‘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.

Monday 17 November 2014

The Revolutionary Plutarch (1805)

Dedicated (a touch hauntologically) to the ghosts of Louis XVI and Edmund Burke, the preface to this collection of French capsule biographies leaves us no doubt as to its ideological orientation:
The Corsican adventurer continues, almost daily to inflict new, deep, and almost incurable wounds on the civil rights of individuals, on the prerogatives of sovereigns, as well as on that system of public morals called the law of nations. He, therefore, who is destined to relate the present wretchedness of society, if actuated by the spirit of truth, honour, and independence, will have to recapitulate such a multitude of enormities, that the reigns of Nero, Caligula, Domitian, and Robespierre must appear less intolerable and less tyrannical than the usurpation of Napoleone Buonaparte. Slavery, in its most odious hue, as well as in its gloomy shades, continues still to degrade most of the continental nations; but though outraged nature, ever intent to uphold her dominion, constantly haunts the offender, by means of the demon of never-ceasing suspicion, and not unfrequently torments him with the scorpion of never-dying revenge, no prospect is visible of modern bondsmen possessing courage and energy enough to break their chains on the head of their guilty and cruel master.
I like the spelling 'Napoleone Buonaparte' used here; a nice rocking-horse rhythm to the name: Na-POLE-ee-oh-nee Bu-OHN-ah-par-tee. A shame it didn't catch on, really. (It goes on in this Gothic mode: "Backed by accomplices, by gaolers, dungeons, racks, executioners, and gibbets, Buonaparte with one hand tears the social compact of civilized people, and with the other seizes a privileged British agent! with one hand he stabs a Bourbon, and with the other drags a trembling pontiff sacrilegiously to place the crown of the Bourbons on the head of their assassin!")


  1. I believe Napoleone Buonaparte was the name he was given at birth (Corsica being in the middle of tranferring from Genoa to France at the time). He frenchified it at the start of his military career to seem less foreign.

  2. Neil: I checked and you are quite right. I should have trusted you, and not bothered checking.

  3. If you can't trust an unknown commenter on your blog to know about the history of Napoleon's name who can you trust?

    (I have a feeling I learnt this from a novel about Napoleon, and then checked it in a giant biography in the library.)