‘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, 29 May 2015

Cautions Against Fraud (1806)

John Trusler's London Adviser and Guide: Containing Every Instruction and Information Useful and Necessary to Persons Living in London (1806) is a wealth of fascinating information. Indeed, rather rashly, the title page not only lists what the book covers, but boasts as follows:

My favourite, though, is probably the list of 'Cautions Against Fraud':

Good advice, all, especially 10 and 35. 12 puzzles me a little, though.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Emblems 2: Embl Harder

What does the month of August mean to you? If you replied: 'giant hairy crab beasts devouring huge butterflies', then you're in luck:

'How would you sum up Monsieur de Guise?' 'Well, he hates naked women.' 'Hates them enough to want them impaled through the privates by a gigantic sword?' 'Easily that much, yes.'

'Let's say I'm a lover, yeah?'
'Say I have a special little lady in mind, yeah?'
'What emblem do you think would best express the tenderness of my affections?'
'How about: a woman with her arms chopped off, tied to a stake, a humungous candle burning down on her head, and a massive bug coming in to land on her face?'
'Steady on: I'm not trying to get her to marry me.'

What is 'Nobility'? Well, nobility is very much a matter of walking around carrying at all times a rectangular frame upon which birds are perching.

'I went out, leaving all my gold coins in pots on the table as usual. But then I'm sorry to say my pet monkey got loose and threw all my money out of the window. I know it's a long shot, but: do you have an off-the-peg emblem I could use to explain my predicament to my friends?'

From Gabriello Simeoni's Les devises ou emblemes heroiques et morales (1559)

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Emblemes d'Alciat (1549)

Wondering, during an idle hour, if Shakespeare's family chose their 'Non Sanz Droict' from a book of french emblems, I checked online. Emblemes d'Alciat, de nouueau Translatez en François; [par B. Aneau] (1549) popped up on Googlebooks. No Shakespear-y joy here, but it's a fascinating book nonetheless, and one that seems to have anticipated many 20th- and 21st-century films. Pan's Labyrinth!


That scene in The Matrix where the agents fight all bullet-timey!

The flying monkeys from Wizard of Oz!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Tangerine Dream, Finnegans Wake (2011)

Following up, obliquely, from this: I'm still working through Joyce's last novel, in a slightly on-off manner (you could say my enjoying is fine again, is weak, fine again, is weak). At any rate, in an associated move, I bought the above named album.

I own quite a bit of Tangerine Dream, and often listen to it; but nothing from the 21st century. Checking recently, I discovered (a) that their discography is now over 100 titles long; and (b) that a few years ago they released an album based on FINNEGANS WAKE. This I have now purchased. And it's ... pretty good, actually. Here's yer track listing, for yer:
1 The Sensational Fall Of The Master Builder (9:03)
2 Finnegans Excessive Wake (8:14)
3 Resurrection By The Spirit (5:40)
4 Mother Of All Sources (8:54)
5 The Warring Forces Of The Twins (4:34)
6 Three Quarks For Muster Mark (6:17)
7 Everling's Mythical Letter (8:02)
8 Hermaphrodite (8:23)
The album sounds like 1970s-era Tangerine Dream: on-running baselines, throbbing riffs, spacious top-end with airy wailing and odd noises. All instrumental. The opening track is redolent of a kind of electronic menace. There are some nicely chiming down-ward scattery synthesiser arpeggios in 'Resurrection by the Spirit'. After its wrongfooting sloow-dow-ow-own and speed-up start 'Mother of All Sources' settles into a steady unmaternal chug. 'Warring Forces' is a bit meh, but the 'Three Quarks' track has a tremendous, spiralling energy. None of this seems to me to have anything very much to do with Irishness, death, drinking, punning or Everybody Here-Coming, but I'm not complaining. Indeed I think, on reflection, I'm glad they didn't try to incorporate Irish jigs and reels into their distinctive sound. Or bawdy gaelic songs. After all: who's to say that Finnegans Wake isn't actually about a group of German men in the 1970s exploring the sonic architecture of rhythmic repetition? It's as good an interpretation as any.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

The Aeneid as Astronomical Allegory

Pendant to my post yesterday about Drummond's Oedipus Judaicus. The book, though its circulation was limited, nonetheless caused a small scandal. Ceric and scholar George D'Oyly published a rebuttal: Remarks on Sir W. Drummond's Oedipus Judaicus (1813) making all the points you might expect an orthodox Anglican of his generation to make. One of his ways of ridiculing Drummond's 'astrologicising' of the Bible was to assert that you could do the same thing with any text. Here he is, for instance, on the Aeneid:

I appreciate that D'Oyly is mocking here, but I'll confess I'm rather struck by that idea. I wonder if anyone has done it for real? I mean, produced a reading of The Aeneid in which the argument is that Vergil, a secret priest of Mithras (or somesuch), encoded a hidden astronomical allegory into his epic?

Friday, 15 May 2015

Bill Drummond Said

You'll have to excuse the Copeness of my blogpost title. I knew only a little about William Drummond (1770–1828), Scottish politicians and author; mostly that he's supposed to have influenced Shelley (reading Drummond's Academical Questions (1805) is said to have changed Percy's mind on the question of the 'pure materiality' of the Universe, moving him towards a more spiritual, though still atheist, perspective).

Drummond's Oedipus Judaicus (1811) was a new one on me, though. Since it's on Google Books (as is the 1866 revised edition) I've been going through it. The book is notionally an exploration of the connections between Egyptian astrology, the secret lore of the Pharaonic priesthood and Old Testament religion. Actually I suspect it is a complex and obscurified meditation on personal spirituality, like a sort of ur-A Vision or ur-White Goddess. It was printed privately in a very small run to limit the chance of its controversial opinions tainting Drummond's public reputation and political life.
I feel little inclination to make my opinions too publicly known. It may be hoped, however, that reason and liberality will soon again be progressive in their march; and that men will cease to think that Religion can be really at war. with Philosophy. When we hear the timid sons of Superstition calling to each other to rally round the altar, we may well'blush for human weak-ness. The altar, of which the basis is established by Reason, and which is supported by Truth and Nature, can never be overthrown. It is before that altar that I kneel, and that I adore the God, whom philosophy has taught me to consider as the infinite and eternal Mind, that formed, and that sustains, the fair order of Nature, and that created and preserves the universal system.

To a small circle I think myself at liberty to observe, that the manner in which the Christian readers of the Old Testament generally choose to understand it, appears to me to be a little singular. While the Deity is represented with human passions, and those none of the best;——while he is described as a quarrelsome, jealous, and vindictive being;——while he is shown to be continually changing his plans for the 'moral government of the world;——and while he is depicted as a material and local God, who dwelt on a box made of Shittim wood in the temple of Jerusalem;——they abide by the literal interpretation. They see no allegory in the first chapters of Genesis; nor doubt, that far the greater portion of the human race is doomed to suffer eternal torments, because our first parents ate an apple, after having been tempted by a talking serpent. They find it quite simple, that the triune Jehovah should dine on veal cutlets at Abraham’s table; nor are they at all surprised, that the God of the universe should pay a visit to Ezekiel, in order to settle with the Prophet, whether he should bake his bread with human dung, or with cow’s dung.

In these examples the Christian readers believe the facts to have happened literally as they are stated; and neither suspect, nor allow, that the language of the sacred writers upon such occasions may be entirely figurative. Very different is their mode of interpreting these same Scriptures, when they think there is any allusion made to the kingdom of Christ. Then they abandon the literal sense without scruple, and sometimes, it may be thought, without consideration. The Rabbins learn with astonishment, that the Song of Solomon, for example, is a mere allegory, which represents the love of Jesus for his church; and that the lady, whose navel was like a round goblet, not wanting liquor,——whose belly was like a heap of wheat, set about with lilies,——whose nose was as the tower of Lebanon, which looketh towards Damascus,——and who promised to her well-beloved, that he should lie all night betwixt her breasts,——was not Solomon’s mistress, but the Church, the spiritual spouse of Christ. [vi-vii]
Drummond's main thesis in the book is that the events recorded in the Book of Joshua are not to be understood as historial or quasi-historical accounts of battles and seiges and so on, but allegorically, as a narrative of astrological conjunctions with deeper spiritual significance. He also spends quite a lot of time on Genesis 49.

There are some gorgeous plates. Here is an rendering of Egyptian constellations, adapted from Athanasius Kircher (whose Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652-54) was one of Drummond's sources):

Also the Indian Zodaic, from a 1772 source and which seems, for some reason, to be square:

And an 'Oriental' one:

Some 'Mithraic Monuments':

And, finally, Drummond's own schema for 'the Lion of Judah':

'Judah is a lion's whelp...'  It's part of that discursive context that makes Blake's prophetic books look much less eccentric and unusual.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

à caelo salus

I've started reading Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici (1642), a work to sip rather than gulp down. Browne was a medical doctor, and 'religio medici' means 'a doctor's religion' or 'a physician's religion.' The title aims at playful paradox, for doctors were notorious in the 17th-century for their atheism. C A Patrides, in whose Penguin edition I'm reading the work, quotes a contemporary proverb: Ubi tres medici, duo Athei: pick any three doctors and two will be atheists. Not Browne, though. He writes beautifully and movingly and strangely about his own Christian faith.

That's the frontispiece, up top: a lovely and striking image. The Latin spooling out from the bent-backwards, tumbling figure's breast is: à cælo salus. It means 'from heaven, salvation', hence the angelic or divine hand reaching down to prevent the fall. It also means 'health comes from heaven', which is appropriate sentiment for a religious physician. Patrides doesn't say where the Latin is quoted from; so I poked about online. Nobody seems to know! So I poked around further. Origen (in his Third Homily on the 36th Psalm) says in cœlo salus iustorum, 'in heaven is the salvation of the just'; but that's not quite the same thing. This 1742 book claims the phrase originates with 'Galen, Hippocrates' and other physicians, but I can't find any original sources for either name. At any rate, the success of the Religio Medici seems to have popularised the phrase post 1642. Below is the simply splendid frontispiece from John Northleigh's The triumph of our monarchy, over the plots and principles of our rebels and republicans (1685), a Royalist polemic that claims, as you can see, that it is from heaven and Caesar (the King) that salvation comes.

Just so much to love in that image! The blobbily approximate shape of the British Isles, the sea-dragon firing two jets of watery snot at Britannia, the foundering ship, and of course the flying knight zooming in to save the maiden.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Orson Welles' 'Voodoo Macbeth' (1936)

I've not seen this before: 1936 Newsreel footage of Orson Welles' all-black version of Macbeth, the play's action relocated from Scotland to Haiti, complete with fruity newsreel voiceover at the beginning praising the New Deal public works program money that funded the performance. One can't judge from such a snippet, of course, but the direction looks rather ... gnashing and over-the-top. I don't doubt you had to be there.

Time poem

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

Monday, 4 May 2015

Saturday, 2 May 2015


Orwell once wrote that the novelist John Galsworthy was a bad writer, and some inner trouble sharpening his sensitiveness, nearly made him into a good one; his discontent healed itself and he reverted to type. It is worth pausing to wonder in just what form the thing is happening to oneself. The process was further complicated because everyone in writing is torn between three motives; (i) Art for art’s seeking in the ivory tower, (ii) political propaganda, and (iii) pulling in the dough. [Scott Lucas, George Orwell (London: Haus 2003), 133]