Flecknoe, and Pope in the Dunciad, found it necessary (however disagreeable) to descend from the dignified images and courtly language of poetry, to wrestle with their dirty adversaries on the dunghill from which they sprung. Not that these great names could sanction an equal offence in a humbler writer; particularly in modern times, which are laudably chaste in diction, whatever they may be in action; but, compared to the grossness of my betters, I have been quite refined in my dialogue with the critics, and surely may palliate a little liberty by appealing to authorities which defend much ampler license.

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