‘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.

Friday 15 May 2015

Bill Drummond Said

You'll have to excuse the Copeness of my blogpost title. I knew only a little about William Drummond (1770–1828), Scottish politicians and author; mostly that he's supposed to have influenced Shelley (reading Drummond's Academical Questions (1805) is said to have changed Percy's mind on the question of the 'pure materiality' of the Universe, moving him towards a more spiritual, though still atheist, perspective).

Drummond's Oedipus Judaicus (1811) was a new one on me, though. Since it's on Google Books (as is the 1866 revised edition) I've been going through it. The book is notionally an exploration of the connections between Egyptian astrology, the secret lore of the Pharaonic priesthood and Old Testament religion. Actually I suspect it is a complex and obscurified meditation on personal spirituality, like a sort of ur-A Vision or ur-White Goddess. It was printed privately in a very small run to limit the chance of its controversial opinions tainting Drummond's public reputation and political life.
I feel little inclination to make my opinions too publicly known. It may be hoped, however, that reason and liberality will soon again be progressive in their march; and that men will cease to think that Religion can be really at war. with Philosophy. When we hear the timid sons of Superstition calling to each other to rally round the altar, we may well'blush for human weak-ness. The altar, of which the basis is established by Reason, and which is supported by Truth and Nature, can never be overthrown. It is before that altar that I kneel, and that I adore the God, whom philosophy has taught me to consider as the infinite and eternal Mind, that formed, and that sustains, the fair order of Nature, and that created and preserves the universal system.

To a small circle I think myself at liberty to observe, that the manner in which the Christian readers of the Old Testament generally choose to understand it, appears to me to be a little singular. While the Deity is represented with human passions, and those none of the best;——while he is described as a quarrelsome, jealous, and vindictive being;——while he is shown to be continually changing his plans for the 'moral government of the world;——and while he is depicted as a material and local God, who dwelt on a box made of Shittim wood in the temple of Jerusalem;——they abide by the literal interpretation. They see no allegory in the first chapters of Genesis; nor doubt, that far the greater portion of the human race is doomed to suffer eternal torments, because our first parents ate an apple, after having been tempted by a talking serpent. They find it quite simple, that the triune Jehovah should dine on veal cutlets at Abraham’s table; nor are they at all surprised, that the God of the universe should pay a visit to Ezekiel, in order to settle with the Prophet, whether he should bake his bread with human dung, or with cow’s dung.

In these examples the Christian readers believe the facts to have happened literally as they are stated; and neither suspect, nor allow, that the language of the sacred writers upon such occasions may be entirely figurative. Very different is their mode of interpreting these same Scriptures, when they think there is any allusion made to the kingdom of Christ. Then they abandon the literal sense without scruple, and sometimes, it may be thought, without consideration. The Rabbins learn with astonishment, that the Song of Solomon, for example, is a mere allegory, which represents the love of Jesus for his church; and that the lady, whose navel was like a round goblet, not wanting liquor,——whose belly was like a heap of wheat, set about with lilies,——whose nose was as the tower of Lebanon, which looketh towards Damascus,——and who promised to her well-beloved, that he should lie all night betwixt her breasts,——was not Solomon’s mistress, but the Church, the spiritual spouse of Christ. [vi-vii]
Drummond's main thesis in the book is that the events recorded in the Book of Joshua are not to be understood as historial or quasi-historical accounts of battles and seiges and so on, but allegorically, as a narrative of astrological conjunctions with deeper spiritual significance. He also spends quite a lot of time on Genesis 49.

There are some gorgeous plates. Here is an rendering of Egyptian constellations, adapted from Athanasius Kircher (whose Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652-54) was one of Drummond's sources):

Also the Indian Zodaic, from a 1772 source and which seems, for some reason, to be square:

And an 'Oriental' one:

Some 'Mithraic Monuments':

And, finally, Drummond's own schema for 'the Lion of Judah':

'Judah is a lion's whelp...'  It's part of that discursive context that makes Blake's prophetic books look much less eccentric and unusual.

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