‘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.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Whitaker Contra Gibbon

I chanced upon this wonderfully hostile booklet: John Whitaker, Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in vols. IV, V and VI, Quarto, Reviewed (London, John Murray, 1791).

The Reverend Whitaker, Rector of Ruan-Lanyhorne (in Cornwall), really dislikes Gibbon. What particularly gets his goat is Gibbon's sensuality and debauchery. Not his representation of Roman sensuality and debauchery, but the sensuality and debauchery of Gibbon's own 'licentious pencil' -- not, I'd guess, a common ground of disparagement of the great stylist:
He drew the outline of his work with a critical hand, but he went beyond it on every side, in in the excursiveness of his licentious pencil. ... We have noticed before the propensity of Mr. Gibbon to obscenity. It was then, however, covered mostly under a veil of Greek. But, in p. 375, his obscenity throws off every cover, and comes stalking forth in the impudence of nakedness. A soul, deeply tinctured with sensuality, loves to brood over sensual ideas itself, to present sensual objects to others, and so to enjoy its own sensuality of spirit over again. But, in p. 414, he is still more vicious. [55]
Phew! They should put this in large type on the cover of the Penguin edition. It might persuade my students to read it.

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