‘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 23 March 2015

On Calling a Book 'Logosophia'

So, Coleridge referred many times to his big book, his life's work, which was to sum-up and express in a single place the whole of his thought about God and art and philosophy. He worked on this off and on through the last three decades of his life, and under various titles: ‘Logosophia’, ‘Assertion of Religion’; ‘The Great Work’, ‘Magnum Opus’, ‘Opus Maximum’. He never finished it, although at his death he left a great quantity of draft material relating to it, with more that can be extracted from his Notebooks, conversation and his other works (especially the Biographia Literaria, in which Coleridge refers several times to the book as only a ‘vestibule’ or preliminary work to the Logosophia). There was talk of Henry Nelson Coleridge completing and publishing the Logosophia in the years after STC’s death, but that came to nothing. In fact, the first publication of any of this material was ‎Thomas McFarland and Nicholas Halmi’s 2002 edition for the Collected Coleridge under the ‘Opus Maximum’ title—you can see the cover up there. It makes hard reading, partly because McFarland is so scrupulous about recording the scrappy MS jottings as they have come down to us, complete with crossings out and variants and so on. But then, after all, it is unfinished.

Personally I prefer the Logosophia title that Coleridge used for a while (although by the end of his life he was more likely to use the Magnum Opus or Opus Maximum titles), for a number of reasons. And now I'm wondering if the reason he starts referring to his 'great work' by this title from about 1814 onwards, and uses that title in the Biographia (1817), is because he'd read this book by the Hungarian writer Sánder Kyss:

It's a curious tome, written in two columns, the left in Latin the right in German (just the sort of thing you'd assume might appeal to Coleridge), and concerned with proposing a modified version of the Roman alphabet for universal use, and with the specific aim of facilitating international and diplomatic communication.

It is just the alphabet. Kyss is not suggesting an Esperanto-style new language, but rather an alphabet 'auf die ewigen Gesetze der Natur gegründet' ('in perpetuis legibus naturae fundata'), 'founded on the eternal laws of nature'. Whatever that might mean! I can't find anything linking Coleridge and Kyss, or indeed anything about Kyss at all (beyond what can be deduced from his title page there: that was a Hungarian knight, diplomat and 'judicial assessor'), so this is just conjecture. Suggestive though.


[PS. Kyss's book makes interesting browsing, actually. What's wrong with the Roman alphabet? "Die Römer hatten für eigene Aussprachen, ein fast gutes Alphabet, es war aber nicht vollständig, folglich nicht allgemein; es fehlten ihnen mehrere Elementar- Stoffe der menschlichen Aussprachen, es fehlte ihnen der Grundlautstoff ... daher konnten die Römer nur eigene Aussprachen niederschreiben, für fremde Aussprachen waren sie gezwungen, entweder die fremden Alphabete zu erlernen, oder die fremden Aussprachen, mit eigenem Alphabet schlecht niederzuschreiben." 'The Romans had a tolerably good alphabet, as far as their own pronunciation of words was concerned, but it was not complete, and therefore was not general; they lacked several elementary quantities of human pronunciations: basic sonic components ... Therefore, the Romans could only write their own words; for foreign words they were forced either to apply foreign alphabets, or to employ the distorted pronunciations with their own alphabet and so write such words down in an inapposite manner.' Since out alphabet is based on theirs, we have inherited this deficiency. Bad Romans! Naughty Romans! On your bed!]

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