‘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.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

George Lamb on Catullus

The poems of Caius Valerius Catullus, tr. with notes by G. Lamb (2 vols, 1821), 1:xxxvi-xli:
It is remarkable that, in speaking of Catullus, even the learned often designate him as a mere poet of love and revelry, who, like Anacreon, devoted his genius to enrich and celebrate the pleasures of the passing hour. ... Pezay mentions as his characteristical effusions, " des vers echappes "au delire de l'Orgie ou de l'Amour, des vers "ecrits sur la table de Manlius;" and Laharpe, estimating his reputation, writes, " Une douzaine de morceaux d'un gout exquis, pleins de grace et de naturel, Font mis au rang des poetes les plus "aimable." In this manner even his admirers have denied to Catullus his due rank; and, while they dwelt with fondness on the madrigals of the classical voluptuary, have forgotten to dignify him as the heroic poet; whom Atys and the Nuptials of Peleus and Thetis would have placed next to Virgil in his own language, even if Virgil had been all original: but from whom, let us add, Virgil has copied more than from any one except Homer; has adopted not only ideas but whole lines; whom he has, in short, repeatedly imitated, and not always improved. Critical and panegyrical quotations on particular poems are more appropriate to the notes; and of these two, suffice it here to observe, that the latter is in Latin composition surpassed by the Eneid alone; the first has no rival in any tongue. If a poet has sung of love, it seems as of course to accredit him also with a fondness for wine. Thus Pezay in the passage already quoted mentions of Catullus the "delire de l'Orgie," and Noel, a later French translator, attributes to him "des pieces echappees dans la double ivresse de "l'amour et du vin." However, in all Catullus there is only one poem, to his Cupbearer, which can be considered of a convivial nature, or at all indicative of such excesses. The prior English translator observes, that "a clean, well-pointed satire was his forte;" it may however be thought, on the contrary, that his satirical poems, taken altogether, most of which may rather be termed invectives, are those that do him the least credit. Some, as those on an Ingrate, to Cominius, and to Himself on the Times, seem the ungoverned ebullitions of rage; some are directed against unworthy and unfitting objects, and even, as those to Vettius, to Rufus, and to Mamurra's mistress, descend to remark upon personal defects: but among them the attacks upon Cesar for his favour to his profligate minion Mamurra, and to other unworthy hangerson, indicate that boldness and spirit of freedom from which alone exalted genius can borrow additional dignity. The consequence was, we know, at least not injurious to the poet: "Cesar," Suetonius writes, "though he felt that the lines, "which Valerius Catullus had written upon his attachment to Mamurra, had fixed a lasting stigma upon him, yet asked Catullus to supper on the very day of their appearance, and con"tinued, as before, to be frequently his father's guest." Whatever was Cesar's feeling, whether apathy, whether contempt, whether respect for literary men, and a wish to conciliate rather than to irritate them; whether he was subdued by a conviction of the truth of the imputations; or whether he deemed the prosecution of such - offences less likely to deter others by the punishment inflicted, than to injure himself by exciting sympathy with the culprit; whatever was his motive, it detracts nothing from the boldness of the poet, who had no reason to anticipate such a result. The poems of this class, however, that deserve reprehension for their subjects are but few. Some, as those to Furius on his poverty, on the interview with Varus and his mistress, and on Calvus's oratory, are merely jocular, and were probably no offence to the persons named; some, as those to Calvus in return for poems, to Aurelius and Furius, to the Courtezan who kept his tablets, and to his own Farm, seem to have been fairly called forth in his own behalf or defence; while many, as those on Suffenus, to Asinius, on a stupid Husband, to Verannius and Fabullus, to the Annals of Volusius, to Porcius and Socration, to Gellius, to Silo, and to Cinna, seem to have been directed against objects well worthy of exposure. It has pleased some editors to class "together several poems, the last in order, under the title of Epigrams. Many of them, however, are more properly elegiac, and few answer to the description of epigram, either in its antient or modern acceptation. The poems were probably classed originally according to their metre; and therefore we here still find the same natural tone which Catullus rarely or rather never lost. Only once in all his poems does he approach to any thing like a pun; and the reader who shall expect in this part of his works conceits or far-fetched thoughts, will often feel a similar contempt to that of Partridge for the acting of Garrick, and find, like him, that Catullus says nothing but what any man might say in the same situation. There remain some poems to be spoken of, not usually erected into a distinct class, but which may well justify such an arrangement, namely, the poetry of friendship and affection. This is a strain in which only a genius originally pure, however polluted by the immorality of its era, could descant with appropriate sentiment; which speaks with all the kindly warmth of love, while it refrains from its unreasoning rage; that adopts all its delicacy, without any tinge of its grossness
It seems the Roman poet was almost never rude! Which rather begs the question: has Lamb actually read Catullus?

Friday, 25 January 2013

Thoughts on reviews, 1808

From the preface to Francis Hodgson, Lady Jane Grey: a tale, in two books: with miscellaneous poems, in English and Latin (1808), viii-ix:
But, after this due acknowledgment to the public, who can never be co'nfounded with the Reviewers, (notwithstanding the trouble they take to identify themselves with the majority), I must say a few words of the poem wherein I have addressed these gentlemen in the present collection. If it be urged that I should pay the critics nothing but compliments, when I have met with so much praise from them, I do fairly confess that I value their praise as little as I fear their censure. I know them; the solemn mockery of their trade is indeed no secret to many; it is a little developed in this volume; and, perhaps, they may be more fully detected hereafter, with their fellow impostors of sundry kinds and denominations. Not that they need expect the honour of individual execution; but they may enjoy a share, should they survive long enough, in some comprehensive sentence.

Let me not here be misunderstood as arrogantly presuming to condemn all periodical critics. I am aware of the benefit which their office, well-executed, confers upon literature. I only mean to assert that it is too generally prostituted to purposes of private interest. Nor am I singular in this opinion. It gains strength, for the fact increases in notoriety, every day. Reviews save trouble, and arm a man for conversation without much reading; their plan is consequently popular; but the encouragement given to every new publication of the kind shews the established censors to be unsatisfactory. Their great faults are garbled quotations; essays extracted from the work before them, and inserted in their critiques as original; imperfect representations of the plan as well as of the execution of works; and, what is very foolish, virulent and indiscriminate abuse. If it be further objected to me, that in this hint to the Reviewers- I use the very language which I blame in them, let it be remembered, that some of the leading dogs in the pack (though, as staunch hounds, they should have been silent at a fault) have opened violently upon me; that they began the attack; that their charges are general and unsubstantiated, mine specific, and supported by examples; that delicate satire is lost upon the vulgar; that Johnson justly ridicules striking soft blows in a battle, and Swift shooting arrows against a brick wall; and that Dryden in his Mac Flecknoe, and Pope in the Dunciad, found it necessary (however disagreeable) to descend from the dignified images and courtly language of poetry, to wrestle with their dirty adversaries on the dunghill from which they sprung. Not that these great names could sanction an equal offence in a humbler writer; particularly in modern times, which are laudably chaste in diction, whatever they may be in action; but, compared to the grossness of my betters, I have been quite refined in my dialogue with the critics, and surely may palliate a little liberty by appealing to authorities which defend much ampler license.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Whitaker Contra Gibbon

I chanced upon this wonderfully hostile booklet: John Whitaker, Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in vols. IV, V and VI, Quarto, Reviewed (London, John Murray, 1791).

The Reverend Whitaker, Rector of Ruan-Lanyhorne (in Cornwall), really dislikes Gibbon. What particularly gets his goat is Gibbon's sensuality and debauchery. Not his representation of Roman sensuality and debauchery, but the sensuality and debauchery of Gibbon's own 'licentious pencil' -- not, I'd guess, a common ground of disparagement of the great stylist:
He drew the outline of his work with a critical hand, but he went beyond it on every side, in in the excursiveness of his licentious pencil. ... We have noticed before the propensity of Mr. Gibbon to obscenity. It was then, however, covered mostly under a veil of Greek. But, in p. 375, his obscenity throws off every cover, and comes stalking forth in the impudence of nakedness. A soul, deeply tinctured with sensuality, loves to brood over sensual ideas itself, to present sensual objects to others, and so to enjoy its own sensuality of spirit over again. But, in p. 414, he is still more vicious. [55]
Phew! They should put this in large type on the cover of the Penguin edition. It might persuade my students to read it.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Landor's "Southey and Porson" (1823)

We start with a Porsonian dig at critics, the education of which
must be entered on in an opposite way from the statuary's: the latter begins with dirt and ends with marble; the former begins with marble and ends with dirt. [5:141]
Landor's Southey then picks up on the dirt idea, by way of deprecating the modern age 'in which everything must be done quickly'.
To run with oars and sails was formerly the expression of orators for velocity : it would now express slowness. Our hats, our shoes, our whole habiliments, are made at one stroke : our fortunes the same, and the same our criticisms. Under my fellow-labourers in this vineyard, many vines have bled and few have blossomed. The proprietors seem to keep their stock as agriculturists keep lean sheep, to profit by their hoof and ordure. [5:141]
But wait now: 'this vineyard' is poetry (or is it criticism?); and Southey's 'fellow-labourers' are other poets (or critics?). So who are the proprietors? The public? Whoever they are, they are interested in their literature, or perhaps in their criticism, only for its glue and its shit.

Porson's animus is against contemporary reviewers of the Jeffreys type ('they who attack [Wordsworth] with virulence or with levity are men of no morality and no reflection', he says: a line altered in later editions to the hardly less stinging 'men of as little morality as reflection' [5:139]). In some respects Landor's Porson ventriloquises Coleridge's Biographia Literaria (no mean feat, since that book was first published nearly a decade after Porson's death):
I have observed the same man extol in private the very book on whose ruin he dined the day before. [5:142]
(Coleridge, in the conclusion to the Biographia, laments the reaction to his own 'Christabel': 'In the Edinburgh Review it was assailed with a malignity and a spirit of personal hatred that ought to have injured only the work in which such a tirade appeared : and this review was generally attributed (whether rightly or no I know not) to a man, who both in my presence and in my absence has repeatedly pronounced it the finest poem in the language.')  The main theme of this 'Conversation' follows the critical line of the second volume of Coleridge's famous book: discussing specific flawed examples of Wordsworth's 'simple' style whilst praising overall his nobility and clarity.  Landor's idiom, is dirtier. As his Porson puts it:
Wordsworth goes out of his way to be attacked: he picks up a piece of dirt, throws it on the carpet in the midst of the company, and cries This is a better man than any of you. He does indeed mould the base material into what form he chooses; but why not rather invite us to con- template it than challenge us to condemn it? This surely is false taste. [5:154]
The carpet is a synecdoche for a wealthy person, the clod for a poor one; with the implication that bringing these two humans together must (deliberately, polemically even) entail the dirtying of the former. It is worth adding that Coleridge is also discussed in propria persona. 'Bright colours without form,' is Porson's dismissal: 'sublimely void.' The ground of his hauteur, however, is not style but religion.
[Coleridge] believes he is a believer; but ... is it an act of piety to play the little child in the go-cart of Religion, or to beslaver the pretty dress he has just put on,
Porrigens teneras manus
Matria e gremio suae
Semihianto labello.
Pardon a quotation: I hate it: I wonder how it escaped me. [5:154]
The hatable quotation in question is from (of course) Catullus, Carmina 61: 'Torquatus uolo paruulus/matris e gremio suae/porrigens teneras manus/dulce rideat ad patrem/semihiante labello' ('A little Torquatus I wish, stretching out his little hands from his mother's lap, sweetly smiling at his father with parted lips'). Carmina 61 was written in honour of the marriage of Manlius Torquatus and Vinia Aurunculeia, the poet urging bride and bridegroom together into the honeymoon bed to beget children sooner rather than later. Coleridge, it seems, is sublimely void in an infantile way: reaching out with his hands from his mother's lap, and grinning. Porson hates a quotation. But who is the mother, here? What the dress? Mother church?

The bulk of this first Southey-Porson exchange is given over to a lengthy reminisence by Porson of a visit to a brothel. It was, he insists, at a length that encroahces on protests-too-much territory, an accident that he ever came to be in such a place:
I had been dining out: there were some who smoked after dinner; within a few hours the fumes of their pipes produced such an effect on my head, that I was willing to go into the air  a little. Still I continued hot and thirsty; and an undergraduate, whose tutor was my old acquaintance, proposed that we should turn into an oyster-cellar, and refresh ourselves with oysters and porter. The rogue, instead of this, conducted me into a fashionable house in the neighbourhood of Saint James's ; and although I expostulated with him, and insisted that we were going upstairs and not down, he appeared to me so ingenuous and so sincere in his protestations to the contrary, that I could well disbelieve him no longer. Nevertheless, receiving on the stairs many shoves and elbowings, I could not help telling him plainly, that, if indeed it was the oyster-cellar in Fleet-street, the company was much altered for the worse, and that in future I should frequent another. When the fumes of the pipes had left me, I discovered the deceit by the brilliancy and indecency of the and was resolved not to fall into temptation. Although, to my great satisfaction and surprise, no immodest proposal was directly made to me. [5:156]
Porson recalls being mocked by the whores for his dirty nails ('a pretty woman said loudly, "He has no gloves on!" "What nails the creature has!" replied an elder one. "Piano-forte keys wanting the white!"); converses with a 'thief taker' and recounts the brothel-equivalent to the reviewer who mocks a book in public and praises it in private: a German bawd who ('a beldame with prominent eyes, painted mole-hairs, and abundantly rich in the extensive bleaching-ground of cheeks and shoulders') first voices 'all manner of spiteful things against a young person called pretty', and then 'with her arm upon the neck of the girl, and looking softly and benignly, and styling her my young friend here, in such a sweet guttural accent, so long in drawing up, you would have thought it must have come from the heart.' The change of heart comes from the fact that a client of high standing has expressed his interest in the girl. All this, howsoever removed it seems from the business of literary criticism, culminates in a disquisition upon sexual euphemism:
A friend who happened to be there, although I did not see him, asked me afterward what I thought of the naked necks of the ladies.

"To tell you the truth," replied I, "the women of all countries, and the men in most, have usually kept their necks naked."

"You appear not to understand me, or you quibble," said he; "I mean their bosoms."

I then understood for the first time that neck signifies bosom when we speak of women, though not so when we speak of men or other creatures. But if bosom is neck, what, according to the same scale of progression, ought to be bosom? The usurped dominion of neck extends from the ear downward to where mermaids become fish. This conversation led me to reflect that I was born in the time when people had thighs; before your memory, I imagine. At present there is nothing but leg from the hip to the instep. My friend Mr. Small of Peter-house, a very decent and regular man, and fond of fugitive pieces, read before a lady and her family, from under the head of descriptive, some verses about the spring and the bees. Unluckily the honied thighs of our little European sugar-slaves caught the attention of the mother, who coloured excessively at the words, and said with much gravity of reproof, Indeed, Mr. Small, I never could have thought it of you, and added, waving her hand with matronly dignity toward the remainder of the audience, Sir, I have daughters.
This is funny, but it begs the question: what has it got to do with Wordsworth? If the point is that Wordsworth's verse treats of common and vulgar people (which of course it does) we are surely moved to note that it does not deal with prostitutes and brothels. Porson accuses Wordsworth of throwing 'a piece of dirt' onto the carpet of respectable literary opinion we perhaps think of a rural clod. This lengthy story about the brothel -- and the quotation from Catullus -- inflect out sense of dirt in a sexual manner. Indeed, the lines quotes from Carmina 61 have a ribald double meaning: Catullus spends the preceding several stanzas of his poem urging his married lovers into bed with one another; the 'semihiantis labellum', half-opened lips and the woman's 'gremium' have a sexual as well an innocent meaning. 'Gremium' is an interesting word in this context, actually: it can mean, according to Lewis and Short, 'lap' or 'bosom', or 'bowels'. And in fact it can mean less euphemistic things as well. A few poems along from Catullus's Carmina 61 we find the scurrilous Carmina 67, a piece of poetic gossip about a father who has fucked his son's wife: 'qui ipse sui gnati minxerit in gremium', 'a man who pissed into the gremium of his own son's wife'. Scholars tend to translate 'gremium' here as womb (the Carmina ends with an unwanted, incestuous pregnancy); and Lewis and Short themselves euphemistically render the line as 'a father who dishonoured his own son's wife'. It's clear enough, however, what the word 'actually' means -- clear enough for me not to need to spell it out. Which is to say, the interesting thing about it is precisely the way it mediates euphemism.

This seems a long way from Wordsworth's shepherds and leech-gatherers. But Landor's point is, partly, that (to quote his Porson again) 'trifling people are often useful, unintentionally and unconsciously: illustrations may be made out of them even for scholars and sages. A hangman sells to a ragman the materials on which a Homer is printed.' But the particular illustration seems more sexually charged than the actual topic requires. What is going on here?

All this -- the dirtiness of critics, the double-entendre of the Catullus quotation, offered as if it Freudianly slipped from Porson's mouth ('I wonder how it escaped me!'), the anecdote of going (inadvertently! we are earnestly assured of the visit's inadvertence) into a brothel where whores laugh at your dirty nails, the excursion into the topic of sexual euphemism -- all this is a prelude to a discussion of what is surely, at first blush, the chastest of all Wordsworth's many chaste poems: 'Laodamia' (1815). The logic of these structural juxtapositions fair screams 'irony', a circumstance that can only be emphasised by the way both Southey and Porson iterate and reiterate the stately chastity of the piece: it is 'most spirited', 'a draft of pure poetry' (although one with 'a flake of tartar' in it that Porson can criticise), 'a current,' Southey insists, 'of rich and bright thoughts runs through the poem.' It might, he adds, he 'heard with shouts of rapture' by the angels in heaven [5:162-3]. But what of that 'flake of tartar' that Porson 'wish[es] away'? What is it that contaminates 'this classic poem'? Protesilaus has sacrificed his life for his country; his wife is constant and adoring even in death; given the chance to meet his shade she finds herself unable to relinquish him a second time to the shades -- but his departure is a necessity, and he returns to the underworld leaving his wife a corpse by his tomb. What muddies the cleanness of this rebuke to excessive wifely affection? Might there be some suggestion of lewdness?

On the contrary: it is not impurity that contaminates 'Laodamia', but, paradoxically, purity, or at least Christian piety.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Neo Latin 2

This from Alexander Murray, 'Out Of Limbo' [TLS January 11 2013, 3], a review of Ronald G. Witt, The Two Latin Cultures and the Foundation of Renaissance Humanism in Medieval Italy (Cambridge Univ. Press 2012):
Witt gives pride of place to two Paduans ... Doyen of what he calls the "first generation of humanists" was a lawyer, Lovato de' Lovati (d.1309) whose poetry, most of it now lost, was to win the only praise Petrarch ever gave to a Latin poet between antiquity and his own time. Lovato's disciple, Albertino Mussato (d.1329) became a doyen of the "second generation". Mussato has long been known for his claim that the classics were as divinely inspired as theology.
This is the really interesting part, I think:
Aficianados of Erich Auerbach's Mimesis will find special interest in the argument that Mussato's revival of classical Latin refined public perceptions of space and time, especially time ... we learn how, by poring for years on the tenses, moods, pronouns and clauses of classical historians, Mussato was able to conceive more precisely the temporal relations in and between events. It seems he was the first European since antiquity known to have celebrated his own birthday.
Very cool.

On Gardening

Following up: Landor is very interested in the specifics of plants and gardening; and proposes it as a cure for vice. Which leads me to ask: why do we like gardening so much? Because it makes us physically dirty but metaphorically clean.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Landor Anger

Landoranger? Important part of his psychological, and therefore literary, make-up of course. I come, belatedly to Andrew Stauffer's interesting book on 'anger' in the Romantic period.
In the latter part of the eighteenth century, two closely related developments in Europe changed utterly the functions and forms of anger in public discourse. Firs, the French Revolution inspired intense debate over anger’s role in, and in creating, new forms of civil society. From its beginnings, the Revolution was centered in an assertion that the anger of the people deserved respect, and had a legitimacy of its own … Second, the periodical press began a phase of rapid expansion that transformed the substance, style, and reach of the public voice. [Andrew M. Stauffer, Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism (Cambridge University Press 2005), 1]
Stauffer traces this ‘redefinition’ of anger through political, literary, legal and medical discourses -- his claim that a shift of the ‘metaphor’ of post-French-Revolutionary medical practice mean that ‘raging inflammations (or “angry” swellings) are reconceived as destructive diseases rather than purgative symptoms’ is one of the more striking, though perhaps less plausible, points he makes. Broadly, though, his thesis that through this period ‘indignation becomes a moral stance detached from the emotion of anger as such, which is firmly identified as a dangerous loss of self-control’ [4] is compelling. Stauffer’s literary focus is on Blake, Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Godwin and Mary Shelley—he doesn’t, for example, mention Landor at all—but his case can be more broadly expanded. I wonder, perhaps, about the focus on self control, though, Important of course, but perhaps less ideologically charged than the question of control over others. Dickens's version of Landor, Boythorn, is choleric in an endearingly eccentric manner; but Oliver Twist's Mr Fang the magistrate (also not mentioned by Stauffer) is a great representation of the evil of unfettered anger precisely because he has power over others. Stauffer also quoted this fascinating passage from Godwin:
The men who grow angry with corruption, and impatient at injustice and through those sentiments favour the abettor of revolution, have an obvious apology to palliate their error; theirs is the excess of a virtuous feeling. At the same time, however amiable may be the source of their error, the error itself is probably fraught with consequences pernicious to mankind. Godwin, ‘On Revolutions’ Enquiry Concerning Political Justice 1793.
On poetry specifically he (Stauffer, I mean) says: 'Primarily under Rousseau’s influence, English poetry came to be governed by an aesthetic ideology of (authorial) sincerity and (readerly) sympathy that prohibited the essential theatricality and confrontational implications of angry satire. As the voice of poetry became more disembodied and more isolated in order to avoid imputations of theatricality, anger—a violent passion that relies on tone, gesture and facial expression for its communication to others—necessarily grew more problematic for Romantic lyric poets, whose work assumes soliloquy and apostrophe as its ground. How does one perform anger without a body, a voice, or an established dramatic context? One answer is to write very strongly worded imprecations and curses; yet such an unlyrical strategy invites charges of overreaction and overacting, or madness and insincerity. [5]'

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Teaching my pastoral course this term, it occurs to me that this is a mode with two fountainheads-- what might be called a Georgic point of origin, and an Eclogic point-of-origin (that is, on the one hand the idea of writing a practical manual for agricultural or horticultural themes, and on the other the idea of using 'the countryside' as an idyllic setting for meditations on love and life). Pastoral picks up on the latter to a much greater degree than the former. But the former had its own life. Here, hidden behind the hedgerow of its Latinity:
The De Hortorum Libri IV by René Rapin S.J. [1620/21-1681] was one of the more popular items of seventeenth century Neo-Latin literature. Since its original publication in Paris in 1665, it has gone through no fewer than 21 printings (the most recent being the 1932 Worcester Mass. edition of Thomas McDonald), and has been translated into English (twice), French, and Italian in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In her study, Ruth Monreal subjects Rapin’s poem to a lengthy and thorough analysis, beginning by pointing out that it and Abraham Cowley’s De Plantis Libri VI belong to a lengthy tradition of Lehrgedichte that can be traced back as far as Hesiod’s Works and Days and Vergil’s Georgics, and that resurfaced in Neo-Latin literature in works by such writers as Pontanus, Vida, and Fracastorio. This one is a didactic poem about the design of gardens (Book I is about flowers, II about forests and glades, III about irrigation and decorative water features, and IV about orchards) ... [unfortunately] (as Monreal observes on p. 16) the scholarship devoted to Abraham Cowley’s plant poem is very scanty. This is one of those poems which, like Thomas Watson’s 1592 Amintae Gaudia, languishes in undeserved neglect because it was written in Latin; had these poems been written in English, they would be very familiar indeed, and some readers would no doubt love them and consider them minor masterpieces.
Lehrgedichte is my word of the day. Excellent word.


Well, this is very interesting:
A spotlight is thrown on Hungarian humanism, which was lively and interesting--in his presidential address, Jean-Louis Charlet reminds us that until as late as 1844 Latin was the official language of Hungary (which makes Walter Savage Landor’s recommendation that Latin be the official language of the newly-founded Italian state less silly than it might otherwise seem). [Dana F. Sutton, reviewing Rhoda Schnur (ed.), Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Budapestinensis: Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Congress of Neo-Latin Studies, Budapest, 6-12 August 2006, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.06.34]
There's still the sense that, with Landorian or other Romantic and Victorian writers' Latin, we're at the end of something rather than the beginning. But it would be a mistake to project twentieth- or twenty-first century attitudes about nationhood and Volkisch identity onto the early nineteenth. Making a new nation was a project caught between two impulses in this period: the desire (as with America) to build a fundamentally Classicised new republic, the city on the hill; and the desire (as with the emergance of Germany) to shape a single nation out of an aboriginal language, culture and people. Also from that review (really interesting stuff, all of it):
No historian, for example, appears to have studied the position of Latin Secretary in England. This was instituted by Henry VII (whose importance in introducing humanism into England is often underrated), who appointed the Italian immigrant Andrea Ammonio, one of the cadre of continental humanists with whom he surrounded himself (Polydore Vergil being the best known) to this position, no doubt because he could not find any Englishman qualified for the task. In later times this grew to be an important and prestigious job: the Latin Secretary had a seat on the Privy Council and the position was occupied, among others, by Roger Ascham and John Milton (who published a volume of his official correspondence)
The larger question of 'Neo-Latin literature' is an important one:
There is still an urgent need to unify Neo-Latin studies, and to treat Neo-Latin poetry as a literary commonwealth. Only in this way can we achieve a suitable perspective for studying the similarities and convergences among Neo-Latin poets or between Latin and vernacular poetry. Walther Ludwig's opinion concerning the study of the elegy is also valid with respect to other genres of Neo-Latin poetry. Scholars who dealt with the history of poetry did it 'within the borders of national literature," being "amazingly unaware of, or unconcerned with, the works produced in neighbouring countries and read perhaps not only there." [Elwira Buszewicz, 'Buchanan in Poland: Facts, Questions, and Paradoxes' in Rhoda Schnur (ed) Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Bonnensis: Proceedings of the 12th International Congress of Neo-Latin Studies 2003 (Arizona State University Press, 2006), 230]
Sutton disagrees:
there is a second, very different way of approaching Neo-Latin literature. While some works may have been purposefully written for an international audience, the bulk of Neo-Latin literature was meant for consumption by the author's fellow countryman. The author may have been operating under the influence of items in his or her national vernacular literature, may have influenced the composition of subsequent vernacular ones, may have even written in both Latin and his or her native tongue, and in any event reflects the concerns, prejudices, and sensibilities of his or her immediate time and place. As such, albeit written in Latin, such literature essentially belongs to the author's national heritage. Historians of individual national literatures often display equally amazing ignorance of Latin written by authors belonging to the nation in question, and surely it is an important task for Neo-Latin studies to remedy this ignorance. Buszewicz, in essence, recommends an international vision of Neo-Latin studies. Both by personal inclination and as matter of practicality, I myself tend to favor a considerably more nationalistic one.
I think I'm with Buszewicz on this.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

E.K. A-Gain.

Looking back over my in-another-life blogging, I'm struck by how fascinated I seem to have been by 'E.K.' in Spenser's Shepheardes Calender. My problem, I think, is that my outlandish theories have not yet gone far enough out of the land. So:
The problem of E.K. has been "resolved" many times. Edward Kirke, who attended Cambridge at the same time as Spenser, and was also a friend of Gabriel Harvey, was for many years regarded as the obvious choice (De Selincourt xiv.), but it could have been no safer to sign one's own initials to the sometimes heavily polemical glosses than to the eclogues. In recent years the preferred assumption has been that Spenser himself is E.K. (Sommer 8), and this is supported by many internal and external evidences. ... Yet this is not proof that Spenser is E.K.; it is at best evidence that Spenser was on the committee that created and sustained him. Arguments have been advanced for every member of the Areopagus, including Sidney, Harvey, and more recently Fulke Greville (McLane 280-95). In the end, we are left with no more of E.K. than the Areopagites have given us, and they protected his identity for the remainder of their lives. What we have of him, however, can afford to stand on its own. His contribution is a highly interesting text that forms an integral part of The Shepheardes Calender, amplifying the gist of the eclogues as needed, fine tuning our sense of the poet's technical attainment, erudition, and allegorical intent, yet at the same time deliberately adding confusion where it is needed, in order to distract powerful and potentially vindictive readers.
That is from this informative online edition of the poem.

Now, for a while I was leaning in the direction of the argument that 'E.K.' is actually a formal embodiment of the generic identity of the poetry, and was simply enough short for 'Eklog(ue)'.  But now I'm wondering about Fulke Greville.  Reverse his first name and we have: E.K. Luf.

And indeed, this need not be exclusionary.  Because what is the English 'F' if not a crossbarred gamma? And did not Greville sometimes spell his name with an 'O' rather than a 'U'? And what is EKLOΓ if not a variant of the word 'Eclogue'? I rest my case.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

'Mars is a dead planet ...'

I heard that phrase on a TV show not half an hour ago, and it has given me pause. Put on one side theories that Mars played host to life once upon a time, long ago: let's imagine that Mars has always been cold and barren. Can we call something that has never been alive 'dead'? Doesn't 'dead' imply 'was once alive, but ...'

Virgil's first Eclogue

Two questions to which, as far as I can see, nobody is sure of the answers.  One: why are Virgil's Bucolica known as Eclogues? Eclogue (ecloga; from the Greek ἐκλογή) means 'selection', 'choice'. There are theories, of course -- perhaps these Eclogues we have are a 'selection' of the best of a larger body of bucolic poetry written by Virgil.  But nobody is certain.  And two: who is the 'god' mentioned right at the start of Eclogue 1?
Meliboeus. Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui Musam meditaris avena;
nos patriae fines et dulcia linquimus arva:
nos patriam fugimus; tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.
Tityrus. O Meliboee, deus nobis haec otia fecit:
namque erit ille mihi semper deus; illius aram
saepe tener nostris ab ovilibus imbuet agnus.
Ille meas errare boves, ut cernis, et ipsum
ludere, quae vellem, calamo permisit agresti

You, Tityrus, 'neath a broad beech-canopy
Reclining, on the slender oat rehearse
Your silvan ditties: I from my sweet fields,
And home's familiar bounds, even now depart.
Exiled from home am I; while, Tityrus, you
Sit careless in the shade, and, at your call,
"Fair Amaryllis" bid the woods resound.

O Meliboeus, 'twas a god vouchsafed
This ease to us, for him a god will I
Deem ever, and from my folds a tender lamb
Oft with its life-blood shall his altar stain.
His gift it is that, as your eyes may see,
My kine may roam at large, and I myself
Play on my shepherd's pipe what songs I will. [rather fruity old translation by R M Millington]
The standard line is that the 'deus' is Octavian:
Interpretations of the First Eclogue have now come full circle. Much significant scholarship has centered around the problems inherent in an identification of the deus with Octavian. Some critics maintain that the poem is Virgil's thank-offering to Octavian for protection from land confiscation; others, though fewer in number, are equally as insistent that the eclogue expresses the poet's disapproval of his government's land policy. A recent attempt has been made to unite the basic arguments of both sides into a more balanced statement. According to this interpretation Octavian is regarded as "having wrought both good and evil" in the past, but Virgil succeeds in revealing him to be "a savior, a force for good, and a source of hope for the future. To the contrary, I propose that an even stronger case can, and ought, be made that, in the First Eclogue, Virgil not only condemns the government land policy, but he also adroitly queries the very structure of Octavian's political program and ethic during this period. [Rosemary M. Nielsen, 'Virgil: Eclogue I', Latomus (1972), 154]
Very likely. But this is what occurs to me: in these poems, Virgil reworks Theocritus' idylls, in detail, down to including many embedded passages and quotations translated from Greek into Virgillian Latin. I wonder if Θεόκριτος isn't the god who opened the leisure of the pastoral idyll to Virgil. Θεός means 'god' after all, as Virgil would have known. And κριτος? Well κριτος means 'selection', 'choice'. It means eclogue.

Cleanness 1

Thinking some more about cleanness.

'"Organisation is everything," says Thomas Mann; "without it there can be no art." We might add: there can be no life, either.' [Idris Parry, Speak Silence (Carcanet 1988), 193]

Kristeva, of course: 'It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite. The traitor, the liar, the criminal with a good conscience, the shameless rapist, the killer who claims he is a savior. . . . Any crime, because it draws attention to the fragility of the law, is abject, but premeditated crime, cunning murder, hypocritical revenge are even more so because they heighten the display of such fragility. He who denies morality is not abject; there can be grandeur in amorality and even in crime that flaunts its disrespect for the law—rebellious, liberating, and suicidal crime. Abjection, on the other hand, is immoral, sinister, scheming, and shady: a terror that dissembles, a hatred that smiles, a passion that uses the body for barter instead of inflaming it, a debtor who sells you up, a friend who stabs you.. . .' [Powers of Horror (transl. Louis Roudiez, Columbia University Press, 1982), 4]

And from Roudiez's introduction to the same volume: 'Kristeva is not averse to using polysemy to her advantage, as other French theorists like Derrida and Lacan have also done. The French word propre, for instance, has kept the meaning of the Latin proprius (one's own, characteristic, proper) and also acquired a new one: clean. At first, in Powers of Horror, the criteria of expository prose seemed to apply, but in several instances I began to have my doubts about this. When I asked Kristeva which meaning she intended the answer was, both. As a result I decided to use the rather cumbersome "one's own clean and proper body" to render the French corps propre, sacrificing elegance for the sake of clarity and fullness of meaning. [viii]

And this: one of the two Oxyrhnchus Gospels (this is papyrus 840, reconstructed and translated by Henry Sweet Barclay), also cited in Powers of Horror:
(01) "[. . .] earlier, before doing wrong, he slyly reasons everything out,
(02) but be careful that you do not also somehow
(03) suffer the same things as them. For not
(04) only among the living do
(05) the evil-doers of humanity receive retribution, but [a]lso
(06) they will undergo punishment and mu[c]h
(07) torture." And taking them along,
(08) he went into the place of purification itself and
(09) wandered about in the temple. And c[o]ming toward them,
(10) a certain high priest of the Pharisees - Le[vi]
(11) was his name - joined them and s[aid]
(12) to the savior, "Who permitted you to tram[ple]
(13) this place of purification and to see [the]se
(14) holy vessels, although you have not ba[th]e[d] n[o]r
(15) have the f[eet] of your disciples
(16) been [wa]shed? But after having def[iled] it,
(17) you trample this a[rea] of the temple which
(18) [i]s clean, which nobody e[lse except for]
(19) a person who has bathed and chan[ged his]
(20) [clot]hes tramples on. Nor does he dare to lo[ok upon these]
(21) holy vessels." And s[tanding nearby, the savior]
(22) wit[h his] disciple[s replied],

(23) "Then, being here in the temple, are you
(24) clean?" He said to him, "I am clean.
(25) For I bathed in the pool of David and
(26) after going down by one set of stairs, by another
(27) I came back [u]p. And I put on white clothes
(28) and they were clean and then I came
(29) and looked upon these holy
(30) vessels." Re[ply]ing to him, the savior
(31) said, "Woe to blind people who do not
(32) s[e]e! You bathed in those gushing
(33) w[a]ter[s] in which dogs and pigs have been
(34) ca[st] night and day. And wash[i]ng yourselves,
(35) you scrubbed the outer layer of skin which
(36) also prostitutes and th[e] flute-girls
(37) ano[int a]nd bathe and scrub
(38) [and p]ut make up on to become the desi[re]
(39) of [t]he men. But from within th[ey]
(40) [are fill]ed with scorpions and
(41) [all unr]ighteousness. But I and
(42) [my disciples], whom you say have not
(43) wa[shed], we [have wa]shed in waters of li[fe]
(44) [eternal co]ming from [the]
(45) [God of heaven. B]ut woe to [th]ose [. . .]

Sunday, 6 January 2013


Busy with two things this year, at least as the year relates to this blog.  One is Landor and the other is Coleridge.  As far as 'one' goes: I wrote a book, a critical monograph, called Landor's Cleanness; it looks like Oxford University Press are going to publish this, perhaps in 2014. At the moment I'm working through the two readers' reports on the initial manuscript, which contain some extremely useful pointers as to how to improve it.  And 'the other' relates to an edition of the Biographia Literaria I'm currently pulling into shape.  I intend to use this blog as a hidden-in-plain-view public notebook for my thoughts and process. At least one eye (mine) will be on it.