‘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.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Coleridge, On the Constitution of Church and State (1830), chapters 5-12

Chapters 1-4, here. Those first four chapters are the prelude to the main discussion of Constitution of Church and State. We know this because STC opens chapter 5 with: ‘After these introductory preparations, I can have no difficulty in setting forth the right idea of a national Church.’ We leave the Levites behind to pot a history of the Church of England as a third estate, after the Lords Temporal and the Commons. The ‘Nationality’ (STC’s term for that portion of the national wealth extracted from the private hands of landowners and aristos by titheing) is there for the financial maintenance of this third estate. The twist is that, according to Coleridge, their duties were only partly ‘spiritual’—preaching, burying, marrying and so on. More important was that the church provided an educative and cultural lead. The clergy were
a permanent class or order, with the following duties. A certain smaller number were to remain at the fountain heads of the humanities, in cultivating and enlarging the knowledge already possessed, and in watching over the interests of physical and moral science; being, likewise, the instructors of such as constituted, or were to constitute, the remaining more numerous classes of the order. This latter and far more numerous body were to be distributed throughout the country, so as not to leave even the smallest integral part or division without a resident guide, guardian, and instructor; the objects and final intention of the whole order being these — to preserve the stores, to guard the treasures of past civilization, and thus to bind the present with the past … but especially to diffuse through the whole community and to every native entitled to its laws and rights, that quantity and quality of knowledge which was indispensable both for the understanding of those rights, and for the performance of the duties correspondent. [44-45]
The clergy also had an ‘international’ role, in maintaining the nation’s ‘character of general civilization’, something which STC rather strikingly places ‘equal with, or rather more than’ tax-funded armies, navies and air forces (not that last one, obviously) as ‘the ground of its defensive and offensive power.’ What is it stops Putin invading? Why, a phalanx of our cultured and acculturing vicars, of course.

So the model is: the Lords temporal work for ‘permanence’, the commons, merchants, professionals and so on—work for ‘progression’. And? ‘The object of the National Church, the third remaining estate of the realm, was to secure and improve that civilization, without which the nation could be neither permanent nor progressive.’ ‘Clergy’, STC insists, is the same word etymologically as ‘clerk’, the educated or learned man. And here we get two central Coleridgean ideas. First the difference between the perfect ‘Church of Christ’ and the actual church. The first of these is an ekklesia. This is the Greek word for ‘church’ in the NT: from the older Greek for ‘assembly’, any place where people assembled, from where the call went out (ἐκ “out” καλέω “I call”); but Coleridge takes it in a special sense. The ‘out’ means ‘out of this world’; and the communion of this ‘Church’ is ‘the communion of such as are called out of the world’. I don’t honestly know whether STC means, by this, people who have departed the world altogether—who have, that is, died and gone to Christ; or whether he means people who have done the hermetic or monkish thing and left behind all worldly things. It probably doesn’t matter, since the emphasis here is not on this ‘out-of-the-world’ of the church; it’s on the in-the-world version of the church, the church that engages with actual peoples’ day-to-day living, and for that Coleridge coins the term ‘enclesia’, the ‘in-called’, what STC defines as ‘an order of men chosen in and of the realm, and constituting an estate of that realm’

The second thing is the Big Idea to have come out of this book—the ‘clerisy’. Here’s what the chapter says:
The CLERISY of the nation, or national church, in its primary acceptation and original intention, comprehended the learned of all denominations;—the sages and professors of the law and jurisprudence, of medicine and physiology, of music, of military and civil architecture, of the physical sciences, with the mathematical as the common organ of the preceding; in short, all the so called liberal arts and sciences, the possession and application of which constitute the civilization of a country, as well as the Theological. The last was, indeed, placed at the head of all; and of good right did it claim the precedence. But why? Because under the name of Theology, or Divinity, were contained the interpretation of languages; the conservation and tradition of past events; the momentous epochs, and revolutions of the race and nation; the continuation of the records; logic, ethics, and the determination of ethical science, in application to the rights and duties of men in all their various relations, social and civil; and lastly, the ground-knowledge, the prima scientia as it was named, — PHILOSOPHY. [47]
In the first edition this definition gets hived off under the slightly strange sub-header ‘PARAGRAPH THE FIRST’. It’s been a pretty influential notion, not least in my own day-job profession of ‘Academic’. Because STC is clear that the duties of the clerisy are largely pedagogic: primarily to dispose of ‘materials of NATIONAL EDUCATION, the nisus formativus of the body politic, the shaping and informing spirit, which, educing or eliciting the latent man in all the natives of the soil, trains them up to be citizens of the country, free subjects of the realm’. ‘Nisus formativus’ means the forming force, the formative urge; and ‘educing’ (Latin: educo ‘I lead out, I draw out; I raise up, I erect”; via e ‘from, out of’; and duco ‘I lead, I conduct’) puts me in mind of my old English teacher at school, Mr Broadstairs. ‘Education is a drawing out, not a putting in’ he would announce ringingly: 'drawing out! not putting in!' ... and, ignoring our titters, he would then proceed to cram in as much as he could of the stuff we needed to pass the exams. Ah, the joys of a state school education.

So, yes; the UK’s reliance on church schools (to this day) is a function of this idea of Coleridge’s clerisy (compare the resolutely secular school provision of France). But more to the point the development and expansion of the university sector in the later 19th and throughout the 20th-centuries was—right up to the Thactherite redefinition of education as a function of market-force-led adding value in a strictly monetary sense—a concerted and large-scale attempt precisely to realise a non-clerical clerisy, to create a new class—the academics—that would function as a British intelligentsia, with these larger Coleridgean ideals in mind.

I’ll come back to the notion of the ‘clerisy’ in a moment. First a quick scan through chapter 6 (51-63)—a brief history of Henry VIII’s Reformation, and how it went wrong: in a nutshell, the pre-Reformation church had abused the Nationality for its own glory; Henry VIII, having seized the Nationality, should have returned this wealth to the nation by spending liberally on [1] ‘universities and the great schools of liberal learning’, [2], paying for ‘a pastor, presbyter, or parson in every parish and [3] ‘a schoolmaster in every parish’
— namely, in producing and re-producing, in preserving, continuing, and perfecting, the necessary sources and conditions of national civilization. [56]
But Henry didn’t do this. Luckily for Coleridge’s purposes, he is not presenting the actual church Henry set-up as the model. ‘Let it be borne in mind,’ he reminds the reader, with some asperity, ‘that my object has been to present the idea of a National Church, not the history of the Church established in this nation.’ [61].

Chapter 7 (63-71; ‘Regrets and Apprehensions’) notes that the nation is more prosperous than it was in Tudor times; despite the absence of a ‘clerisy’ in the fullest sense, merchants, financiers, lawers and other professionals have grown rich. But, in rather clotted polemical style, STC spends this chapters attacking this wealth:
Yea, the machinery of the wealth of the nation made up of the wretchedness, disease and depravity of those who should constitute the strength of the nation! Disease, I say, and vice, while the wheels are in full motion; but at the first stop the magic wealth-machine is converted into an intolerable weight of pauperism! [65]
The antiquated cod-Biblicalisms of this aside, there’s a strikingly up-to-date Occupy-esque outrage about this. Coleridge lays into ‘Game Laws, Corn Laws, Cotton Factories, Spitalfields, the tillers of the land paid by poor rates, and the remainder of the population mechanized into engines for the manufactory of new rich men’. He attacks ‘a swarm of clever, well-informed men’ governing without wisdom or heart—‘Despotism of finance in government … and hardness of heart in political economy’ [69], and points to the fruit of such behaviour in mass alcoholism and a huge explosion in crime:
Gin consumed by paupers to the value of about eighteen millions yearly: … crimes quadrupled for the whole country, and in some counties decupled.
Neither of these were mere rhetoric. In the 1820s 14 million gallons of gin were being consumed annually  [Peter Mathias, The Brewing Industry in England, 1700-1830 (Cambridge Univ. Press 1959), 375]. Gin drinking was widely perceived as a social problem of long-standing, and one which had been exacerbated by the reduction of Gin Duty in 1826, which, by lowering the price, resulted in an increase in gin-related drunkenness. As for crime—well in 1809 5,330 criminal trials resulted in 3,238 prosecutions. In 1815 those numbers had risen to 7,818 and 4,883 respectively, and by 1829 (when STC was writing Church and State) the numbers were 18,675 and 13,261. ‘Quadrupled’, in other words, is no exaggeration. [Figures for England and Wales only, from B .R Mitchell, British Historical Statistics (Cambridge Univ. Press 1988), 783]

So: Britain was going to hell in a handcart. What to do? Chapter 8 has the answer: a proper reorientation of the potential of the Nationality. Coleridge proposes, in essence, a sort of ur-Welfare State, although one with a primary focus on (religiously led) education and only secondarily on the maintenance of paupers—and even then only those too old and infirm to work.
Determin[ing] the nationalty to the following objects: 1st. To the maintenance of the Universities and the great liberal schools: 2ndly. To the maintenance of a pastor and schoolmaster in every parish: 3rdly. To the raising and keeping in repair of the churches, schools, &c., and, Lastly: to the maintenance of the proper, that is, the infirm, poor whether from age or sickness. [72]
What’s interesting here, in hindsight, is that STC is not making the case for what actually (in essence) came to pass—that general taxation should be used to fund a welfare state. He’s adamant that the clerisy should be, at heart, agents of the National Church, not of the secular government. He concludes chapt. 8 with a gushing panegyric to the Church of England, lifted from Biographia Literaria (‘Protestant Church Establishment, this it is, which the patriot, and the philanthropist, who would fain unite the love of peace with a faith in the progressive amelioration of mankind, cannot estimate at too high a price—It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire’ and so on). Chapter 9 stresses the things that would disqualify a person from being a member of the clerisy: two big no-nos, one bigger than the other (it would be ‘a foul treason against the most fundamental rights and interests of the realm’):
what the reader will have anticipated, that the first absolute disqualification is allegiance to a foreign power: the second, the abjuration — under the command and authority of this power … — of that bond, which more than all other ties connects the citizen with his country. [83-84]
A third thing creeps in as this chapter proceeds: the ‘compulsory celibacy’ of the clergy. It’s clearly enough a dig at the Catholics, this.

We’re now declaredly into the ‘practical conclusion’, as Coleridge calls it, of the volume. Chapter 10 praises the necessity of the King as a unifying point for the nation: ‘as the head of the National Church,or Clerisy, and the protector and supreme trustee of the NATIONALTY’. STC makes several points in this chapter. Here's one:
The first condition then required, in order to a sound constitution of the Body Politic, is a due proportion of the free and permeative life and energy of the nation to the organized powers brought within containing channels.
These two forces (‘free and permeative’ on the hand, ‘containing channels and organizing powers’ on the other) need to be in balance, but that balance can’t be relied upon to happen naturally. That’s why a monarch is needful, to adjudicate. And so to chapter 11, on the powers of Parliament and the necessary limitations of same, with the emphasis on the latter. Finally chapter 12 sums up: Parliament on its own is too fallible, too subject to the ‘fluctuating majorities’ of the popular vote—‘an Omnipotency which ha[s] so little claim to Omniscience’. As for the Lords, they may ‘be reasonably presumed to feel a sincere and lively concern, but who, the experience of ages might teach us, are not the class of persons most likely to study, or feel a deep concern in, the interests here spoken of, in either sense of the term CHURCH; — i.e. whether the interests be of a kingdom “not of the World”.
Knowing this, our ancestors chose to place their reliance on the honour and conscience of an individual, whose comparative height, it was believed, would exempt him from the gusts and shifting currents, that agitate the lower region of the political atmosphere. [119]
And the book concludes with a consideration of whether the King’s coronation oath restricts him from giving royal assent to the emancipation of Catholics. I say ‘concludes’: not for the first time in his publishing career Coleridge adds lengthy appendices—two long disquisitions on the ‘Idea of the Christian Church’ and another on the ‘Third’ Church ‘Neither National nor Universal’, which puts the boot into Roman Catholicism. But, lacking world enough and time, I won’t go into those two essays here. Then there’s a ‘Letter to a Friend’, about the specifics of the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Bill (the second edition entitled this ‘AIDS TO A RIGHT APPRECIATION OF THE ACT ADMITTING CATHOLICS TO SIT IN BOTH HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT’) and a glossary explaining the terminology of the preceding letter. The volume ends with a long letter, originally sent to Edward Coleridge in July 1826, here added-in as ‘Appendix’, which touches on some of the fundamentals of STC’s own faith. Phew!

Tomorrow I'll post some thoughts on the whole thing, with particular attention to contemporary relevance etc.


  1. He’s adamant that the clerisy should be, at heart, gents of the National Church, not of the secular government.

    I think this is a typo.

    STC makes one points in this chapter. One:

    Just the one?

  2. Typos fixed, thanks. Written in haste, I'm afraid ...