‘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, 18 June 2020

"H G Wells: a Literary Life" (2019)

During Lockdown I've doodled around on this blog with imaginary books, but perhaps it's time to mention a real one, by me: H G Wells: a Literary Life (Palgrave 2019). Since my old author website has fallen into desuetude this blog is the place linked-to in, for instance, my twitter bio and other such places; so it probably wouldn't hurt to use it for self-promotion from time to time. So, here we are. This title was shortlisted for the 2020 BSFA Award and did not win, and is presently shortlisted for the Locus Non-Fiction Award (and will not win). I'm quite proud of it, actually. Publisher's blurb:
This is the first new complete literary biography of H G Wells for thirty years, and the first to encompass his entire career as a writer, from the science fiction of the 1890s through his fiction and non-fiction writing all the way up to his last publication in 1946. Adam Roberts provides a comprehensive reassessment of Wells’ importance as a novelist, short-story writer, a theorist of social prophecy and utopia, journalist and commentator, offering a nuanced portrait of the man who coined the phrases ‘atom bomb’, ‘League of Nations’ ‘the war to end war’ and ‘time machine’, who wrote the world’s first comprehensive global history and invented the idea of the tank. In these twenty-six chapters, Roberts covers the entirety of Wells’ life and discusses every book and short story he produced, delivering a complete vision of this enduring figure.
Available from all good etc etc.


  1. I read it when it came out and quite enjoyed it.

  2. I'm still a few *novels* behind on my Roberts reading, but looking forward to this at some future date.

    As an aside: Are there any Wells books you think are especially undervalued? I'd like to read him beyond the canonical sff and I'm not quite where to start. Tono-Bungay? Mr Polly?

    1. Mr Polly is absolutely hilarious. And Mr Britling Sees It Through is remarkable: a huge bestseller in its day, and highly regarded.

  3. My partner and I both read this when it came out last year and thought it was magnificent, only marred a little by the many proofreading errors, some I think caused by the cutting of much material which you mentioned in an earlier blog. On your recommendation I bought and read Kipps for the first time and agree that it was very good. Haven't read Mr Polly since I was at school 60 years ago and about 12, and probably too young too appreciate the humour. Have bought Mr Britling and it awaits. I passed by 2nd copy of the bio on to my friend Bruce Gillespie, but haven't heard from him yet.