Art. II.—Christabel: Kubla Khan, a Vision: The Pains of Sleep. By S.t.coleridge, Esq. Murray. 1816.
Jlaherbelot relates, that the celebrated Al-Farabi was commanded by Seifeddoulat to sing one of his own compositions before him and his courtiers, who valued themselves not a little on their critical skill; that this command being obeyed, the auditors were thrown into violent fits of laughter, and presently into a deep sleep. Whether the Vision of Kubla Khan was the soporific employed on that memorable occasion, the learned Orientalist does not inform us. We know, however, that in the perusal of it, and of the two other things bound up with it, we experienced the effects which the production of Al-Farabi is reported to have wrought; and, from that experience, we are led to the conclusion, that the said production could not well have been more extravagant, more dull, more affected and childish, than are these of Mr. Coleridge.
It is unpleasant to have to pronounce a sentence which some may think severe, while others, who only echo the judgement of Lord Byron instead of using their own, will pretend to think so. We are confident that the expectations excited by the noble poet's praises of Christabel, will be disappointed: and, although those who admired the unintelligible sublimities, the mysticism and the methodism of Mr. Coleridge's former writings, may continue to admire many kindred beauties in the poems before us; yet more rational readers, who deplored those errors and absurdities, while they reverenced the genius that made even faults splendid, will perceive and lament the absence of those efforts of the Muse beneath whose steps flowers used to spring up. Few of our readers can need to be informed, that Mr. Coleridge is one of those poets whose opinion it is, that the lakes and mountains of Cumberland and Westmoreland are the avia Pieridum loca, which those "Syren daughters of Dame Memory" almost exclusively delight to haunt. In spite of its errors, many of the principles of the school of Poetry to which we allude, are most enchanting. Their enthusiastic reverence of Nature,—their lofty admiration of Virtue,—their ardent love of Liberty,—and a constant aspiring after a purer state of existence,—something, in short, finer, more ethereal, and more animating than the dry bones which surround us in this valley of tears,—all these are captivating to a warm imagination: and we cannot help thinking that the success of the new school would have been almost complete, had not its founders carried their affectation of simplicity so far as to really render themselves ridiculous. We do not stand up for monotonous pomp and cumbrous dignity; but we do think that Mr. Wordsworth, and his brethren of the Lakes, have most egregiously erred in mistaking the vulgarisms of the Dalesmen, and the stammering of their children, for the songs of the Muses.—We hasten to give some account of Mr. Coleridge, who has some characteristics distinct from those of the other members of the confraternity.
In the words of old Purchas, his genius "delights more in by-wayes than high-wayes, in things above nature than in things merely natural. He has some of the spirit of Spenser, and is not without a portion of the romantic tenderness of Collins. He professes himself to be of the school of the divine Spenser; and he certainly possesses a similar talent for embodying abstract ideas with felicity; while he has the same grand fault of making us wind through the mazes of bis allegories and similes till we are nearly exhausted. His poetry is made up, in its best parts, of abstractions, adorned with the gorgeous colours of his imagination, and usually expressed in harmonious language. He is apt, however, to make his pictures too gaudy: they want shadows—and, by their excess of brilliancy, the eye is fatigued, and the images rendered indistinct. The melody of his verse, too, often degenerates into a monotonous and affected pompousness: at the same time that the wretchedness of the matter forms a strange contrast with the stateliness of the rhyme.—These, we repeat, are peculiarities in Mr. Coleridge's poetry.
His peculiar graces and defects may be clearly traced to the same source—his study of the old writers. He has drunk copiously of that well of English undefiled, which they made to flow. In both his prose and verse, the lofty march, the glorious though confused imagery of these giants in intellect, are apparent. He has not, indeed, escaped the contamination of their faults of style;—a style which, with all its beauties, is always obscure, elaborate, and debased by conceits. We do not mean to say that Mr. Coleridge has copied their style; but only that his genius is of the same order with theirs, and that, through the study of their writings, his productions seem identified with them. These remarks apply more particularly to his prose, which, in some of the papers in the Friend, is equal to other men's poetry. In indignant and pathetic eloquence, we do not remember any thing' superior to the story of Maria;—a story which will exist in the memory of many readers, when all other traces of the book shall have faded.
Mr. Coleridge's poetry has more of ideality about it than that of any other living author (we borrow this term from Doctors Gall and Spurzheim, no expressive one of English coinage being at hand); it has more of that highly-wrought metaphorical language, by the use of which Shakspeare and Spenser have presented such delightful and vivid pictures to the imagination. These pictures seem to have been produced at once and without effort. The conception, too, is almost always embodied in the most fortunate Words; and, so far is their love of this quality carried, that the commonest thoughts and objects are arrayed in them. Shakspeare speaks of enjoying "the Honey-heavy Dew of slumber,"—and Spenser of a tree " Spreading A Gladsome Gleam upon the hills."f Who ever read these, and similar passages in the works of their authors, without an intense feeling of delight? But we are venturing too near inchanted ground; and must retrace our steps, in order to proceed to our proper purpose.
Christabel is in the manner of Walter Scott and Lord Byron; that is to say, it resembles the productions of these authors in its general structure, while the foundation and embellishments are decidedly in the Lakish taste. The absurdity, by the way, of attempting to support the bold and massive entablatures of the former artists, upon the slender and grotesque columns of the architects of the Lakes, must be evident.
If any of Mr. Coleridge's readers should think that we have been too severe on him, let them consider that his sins are not involuntary, but committed in defiance of common sense as well as of criticism. We believe, however, that all those who are not bigoted admirers of the Lakers, will assent to the general correctness of the opinion of these poems which we have ventured to express; and will continue to do so, till tli.;-y shall learn to look upon babyism and silliness as nature and siniplicity>the extravagance of Bedlam as originality, and to mistake the contortions and ravings of Pythut for her inspirations.
[Augustan Review, 3 (1816), 14-20]
‘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.
Thursday, 27 June 2013
The Augustan Review on Coleridge
This is the sort of review Coleridge reacts against in chapter 3 of the Biographia. I'm wondering if he read it in 1816 (at the height of his opium-addlement and ill health), and then thinking back a year later when writing the BL believed it to have been published by the Edinburgh?