‘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, 2 April 2015

Joose Lips Sink Ships

This is odd. I was chasing down an Elizabethan something through the thicket of Google Books (it came to nothing in the end, sadly) when I chanced upon a collection of Latin letters by the Dutch scholar and Stoic Joose Lips, better known by his Latin name, Justus Lipsius. The letters (Epistolarum centuriae duae: quarum prior innovata, altera nova (1590); '200 Letters, the first hundred previously published, the second new') are from all over Europe. Most look like this one, from The Hague:

Or this from Frankfurt:

Two of the 200 were sent from London. Curious, I took a look. But in the Google Books edition, the London letters look like this:

Intrigued, I tracked down a second edition of the book (this a later-published Collected Works of Lipsius from 1613, Iusti Lipsi Opera). But this was no more enlightening:

There are only two letters from London in the whole collection. What was Lipsius saying about that city, under Elizabeth, that provoked whoever-it-was to censor it, not once but twice? It really is very tantalising. Incidentally, the bit you can read, from that second letter, is: 'An potius linguam? Ista enim deest, qui tamdiu siles. Vindictam talionis merebare: sed noster amor si non maior, certe acrior: procatur, & lacessit te utro. Valemus ego, tuo liberi, tua uxor, non meae Musae quae …?' which means 'Or rather the language? For this will be lacking in one such as you, silent for so long. Even vengeful retaliation ought to be returned with our love, if not bigger then at least more focussed: for who is really the provoker and who the provoked? I bid you farewell, to your children, your wife, not my muses that ...'

What ...?

One quick PS: despite the publication date on the title page, up there, it looks as though the vol actually includes letters written as late as 1592.


  1. Actually, I should have looked more carefully. Th ehandwritten note at the bottom of the title page at the top tells us that the book was 'corrected and expurgated' by somebody on the 29th of June (is that?) 1613 in Madrid. Madrid? I'm guessing the first letter dated from 1585 and the second a little later. Why would a Spaniard want to censor them? Do they say something disobliging about the Spanish in the run up to the Armada?

  2. ... or rather (looking again), the first letter dates from 1583 and the second from 1585.