‘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, 26 July 2013


From Horace in London (1813); Ode 34.
Parcus Deorom cultor et infrequent

Inveigled by Hume from the Temple of Truth,
From Piety's sheepfold a stray lamb,
I laugh'd and I sang, a mere reprobate youth,
As seldom at church as Sir Balaam.

But now through a crack in my worldly wise head
A ray of new light sheds a, blaze,
And back, with the speed of a zealot, I tread
The wide metaphysical maze.

Of late through the Strand as I saunter'd away,
A curricle gave me new life,
For oh! in that curricle, spruce as the day,
Sate Coelebs In Search Of A Wife.

Majestic as thunder he roll'd through the air,
His horses were rapidly driven;
I gaz'd like the pilgrim in Vanity Fair,
When Faithful was snatch'd into Heaven.

Loud bellow'd the monsters in Pidcock's abyss,
Old vagabond Thames caught the sound,
It shook the Adelphi, it scar'd gloomy Dis,
And Styx swore an oath underground.

The puritan rises, philosophy falls,
When touch'd by his harlequin rod;
The cobler and prelate from separate stalls,
Chaunt hymns to the young demigod.

The beardless reformer leaves London behind,
He wanders o'er woddland and common,
And dives into depths theologic to find
That darkest of swans—a white woman.

The Pilgrim of Bunyan felt wiser alarms—
His darling at home could not bind him;
Twas Death and the Devil when lock'd in her arm;
'Twas Heaven—when he left her behind him.
Is this a dig at Coleridge? If so, what was the gossip connecting him with 'a white woman'?


If we didn't know (from those portions vol. 2 of the Biographia that quote them) that Coleridge was reading Herbert and the metaphysicals, this strangulated, ineffective image from Zapolya (1816) would give the game away:
Be not ashamed that I should witness
The oil of gladness glittering on the water
Of an ebbing grief. [Zapolya (1816), 45]

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


There’s a nicely written scene early in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Green Mars (1994) in which schoolchildren, learning science, taunt their teacher by replying to all his explanations about the physical universe with the question ‘why?’
He would start at the blackboard, and behind his back they would roll their eyes and make faces as he droned on about partial pressures or infrared rays. Then one of them would see an opening and begin the game. He was helpless before it. He would say something like, “In nonshivering thermogenesis the body produces heat using futile cycles,” and one of them would raise a hand and say, “But why, Sax?” and everyone would stare hard at their lectern and not look at each other, while Sax would frown as if this had never happened before, and say, “Well, it creates heat without using as much energy as shivering does. The muscle proteins contract, but instead of grabbing they just slide over each other, and that creates the heat.”

Jackie, so sincerely the whole class nearly lost it: “But how?”

He was blinking now, so fast they almost exploded watching him. “Well, the amino acids in the proteins have broken covalent bonds, and the breaks release what is called bond dissociation energy.”

“But why?”

Blinking ever harder: “Well, that’s just a matter of physics.” He diagrammed vigorously on the blackboard: “Covalent bonds are formed when two atomic orbitals merge to form a single bond orbital, occupied by electrons from both atoms. Breaking the bond releases thirty to a hundred kcals of stored energy.”

Several of them asked, in chorus, “But why?”

This got him into subatomic physics, where the chain of whys and becauses could go on for a half hour without him ever once saying something they could understand. Finally they would sense they were near the end game. “But why?”

“Well,” going cross-eyed as he tried to backtrack, “atoms want to get to their stable number of electrons, and they’ll share electrons when they have to.”

“But why?”

Now he was looking trapped. “That’s just the way atoms bond. One of the ways.”

“But WHY?”

A shrug. “That’s how the atomic force works. That’s how things came out—”

And they all would shout, “in the Big Bang.”

They would howl with glee, and Sax’s forehead would knot up as he realized that they had done it to him again.
Robinson gets at something important here about the way science explains the universe. What’s particularly powerful about this passage, I think, is the sense it conveys that this repeated stepping-back along the chain of causation, this re-iterated ‘why?’ is simultaneously something childish—kids love this kind of game—and at the same time profound, and profoundly unsettling.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Liam Neeson Memorial Blogpost: Punching Wolves, 1803 edition

On the 28th of February [1803], about one in the morning, Cit. Francis Lanaud and his wife, residing near Lons le Saulnier, in the department of Jura, were suddenly awaked by the barking of the dog on the outside of the house. Scarcely was the door opened, when a wolf flew upon the man, who, though having nothing on but his shirt, succeeded in bringing the beast to the ground- The furious animal, however, recovering himself, made another attack upon his enemy, already wounded; and, though twice compelled by the man to quit his hold, still returned to the charge. The last time, Lanaud, seizing him by the jaw, thought to stifle him, by running his fist down his throat. The wolf, however, disengaged himself again, and was in the act of springing into the house, when Lanaud's wife, who had seen the whole transaction, shutting the door suddenly, caught one of his paws between that and the post. In this interval, two neighbours arrived, and soon dispatched him. One of Lanaud's wrists was nearly torn away, besides several other bites upon his arms. His wife, too, was bitten. The prefect of the department has ordered provision to be made for them.
From The Sporting Magazine, 24:139 (1804), 49.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

True Blue

Last one today, I promise.
"I should so like to read Coleridge," said John, earnestly, having dipped into the volume; "though I must say that he looks a little too philosophical for me;" (I smiled;) "but, as he's a true Blue, I should like to say I had read him."

"Take his 'Friend' John," said I, "and any friend of mine—there are ten of them at your service—and keep it and them till you have done with them, and thoroughly understand them; for I do not." [Cornelius Webbe, Glances at Life in City and Suburbs: Second Series (London 1845), 41-2]

Miasma coleridgeanae

Louis Eugène Marie Bautain, An Epitome of the History of Philosophy: Being the Work Adopted by the University of France for Instruction in the Colleges and High Schools (transl. C S Henry; 2 vols 1841), 194-5
Some of the most interesting things in the writings of Coleridge relate to the differences and to the analogies between life and intelligence, and to the illustration which may be derived to psychology from the consideration of the dynamic forces. From these sources he has drawn many profound and original views, of great importance in their general bearing upon the mechanical philosophy and material psychology. Coleridge borrowed largely from Kant and Schelling; and though, in reading his writings, the impression can hardly be resisted that he was equal to them in original speculative ability, and their superior in learning and critical power, yet, from his indolence, and his want of constructive talent, and particularly the talent for clear and systematic exposition, he has contributed little that will occupy a permanent and substantive place in the general history of philosophy. His writings contain numerous thoughts and fragments of thought, which may continue to be, as they have already been, rich germes, that may be unfolded by meditative minds endowed with more patience and skill in development than he possessed. In this way the influence of Coleridge has been very considerable in opposing the progress of a superficial and materializing spirit in philosophy, and in establishing the foundations of the great truths of morals and religion.
Also, check out: William Mitchell, Thomas Harvey Skinner, Coleridge and the moral tendency of his writings (New York, 1844). The preface begins:
It begins at length to be seen, that the theological mists of Coleridgism have been spreading themselves among us, not without effect. Our divinity professors seem to have thought that they are too much like the comet's hair to have much influence of any kind; but have they not in this instance forgotten that the appropriate title of Satan, as the author of evil, is the prince of the poicer of the air? Minute and invisible causes are often the most powerful. Changes have been occurring during the last ten or fifteen years, to which it is now very manifest these transcendental tenuities have been, in no small measure, causal. Unitarians have become pantheists. Calvinists have exchanged Calvin and Edwards for modern divines of Germany. Satisfaction for sin has been discarded, and the doctrine of at-one-ment substituted for that of the atonement. Preaching, in certain cases, has passed from plain to dreamy and mystical, from shallow to incomprehensible, from commonplace to great seeming profundity. Friends of our religious revivals have become distrustful, if not contemptuous, towards them. Friends of missions have acquired a supersensuous indifference, if not disgust, towards them and almost every other cause of active benevolence. Puritans have adopted the religion of forms. The dark ages, it is contended, are the bright ones. These changes are referrible to a combination of circumstances, but the connexion of the greater part of them with the writings of Coleridge, as a principal cause, can scarcely be questioned by any intelligent observer of events. There is great power in these writings, notwithstanding the subtle, fragmentary, and self-contradictory character of the philosophy which pervades them. They are the production of a man of uncommon and splendid genius, and are exceedingly suggestive of thought and reflection. Their costume is unique, and is often exceedingly interesting and beautiful. They abound in truly profound remarks, and in views of truth, admirably expressed and fortified. Attentive and disciplined readers, whose hearts are established by grace, and whose minds are rooted and grounded in the truth, cannot but glean from the fields to which they are here introduced many a golden sheaf of knowledge to add to their own treasures. It is this character of rare excellence in some things, that gives this author his great power to work mischief. The tendency of his writings, as this Tract will show, is, on the whole, subversive of orthodoxy. It would introduce a system not much preferable to Unitarian ism. When a cup of poison is rendered as nectar by the sweetening, shall the matchless sweetening justify the promiscuous circulation of the cup?

Coleridge on cholera

I believe this to be another previously unnoticed record of Coleridge's speaking. It's from an article by 'L.M.C.' called 'Thoughts on the Poet Coleridge', [in The Metropolitan Magazine 11:42 (Oct 1834), 142-6]. Much of the piece is general praise of Coleridge's talents ('As a great poet, and a still greater philosopher, the world has hardly yet done justice to the genius of Coleridge' and so on), but there are some personal reminiscences too:
The last time I ever saw him, was at the period when the cholera was beginning to shed its baneful influence over this country. Coleridge was walking in the grove at Highgate, his frequent promenade, and opposite to the church where his ashes now repose. We stopped to salute him, and he held us some time in discourse. He entered upon the then all-engrossing subject of that fearful scourge, not with the partiality or prejudice, or narrow views of the mere physician, anxious only to establish his own theory, and to subvert every other, but with the candour and the comprehensiveness of the great philosopher, anxious only to elicit truth. He mentioned several interesting circumstances connected with the plague, which had fallen under his own observation, while he was resident at Malta; and, amongst others, that while the pestilence was raging, the common flies were found lying dead about the houses, and the small fly, called the blue fly of pestilence, appeared in their stead. The important question, as to whether the cholera was infectious, or merely contagious, he discussed with luminous eloquence; and showed the great probability that it might in fact be both. He explained how one form of the disease might, under certain circumstances, tend to produce the other; and again, with fearful and destructive energy, reproduce and multiply itself. I merely state the substance of his remarks; for I cannot venture to put words into the mouth of that sublime colloquist: yet I have a vivid recollection of his tone and manner, when, comparing the pestilence to the " destroying angel," he lifted up his hands and eyes to the blue summer sky, that shed its full sunlight upon his inspired face. At that moment, who that saw him, but must have been struck with the wonderful mastery of mind over matter? for the bent figure, the tremulous motion of the head, and the silver tresses, that indicated a premature old age, seemed in a moment to vanish, and the divine spirit was alone present and perceptible to sense.
Well, he was wrong about cholera: it's contagious, but not infectious. (In Frederick Burwick's Oxford Companion to Coleridge [(Oxford 2009), 299], Paul Cheshire reminds us of 'a [Notebook] entry where Coleridge claimed that the cholera epidemic was the result of savage races neglecting to cultivate their higher functions.' So I guess there are worse ways to be wrong about this particular disease). There's also this rather non-specific reminiscence of STC reading poetry, and opining on Shakespeare, which I'm afraid adds little the canon of Coleridgeana:
I remember Coleridge reading some passages from the old poets, with such a look and tone of enjoyment, that his whole soul seemed poured out in the flood of melody that fell from his lips. Nor was it surprising to find one of his most original turn giving the palm to those early writers, who, as he justly observed, were the parent streams of all those channels of thought, that diffuse themselves through modern poetry; which has chiefly the merit of dressing up old ideas in a new and more elegant costume, or, in other words, re-setting the jewels of antiquity in the filigree of the day. Talking of Shakspeare, he gave it as his opinion that both Titus Andronicus, and Troilus and Cressida, were the works of that mighty Archimage, and bore the impress of his genius too strongly, (despite their faults,) to give sanction to the idea entertained by some critics, that they were the compositions of an inferior hand.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Upon a log -- expiring frog

Could this be the original poem pastiched by Dickens as Mrs Leo Hunter's 'Ode on an Expiring Frog' in Pickwick?


Poor being! wherefore dost thou fly?
Why seek to shun my gazing eye,
And palpitate with fear?
Indulge a passing trav'ler's sight,
And leap not on in vain affright;
No cruel foe is here.

I would but pause awhile, to view
Thy dappled coat of many a hue;
Thy rapid bound survey;
And see how well thy limbs can glide
Along the sedge-crown'd streamlet's tide,
Then journey on my way.

No savage sage am I, whose pow'r
Shall tear thee from thy rush-wove bow'r,
To feel th' unsparing knife;
No barb'rous schemes this hand shall try,
Nor, to prolong thy death, would I
Prolong thy little life.

Ah! let him not, whose wanton skill
Delights the mangled frog to kill,
The wreath of praise attain!
Philosophy abhors the heart
That prostitutes her sacred art,
To give one being pain. [Charles Snart, 'To a Frog', Elegant Extracts in Verse (2 vols, 1810) 2:141]

Newlan's Everyone in Dickens suggests the source may have been Horatio Smith's Gaieties and Gravities (1825) which contains the poem 'To a Log of Wood upon a Fire'. But I like this one better.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Derri-dera, dera, derriderri dera,derri de-daaa! diddle-diddle-um

That's the pink panther theme, of course. How could you not spot it? Reblogging this from the excellent Piccolo blog, a site I come back to frequently and which is almost always stimulating.
I don’t believe that there is "a specifically philosophical writing", a sole philosophical writing whose purity is always the same and out of reach of all sorts of contaminations. And first of all for this overwhelming reason: philosophy is spoken and written in a natural language, not in an absolutely formalizable and universal language. That said, within this natural language and its uses, certain modes have been forcibly imposed (and there is a relation of force) as philosophical. The modes are multiple, conflictual, inseparable from the philosophical content itself and from its "theses". A philosophical debate is also a combat in view of imposing discursive modes, demonstrative procedures, rhetorical and pedagogical techniques. Each time philosophy has been opposed, it was also, although not only, by contesting the properly, authentically philosophical character of the other’s discourse. [Jacques Derrida, "Is There A Philosophical Language?". In: Points . . . Interviews, 1974-1994