‘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, 11 July 2013

Coleridge on cholera

I believe this to be another previously unnoticed record of Coleridge's speaking. It's from an article by 'L.M.C.' called 'Thoughts on the Poet Coleridge', [in The Metropolitan Magazine 11:42 (Oct 1834), 142-6]. Much of the piece is general praise of Coleridge's talents ('As a great poet, and a still greater philosopher, the world has hardly yet done justice to the genius of Coleridge' and so on), but there are some personal reminiscences too:
The last time I ever saw him, was at the period when the cholera was beginning to shed its baneful influence over this country. Coleridge was walking in the grove at Highgate, his frequent promenade, and opposite to the church where his ashes now repose. We stopped to salute him, and he held us some time in discourse. He entered upon the then all-engrossing subject of that fearful scourge, not with the partiality or prejudice, or narrow views of the mere physician, anxious only to establish his own theory, and to subvert every other, but with the candour and the comprehensiveness of the great philosopher, anxious only to elicit truth. He mentioned several interesting circumstances connected with the plague, which had fallen under his own observation, while he was resident at Malta; and, amongst others, that while the pestilence was raging, the common flies were found lying dead about the houses, and the small fly, called the blue fly of pestilence, appeared in their stead. The important question, as to whether the cholera was infectious, or merely contagious, he discussed with luminous eloquence; and showed the great probability that it might in fact be both. He explained how one form of the disease might, under certain circumstances, tend to produce the other; and again, with fearful and destructive energy, reproduce and multiply itself. I merely state the substance of his remarks; for I cannot venture to put words into the mouth of that sublime colloquist: yet I have a vivid recollection of his tone and manner, when, comparing the pestilence to the " destroying angel," he lifted up his hands and eyes to the blue summer sky, that shed its full sunlight upon his inspired face. At that moment, who that saw him, but must have been struck with the wonderful mastery of mind over matter? for the bent figure, the tremulous motion of the head, and the silver tresses, that indicated a premature old age, seemed in a moment to vanish, and the divine spirit was alone present and perceptible to sense.
Well, he was wrong about cholera: it's contagious, but not infectious. (In Frederick Burwick's Oxford Companion to Coleridge [(Oxford 2009), 299], Paul Cheshire reminds us of 'a [Notebook] entry where Coleridge claimed that the cholera epidemic was the result of savage races neglecting to cultivate their higher functions.' So I guess there are worse ways to be wrong about this particular disease). There's also this rather non-specific reminiscence of STC reading poetry, and opining on Shakespeare, which I'm afraid adds little the canon of Coleridgeana:
I remember Coleridge reading some passages from the old poets, with such a look and tone of enjoyment, that his whole soul seemed poured out in the flood of melody that fell from his lips. Nor was it surprising to find one of his most original turn giving the palm to those early writers, who, as he justly observed, were the parent streams of all those channels of thought, that diffuse themselves through modern poetry; which has chiefly the merit of dressing up old ideas in a new and more elegant costume, or, in other words, re-setting the jewels of antiquity in the filigree of the day. Talking of Shakspeare, he gave it as his opinion that both Titus Andronicus, and Troilus and Cressida, were the works of that mighty Archimage, and bore the impress of his genius too strongly, (despite their faults,) to give sanction to the idea entertained by some critics, that they were the compositions of an inferior hand.

No comments:

Post a Comment