‘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.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Aristophanes in Elizabethan English

One last sojourn in the Elizabethan idiom, for the most famous scene from Aristophanes' Frogs. After all, everybody knows how hilarious Elizabethan and Jacobean comedies are, right?
DIONYSIS
Pull oar, he saieth! How? Put to what shifts, as poor sea-saylors be oft-times? Neither open ocean nor close battaile has euer embroiled me. Dost thou account me Salamis-seaman? Sirrah, dost think me oar puller?

CHARON
Tut sirrah, no more flaundering. See how facile is the strike, how easie al. Come now, and hearken to the songs yon oar shal stirre i'the pot with their guideing motion.

DIONYSIS
Whose songs bee these?

CHARON
The swansong of the froggs; nay whyte as egg the Frogg Swans. How close they do resemble Swans you soon shall see. Such charms!

DIONYSIS
Giue me but word.

CHARON
I, marry, sir, Ile marle you.

[Enter FROGGS from both flankes of the stage, to daunce about the boat, and sing]

FROGGS
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
We children o'the lea and the bubbld spring
In harmony
Do sing,
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Oh doe we lifte our voices throgh the crackes
And loudely our sweet song cutt-axe, cutt-axe
In honour of Ioue’s son Dionyse
And of the marshes hard by Mountains Nyse
The song we sang most choppily
When the swag-head drunkards rold
When murraind on the marche did lye
And broke ope eury winepot they did hold.
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe

DIONYSIS
Cut axe al daie, youle cleaue my arse in twain.

FROGGS:
So sing we brake eggs, brake eggs againe

DIONYSIS
Go void: Ile haue ye purged if ye go onn.

FROGGS
And yet is cutt-axe, cutt-axe stil our song.

DIONYSIS
Brake eggs, brake eggs, Ile brake ye with this oar.
To Hades with ye, troble me no more.

FROGGS
O can you take aprysal of us now?
Hearken!
The Muses, plaiers of the charming lyre,
Adore us: ours a song that cannot tyre.
Pan, with horned feet and gladsom reed
Harp-strucke Apollo, loue us for our brede
That we growe instruements within our pond
And coniure musick with our rustic wand.
Thus
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe

DIONYSIS
I, I, my fundamentes al of blysters the size of gooses-O, and soone Ile burst my dish, I prithee. Ye are rogues, sirrahs, who deserue nothing so much as———

FROGGS

Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe

DIONYSIS
What grating prating race is here! Be silent.

FROGGS.
Wele not backetrack, not we batraches.
Wele sing yet louder.
We loue to ruminate a sunny daie,
Through marsh and reed and where the mitdges plaie
Of our owne songs enamoured,
With eache descending siluer note we shed
And when Ioue sendeth raine upon our hed
We diue
Aliue
Into deep watter
And sing, and sing,
Notes cras and flatter
And al brakeing
Our froggishe chorussing.

DIONYSIS, FROGGS:
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe

DIONYSIS
Thou hast infected me with song.

FROGGS
Contagion is oure musicks idiom.

DIONYSIS
It will be worse for me if I keep at oare. My arse will brake asunder on this benche. O! O!

DIONYSIS, FROGGS:
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe

DIONYSIS
Prithee scream until your throtes are bags.
Go on as loudly as you wishe. I care not.

FROGGS
I so we shall! cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Wele go on, loud as throte will let us
The liuelong daie
DIONYSIS, FROGGS:
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe

DIONYSIS
Come come, I doe surpasse you at this game.

FROGGS
By no meanes so.

[Exeunt FROGGS seuerally]

DIONYSIS
Mine the axe to chop up riuall song.
I am surpassing musickal. How lowd
Ile screame and hollow, bellow all the daie.
Until I brake your eggs! Am I alone?

Euripides in Elizabethan English

I was undecided between Jonson or Middleton as the better prototype for an Elizabethan translation of Euripides. Jonson's classical tragedies are probably too stiff for my purposes here (Euripides, whatever other faults he may have, is rarely stiff); but we shouldn't be distracted by that -- it's not as a classicist, but as a contemporary writer of drama that we should take him, and Volpone has some of the verve and healthy cynicism of the Euripidean muse. But then again Medea (from which I've excerpted the most famous, or notorious, scene, below) is a much more Jacobean piece of work: violent in a disturbing way, monstrous and fascinated by monstrosity. So Middleton it is; for this one, at any rate.


JASON
O haste, ye slaues, and loose the bolts,
Undoe the fastenings, that I may see
Vision of doubled woe, my murderd sons
And her, whose blood in vengeance I shal shed.

[Medea appeareth in middest aire, aboue, on a chariot drawn by draggons; the childrens bodyes by her.]

MEDEA
Why rattle at those doors and trie to loose
Their bolts, in quest of corpses and their murderess?
Let such toil goe. If thou wouldst aught with mee
Saie on, man: saie whatere thy tonge can shape.
But neuer shalt thou lay a hand on mee,
So swift the draggons of the sun, my father’s sire,
Wil carrye mee from grasping hand of foes.

JASON.
O cursed woman! Thourte abhorred worste
By gods, by al mankind, and moste by mee
As neuer woman was revyled before,
Who hadst the stomach so to stabbe thy babes,
And thou their mother, leauing mee undone
Mee childless; blacke sin perpetrate by thee.
And still thou gazest upon Sunne and Earth
Still wide yourn eyes and after deeds like these
Impious. Foullest curses spit at thee.
I now perceve what I then failed to see
The day I brought thee, pregnant with thy doom,
From thy barbarian home to dwell in Greace,
Traitress to thy sire and to thy lande
The borne hat nurtured thee. On mee the gods
Haue turnd the curse that dogged ones thy steps,
For thou didst slay thy brother at his hearth
Before thou euer cam’st aboard our ship
And weyted Argo down with pitchest sinne.
Such was prenticeship of thy life’s crime;
Then didst thou wed with mee, bore mee sons
But onlie so to glutt thy passion’s lust,
Thou now hast murderde of them al in blood.
Not one amongst the wiues of Greace eer had
Attempted such grimm deeds before this day.
Yet I chose thee before them al as wife,
Joyning close to mee my hardest foe as doom:
No woman, but a lioness slach-clawed
More fierce than Tyrren Scylla in her soule.
But with reproaches heaped a thousandfold
I cannot wound thee, for thy soul is brass.
Die die vyle witch thy babees slaughterer
Whilst I remain to mourn my luckless fate,
I neuer shal agayne take wife into my bedd
I neuer shal agayne haue children bred
And reared to say the last rytes at my tombe.
I haue lost them.

MEDEA.
To this thy speech I could make long retort,
But Father Zeus knows well al I haue done
For thee, and how thou hast repayd my loue.
Thou wert not priuileged to scorn my loue
And lead a life of ioy in mocking mee,
Nor was thy royal bride nor Creon, hee
Who gaue thee second wife, to chase mee out
In beggary from this lande and rew it not.
Wherefore, if thou wilt speake, call mee a lyonesse,
Saie I am Scylla from the Tyrren land;
For I at leaste haue wrung thy mannes heart.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Sophocles in Elizabethan English

Writing pastiche Shakespeare is both too easy and much, much too hard. It's too easy in the sense that anyone can do it, as ten thousand examples prove. But it's much too hard, because -- well, obviously: setting yourself the challenge of writing as well as Shakespeare is setting yourself up to fail.

Shakespeare may be the wrong analogue for Sophocles actually. He certainly has the grandeur of the Greek, and his plays have the force and fame of the Oedipus Tyrannus and Antigone. But Shakespeare is primarily, of course, distinguished by the extraordinary range and liveliness of his characters, and in that he's closer to Euripides (who was criticised in his own day for writing 'lifelike' aka common individuals into his art). By 'closer to' I mean 'surpasses in every way'; but Euripides is still the best fit amongst the Attic crowd in that regard. I certainly don't want to be misled by a mere co-incidence of birthdays: that Shakespeare (b. 1565) and Middleton (1580) happen to have approximately the same generational gap as Sophocles (b. 496 BC) and Euripides (b. 480). Of course, that counts for little -- especially as Marlowe was only one year older than Shakespeare and died young, where Aeschylus was two decades or more older than Sophocles and lived to be almost a hundred.

At any rate, I've split the difference here, and translated the scene from the middle of the Antigone (where Creon orders Antigone off to be buried alive) into a blank verse too bland to be called properly Shakespearian, but Elizabethan enough to keep it relevant to this project.

I'll need to think, and write, harder about other Sophoclean passages if I want to generate an actually Shakespearian affect. Ho hum.

[Enter CREON, GUARDS, ALCESTIS, shee weeping full]

CREON
Know ye that Songes and shreeking afore death
Would neuer sease if they auerted it?
Begonne with her—away! And when ye haue
Fidelous to my word, inclosed her fast
Within her chaumbered Graue, lett her alone:
It is her forlorn choyse to die inside
Or liue her buried life in such a home.
Prystine our hands in handelling this maide.
And only this is certaine, as for us:
Shee soon shall lose her pleasaunce in the Light.

ANTIGONE
Tombe and bridal-bower sunk in Rock!
Prison Infinite I enter as abode
And all the perishéd are brickd within
Where gracious Persephon receiues the dead!
So now Ile wander in the marrowd stone
At last, and armed in simple miserie,
Dischargd before my purs of life is spent.
But I clasp Good Hope to my breast, and pray
I may find Father welcome, Mother kinde,
And kisse againe my Brothers lippes sweet;
For at your deathe I washd and dressd you al
And poored down honie wine upon your graues
In apt Lybation. Polynisces mine
It is in sufferance such I now must goe.
And yet I honourd thee, as wise muste deem.
I woud not, had I been bereft of childe,
Would not had husband mowldered in strong death
Would not haue done thus in the lawes despyte
And sturrd the citie with my insolence.
What law, ye ask, is Warrant for my worde?
One Husband lost, another might be found,
Child browke of life, another might be borne.
But Father Mother mine in Hades hidd
From whens could other Brother bloome to life?
Such was the law I held in honore firste
But Creon claimed me guilty of graue faulte,
And saies my outrage choake the ayre with shame
O Brother mine! And now he leads me thus
A captiff in his hands; no bridall bed,
No bridal songe for me, no marriage ioy,
No portion in the nurture of children;
But thus, forlorn of friends, unhappy one,
I go aliue into the Vaults of death.
What law of heauen haue I trampled on?
What power the gods to help me in this caue?
What ally darst to stand aside me, when
By pyetie I earne unpyous name?
If such as this giues pleasure to the gods
When I haue faced my doom, I shall goe on
To know in what it is my sin indwels.
But if the sin is with my iudges—ay!
May they endure no fuller euil thann
They haue heere meted wrongfully to me.

CHORUS
The same wilde tempest vexes still the soul
Of this most storm compeled maiden.

CREON
For this her guards shall rew their snayl slowness!

ANTIGONE
Ah me! that word hath brought me near to death.

CREON
Ile cheere thee with no hope that this thy doom
Is torrent to avert as you your fate.

ANTIGONE
O citie of my fathers! Theban land!
O gods, the eldest of our race!—I am led hence
Now, now—they tarry not! Behold me here
Ye noblemen of Thebes, I am the last,
Last daughter of the house of your great kings,
See what I suffer here, and see from whom,
Because I feared to floute the fear of Heauen!
[Exeunt ANTIGONE and her guards.]

Friday, 27 June 2014

Aeschylus in Elizabethan English

The opening speech of the Agamemnon, of course: possibly the single most translated-into-English chunk of any Attic tragedy (possibly the most translated piece of Ancient Greek tout court. Here are a dozen or so samples compared). I have no qualms about adding to that heap; I just wonder whether my Marlovian pastiche is rich enough.

[Here the Curtaines draw, there is discovered the House of Atreus in Argos, and one Watchman]

WATCHMAN:
Heaunely Gods! Set me from labours free!
A twelfmonth haue I languishéd, awatch,
Upon my elbows piuote, on the roof
Of Atreus High Palace, like some dog.
Too well I ken the radiant shapes of starres,
Nightes blazing Emperie, that leades the host
Of yce brighte winter and of summer too.
I know theyr rising and theyr setting times.
And soo I watch, and wait the signal pyre,
Whose burning here will tell us Troye is ashes!

My commander is my mistress, news-agogg:
Her wommans body seales up a man's heart.
For her I lye here, restlesse all the night,
My dripping bed unuisited by dreames.
Fear my couch companion, pricking me,
For all my wish deuout to close my eyes.
I singe my dittie to beguile the time,
And keep me from the sink of Morpheus.
But aye and always teares distil mine eyes,
For how this hous is falln, onse so great.
If this night only could entice our toil.
O, let the fire of fortune light our darke!

[He seeth the bright beacon shyning in the offe]

Ho! Ho! Most welcome, beames of fire
That splitst the night as Eeos doth the day!
Let daunce all Argos in civilitie,
And marketh joy in this good victorye!

I’ll rowse with shouting Agamemnones wife,
And when she quit her bed, will wake the house
Greet signal fire with hallowed huylaboo.
If Troy hath fallen, as these flames vouchsafe
None shall be primer to the daunce than I.
I mingle luck with noble master mine,
The dies haue caste thrice sicxes in my game!

Depryue me not my kinge and his return,
His glad hand gryping mine. As for the rest,
I'll speake not, cattle stands fast on my tonge.
House! Had you speech, what storyes you gan tell!
My words march out in triumph to the trow:
Yon others, memory’s a blank for ye.

[Exit]

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Pindar in Late Tudor English

Here is a translation of Pindar's 'First Olympian' in a Wyatt-y, or Spenser-ish English. I'm heading towards doing Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides as Marlowe, Shakespeare and Jonson; but these Pindaric odes can't really be rendered into the Elizabethan English that the actual Pindar's chronological position would indicate (hence the rather mealy-mouthed 'Late Tudor' of the blogpost title, there). Actually he was a couple of years younger than Aeschylus. But my justification for a rather more antiquated idiom is that Pindar's Greek harks back to epic language, overlaid upon a rather artificially formal Doric, in a way not true of the Attic tragedians. Not that this is a precise analogy, any more than translation is an exact art.

For those wondering what's going on here, the rationale is in the first paragraph of this post.

[Note: I originally published the first quarter of this as a placeholder, and then added stanzas over two days. It proved hard to write this one, though; much harder to write than the earlier samples were. I'm not sure why. I'm afraid the result is more hit-and-miss than the earlier ones, as well. Too much of this lives up to C S Lewis's famous dismissal of Tudor poetry as Literature's 'Drab Age'. Though there are few lines I like, and a couple I like a lot. That said, and if I'm honest, I've never been the world's biggest fan of Pindar in the first place. Genius and all that; but, whew!]

Strophe A.

Natures croun is water, and golde most bryght
In gentil gleame that goeth throw the nyght
     Is of wealthe best;
     Yet, o mine breast,
If ye would sing of mannes contest wunne
No heigher wot ye than the shyning sunne
The Sport Alympic that in peake of skye doth wone.
               Thence cometh hymn of gloried prayse
               That loudly singeth Crounos sonne,
               An wrapt what wysest poet saies:
               Yon holie hearthe of Hieronne.

Antistrophe A

For Hieronne ist who rules in Sicilye
By sceptre holdynge lawe in right degree
     At vertues prime
     Renowned in rime.
That hospyte banquet heareth choysest quyre
Reach thou from doun its peg the Doric lyre
If Pizan splendour and Phrencus dooest thee inspyre!
               And swetest thoghts besyde Alphurse
               As runnynge stede that noght can tyre
               He needeth not the pricking spurrs
               To winne the race for Suracke squire.

Epode A

His glory shineth most in the citye
That Lydian Pelopps first had founded, hee
Whom erthe’s great holder Poseydon loved moost;
Whan Clothoo tooke him out the pure cauldrone
And shyning ivry capped his shouldebone.
Yet wondres throng the world, and what is troost
Maie haply wear the garb of glitterynge lies
That leede men not to goode, but otherwys.

Strophe B

And Grayce, who fashyons gentil things for menn
Confers esteeme and streyen to set eyen
     All force of faithe
     Agaynste meschief,
But daies to com are witnesses most wise.
Semely it is the god to well apprize
To ward of blame. Tantalouses sonne, I thee surmize
              Quete other than how menn saie thus:
              Thy father summonéd all deityes
              To feasten with his Siseyfus
              The Trydent god took thee as prize.

Antistrophe B

His minde quite overthrowen by lustes neede
He bore thee far awaie on golden steede
     To high paleuse;
     Of honourde Zeus,
To which at after time cam Ganemayde
To lye with Zeus as thou wast layde;
But thou evanishéd, thy mother left dismayed
              Some envyous man then proved the lyer
              And thou wert slitt by knif, he sayd:
              And chopped and boiled upon the fire
              And thy choys limbes to victuals mayd.

Epode B

Mann most not clepe the goddes canniball
I do not so! lest evil-spekers fall.
If ere a mortall wyte was honouréd
Then Tantalous was hee: but unfit leude
He felle from hight to ruin and to grede.
A heavie stone was balaunced ore his head
And hee it yearnynge ay to throst awaie
So strays he stil from joies festivitye.


Strophe C

Thus neverendynge was his life of toile
Fourthe labor efter third did hym embroile:
     That, thief, he baar
      Ambrossiar
And goddes nectar swete that they him fed
To purger death and mak him god instead:
If any think to fool goddes, be he better led!
               Tantale they banishéd below
               A beard dounynge his mortal hed;
               And as his youth begann to grow
               Bethoght him of the marryage bed.

Antistrophe C

Hee thought to win mensk Hippodaimes hande
From father hir, lord of the Pisan lande
     He beacht the sea
     And calléd hee
In darknesse unto Poseydon the grete
Who cam and sait the mortall at his feet.
Sayd he: ‘if ever gifts of Cyprus semed you swete
               Swerf Oenomaiouses spear!
               And mak my chaariot most flete,
               Let me to Royalness apere
               Forteenth, yet suitor the moste mete.

Epode C

Bot highest prize dar fitte no coward wight
We all dye: why sitt cherlishe in the night?
In this contest I pledge to stande ful bold.
May you holp my acheve!” And so he spake
And naver framéd words as oathe to breke.
The god him gafe an chaariot of gold
And winged steedes that never wearyéd
And thuswise fixéd honor to his sted.

Strophe D

And thus hee Oenomaious overcame
And marryéd the maiden to his name
     And had sixe sonne
     Het glorie wonne:
That now he wonne an holie funerall
And resteth by the holie Alphurse fal
Were to his tombe ful manie visitants doe cal
               Here shyneth blessynge from aferr
               That by his fame Alympicall
               At Pelopps racing courses there
               By foot and hand are tested al.

Antistrophe D

A winner who has wonnge the conteste palme
Enioyes for al his life a honyed calme
     As such renowned
     He most be cronwed.
With horse hymne sunge in the Aeolyane straine
This ist a thinge no rival can obtaine
Of knowledge wonne by beautie and by maine
               Adornd with gloried foldes of song
               Ambitions watched by godde aine
               Heiron, thy prosper to prolonge
               And I to hymne thee soone againe.

Epode C

Thy chaariot let spede to victory stille
And I sing helpynge song on Crounos Hill
For me the Muse suplies hir mightyest speare.
Som men excel in this and som in that
But limmit hight for man is kinges stat.
Do nat ye lok beyond the godds frontere!
May thou walke hih thy wholest life along
And I be blesst with souch to stande among.



[Here's the Project Perseus translation of the relevant Greek. A: 'Water is best, and gold, like a blazing fire in the night, stands out supreme of all lordly wealth. But if, my heart, you wish to sing of contests, [5] look no further for any star warmer than the sun, shining by day through the lonely sky, and let us not proclaim any contest greater than Olympia. From there glorious song enfolds the wisdom of poets, so that they loudly sing [10] the son of Cronus, when they arrive at the rich and blessed hearth of Hieron, who wields the scepter of law in Sicily of many flocks, reaping every excellence at its peak, and is glorified [15] by the choicest music, which we men often play around his hospitable table. Come, take the Dorian lyre down from its peg, if the splendor of Pisa and of Pherenicus placed your mind under the influence of sweetest thoughts, [20] when that horse ran swiftly beside the Alpheus, not needing to be spurred on in the race, and brought victory to his master, the king of Syracuse who delights in horses. His glory shines in the settlement of fine men founded by Lydian Pelops, [25] with whom the mighty holder of the earth Poseidon fell in love, when Clotho took him out of the pure cauldron, furnished with a gleaming ivory shoulder. Yes, there are many marvels, and yet I suppose the speech of mortals beyond the true account can be deceptive, stories adorned with embroidered lies.'

B: So Grace, who fashions all gentle things for men, confers esteem and often contrives to make believable the unbelievable. But the days to come are the wisest witnesses. [35] It is seemly for a man to speak well of the gods; for the blame is less that way. Son of Tantalus, I will speak of you, contrary to earlier stories. When your father invited the gods to a very well-ordered banquet at his own dear Sipylus, in return for the meals he had enjoyed, [40] then it was that the god of the splendid trident seized you, his mind overcome with desire, and carried you away on his team of golden horses to the highest home of widely-honoured Zeus, to which at a later time Ganymede came also, [45] to perform the same service for Zeus. But when you disappeared, and people did not bring you back to your mother, for all their searching, right away some envious neighbour whispered that they cut you limb from limb with a knife into the water's rolling boil over the fire, [50] and among the tables at the last course they divided and ate your flesh. For me it is impossible to call one of the blessed gods a glutton. I stand back from it. Often the lot of evil-speakers is profitlessness. If indeed the watchers of Olympus ever honoured a mortal man, [55] that man was Tantalus. But he was not able to digest his great prosperity, and for his greed he gained overpowering ruin, which the Father hung over him: a mighty stone. Always longing to cast it away from his head, he wanders far from the joy of festivity.

C: He has this helpless life of never-ending labor, [60] a fourth toil after three others, because he stole from the gods nectar and ambrosia, with which they had made him immortal, and gave them to his drinking companions. If any man expects that what he does escapes the notice of a god, he is wrong. [65] Because of that the immortals sent the son of Tantalus back again to the swift-doomed race of men. And when he blossomed with the stature of fair youth, and down darkened his cheek, he turned his thoughts to an available marriage, [70] to win glorious Hippodameia from her father, the lord of Pisa. He drew near to the grey sea, alone in the darkness, and called aloud on the deep-roaring god, skilled with the trident; and the god appeared to him, close at hand. [75] Pelops said to the god, “If the loving gifts of Cyprian Aphrodite result in any gratitude, Poseidon, then restrain the bronze spear of Oenomaus, and speed me in the swiftest chariot to Elis, and bring me to victory. For he has killed thirteen [80] suitors, and postpones the marriage of his daughter. Great danger does not take hold of a coward. Since all men are compelled to die, why should anyone sit stewing an inglorious old age in the darkness, with no share of any fine deeds? As for me, on this contest [85] I will take my stand. May you grant a welcome achievement.” So he spoke, and he did not touch on words that were unaccomplished. Honouring him, the god gave him a golden chariot, and horses with untiring wings.

D: He overcame the might of Oenomaus, and took the girl as his bride. She bore six sons, leaders of the people eager for excellence. [90] Now he has a share in splendid blood-sacrifices, resting beside the ford of the Alpheus, where he has his attendant tomb beside the altar that is thronged with many visitors. The fame of Pelops shines from afar in the races of the Olympic festivals, [95] where there are contests for swiftness of foot, and the bold heights of toiling strength. A victor throughout the rest of his life enjoys honeyed calm, so far as contests can bestow it. But at any given time the glory of the present day [100] is the highest one that comes to every mortal man. I must crown that man with the horse-song in the Aeolian strain. I am convinced that there is no host in the world today who is both knowledgeable about fine things and more sovereign in power, [105] whom we shall adorn with the glorious folds of song. A god is set over your ambitions as a guardian, Hieron, and he devises with this as his concern. If he does not desert you soon, I hope that I will celebrate an even greater sweetness, [110] sped by a swift chariot, finding a helpful path of song when I come to the sunny hill of Cronus. For me the Muse tends her mightiest shaft of courage. Some men are great in one thing, others in another; but the peak of the farthest limit is for kings. Do not look beyond that! [115] May it be yours to walk on high throughout your life, and mine to associate with victors as long as I live, distinguished for my skill among Greeks everywhere.
]

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Sappho in Late Middle English

And so we go on. If (in my timeline, at any rate) Hesiod's 7th-century Greek maps onto an early Middle-English idiom, then Sappho's 6th-century lyrics ought to be renderable into a kind of Chaucerese without doing too much violence to the time-scheme of the project. I've elected to do this, at any rate, for the only one of her poems to have survived complete: the 'Hymn to Aphrodite'. Three parts to this blogpost: the cod-Chaucer of the poem itself; a literal English prose translation of the Greek stanza by stanza and finally, as an added bonus, the Greek itself. (If you're interested, here's a modern English translation by Edwin Marion Cox).


Glytering-troned and dethlesse Afrodytte,
Gods dowhter, wunder-wicche, on me haf pitee,
Let passe me, queene, thes agonie and thole,
Grinde not my soule.

Wheneer byfor thou hast mi hearkenéd—
And ploumbed the distans heering that I said,
And heeding, thou hast com, and left behand
Gods golden land,

In chaar moste flete bi wingéd steedes drawn,
Upon the skye al dark afore the dawn,
Throgh hevenes hy and wide espace in glyde
Doun to erthside;

Than soonest com thou blessedest ladie,
With contenance devyne and asketh me
Asmile, what wo anonder me did falle,
That I thee calle?

What in my leesting hertes maddenesse
Who now most feele my ane besechenesse?
Who is it most thir own hertsease ago
For wreyed Sapfo?

For yif she fleeth, fresshly shal she folowe,
Today turn giftes, yet offreth them tomorwe,
She chues nat love, yet loving shal her chues
Thogh she eschewes.

Com then, I preye, gyf me an ende to grief,
Remoeven care o godess if thou leef,
What I moste coveite an it be provyde,
Thou at my syde!


---------------
[[Stanza 1] Glittering-throned and immortal Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus, wondrous sorceress, spare me, o queen, this anguish and distress and do not crush my spirit. [2] Whenever before you discerned my call in the great distance, and heard my words, you came, leaving behind your father’s golden realm. [3] You came with chariot drawn by winged beasts through the darkness of the sky, from the expanses of heaven and down to the earth. [4] Quickly you arrived; most blessed lady, and with a smile upon your divine countenance did ask me what woe had fallen upon me that I had called you: [5] What is it now, in my yearning heart's madness? Who now must be made to feel desire for me? Who now must sacrifice their heart’s-ease for wronged Sappho? [6] For even if she flies she shall soon follow and if she rejects gifts today, yet tomorrow she will offer them, and if she does not choose love yet shall love choose her, howevermuch she tries to avoid it. [7] Come I pray thee, give me release from my sorrows, and if it please you o goddess take away my cares; what my heart most craves may it be provided, and you my ally.]

Ποικιλόθρον᾽ ἀθάνατ᾽ ᾽Αφρόδιτα,
παῖ Δίος, δολόπλοκε, λίσσομαί σε
μή μ᾽ ἄσαισι μήτ᾽ ὀνίαισι δάμνα,
πότνια, θῦμον.

ἀλλὰ τυίδ᾽ ἔλθ᾽, αἴποτα κἀτέρωτα
τᾶς ἔμας αὔδως ἀίοισα πήλοι
ἔκλυες, πάτρος δὲ δόμον λίποισα
χρύσιον ἦλθες

ἄρμ᾽ ὐποσδεύξαια• κάλοι δέ σ᾽ ἆγον
ὤκεες στροῦθοι περὶ γᾶς μελαίνας
πύκνα δινεῦντες πτέρ᾽ ἀπ᾽ ὠράν᾽ αἴθε-
ρος διὰ μέσσω,

αἶψα δ᾽ ἐξίκοντο• σὺ δ᾽, ὦ μάκαιραv
μειδιάσαισ᾽ ἀθάνατῳ προσώπῳ,
ἤρε᾽ ὄττι δηὖτε πέπονθα κὤττι
δηὖτε κάλημι

κὤττι μοι μάλιστα θέλω γένεσθαι
μαινόλᾳ θύμῳ• "τίνα δηὖτε †πείθω
ἄψ σ᾽ ἄγην† ἐς σὰν φιλότατα; τίς τ᾽, ὦ
Ψάπφ᾽, ἀδίκηει;

καὶ γάρ αἰ φεύγει, ταχέως διώξει,
αἰ δὲ δῶρα μὴ δέκετ᾽, ἀλλὰ δώσει,
αἰ δὲ μὴ φίλει, ταχέως φιλήσει,
κωὐκ ἐθέλοισα".

ἔλθε μοι καὶ νῦν, χαλέπαν δὲ λῦσον
ἐκ μερίμναν, ὄσσα δέ μοι τέλεσσαι
θῦμος ἰμέρρει, τέλεσον• σὐ δ᾽ αὔτα
σύμμαχος ἔσσο.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Hesiod in Early Middle English

[Following on from this post, in which the first 50-or-so lines of the Iliad are translated into Beowulfian Old English, I've beguiled a few hours this Sunday morning turning the opening passage (first 50 lines of the Greek) of Hesiod's Theogony into early Middle English, modelled very roughly on the language of Laȝamon's Brut with a splash of Piers Plowman. This is a bit of a cheat: scholars don't know exactly when Homer composed, or Hesiod either, but they tend to assume they were roughly contemporaneous, '8th-7th Centuries BC'. That covers a lot of ground. For my purposes I've decided to believe that Homer is late 9th and Hesiod mid 7th-C, and to render the former into a 9th/10th-Century English and the latter in a sort of 12th-Century-ish idiom. In fact the Greek of Homer and Hesiod is not so different from one another as the English of Beowulf and Brut; but I'm cutting myself some slack. Nothing about this project is going to involve precise parallels, after all.]


Heesiod, his Þeogonie

Fram þeo Muses of hiȝe hooly Helcon swoote mæidens þeir muȝik
Let ūsic begin, whan þei frolic on flotte feete atte þeo fontaine
Of Croenos his son, and clanse þeir comly careynes in Permeȝes
Or in Stedes-Springen or Olmaeuȝe, and mak þeir swoote steppes
In daunce devout wiþ deintie feet, dowelyng ypon hiȝe Helcon.
Þens þei ariȝe and go aboute at niȝt, synging in armonye
Þorow an þicke myst, wiþ þryving towches aprayȝe of troned God,
And of hiȝe Hera, Hargoȝes queene, and hir shooen of gold,
And Goddes dohter Aþene of þe glad eeyen, and glisnande Apolo,
And Artemis armèd wiþ arrowes, and aglich Posidonne who shakeþ al arthe,
And þankworþ Þemise, and Þryes-gladd Afrodyte cwic-glenten,
And Hebe hed goldfaȝen, and hevened Dione, Leyto and Hiapete,
And Cronos þe craftig counsailer, Heeliuȝe and Heos, and comlych Seleyn
Arthe anan, Occean almiȝtig, and asshenblacke Niȝt,
Al þe deaþless and hali wiȝts wa wondres ay ævere.

Ac on ane daie þei Heesiod ytauȝt ane aþel armonye
Þewhyl he sheaphierde was of sheep yspradde on hooly Helcon,
Þes sustren to me sæden, singers of Alympus, Æȝis Goddes seede:
“Sheaphierdes of þeo wyldren, wofyl men, meere wombes
Wotte we þeo wei to spende fals wyckednesse as trow
Bot wotte we yf we wille yt to spende trow witnesses among.”

Swulche declarèd þeo defte voysed dohters of drede God
And þei ypluckt and past me ane pole of lorrer puyre
Mervayl to me, that moȝt ane maȝt godlic to muȝik
And prayȝe in phalmes yf past and swulche wil comme
Ybad me blowe of þeo blysfol goddess, aeternal and blyþe
Þei syng to selven of selven atte start and ende.

But wens þis writelinge? Comst þu, in womann wyse
Wiþ Muses wo mak gladnes micel in miȝhtig Goddes brest
In prayȝe Alympus of past afore and swulche anan to com,
Wiþ voys þat vorseyde was virtue in al wiȝhtes.
Unweryng floeþ þeo facound fayryȝe þeir lippes fram
Gladd ys hire fader hooly hus, God þeo felle-þunorer
In licnes of ane lilly þeir lossom voys lyȝteþ from Alympus
Soundeþ ofer snaw and faleþ a swogh þro þeo deþless stedes;
And þei in prayȝe þeir ondying voys oloft an orisoun:
Of þeo hali godes, hu þei were hewen of Erth and hende Heven,
And þeir goddechilder, giferes of good þings to þeo grete.
Þan feir Muses forsang of þeo Faþer of goddes and men, ȝeos yclept.
Þeo mayster, meast mervaylous of goddes and al yn miȝt.
And þei wayl in þis wyse of mortal wiȝts and wodwos geant
And Goddes heorte is gladened in gaynlich Alympus
Atourned he wiþ þeo Æȝis, bi his dohters, Muses of Alympus.

[Let us begin with the muses of high and holy Mount Helicon, sweet maidens and their music, who dance on soft feet about the spring of the almighty son of Cronos, and, when they have washed their comely bodies in Permessus or in the Horse's Spring or Olmeius, make their fair, lovely dances moving with nimble feet upon highest Helicon where they dwell. Thence they arise and go abroad by night, veiled in thick mist, and voicing their beautiful music in praise of Zeus on his throne, and queenly Hera of Argos who walks in golden sandals, and of the daughter of Zeus bright-eyed Athena, and Phoebus Apollo, and Artemis who delights in arrows, and terrible Poseidon who shakes the earth, and worthy Themis, and quick-glancing Aphrodite thrice blessed, and Hebe with her head adorned with gold, and heaven-fair Dione, Leto, Iapetus, and Cronos the crafty counsellor, Eos, and great Helius, and bright Selene, Earth, too, and great Oceanus, and Night black as ashes, and all the dealthless and holy beings that live in wonder for ever.

And one day they taught Hesiod most noble song while he was shepherding his lambs under holy Helicon, and this word first the goddesses said to me—the Muses of Olympus, offspring of Zeus who holds the aegis: “Shepherds of the wilderness, wretched men, mere bellies as you are: we know how to speak many false things as though they were true; but we know as well, when we choose, to utter true things.”

So said the ready-voiced daughters of dread Zeus, and they plucked and gave [30] me a rod, a shoot of perfect laurel, a marvellous thing, and breathed into me a divine voice to sing psalms of praise of things that once were and thing that shall be; and they bade me sing of the race of the blessed gods that are eternally, but ever to sing of themselves both first and last.

But whence this warbling? Come you, let us begin with the Muses who gladden the great spirit of their father Zeus in Olympus with their songs, telling of things that are and that shall be and that were aforetime with consenting voice. Unwearying flows the enchanted sound from their lips, and the holy house of their father Zeus the dread-thunderer is glad at the lily-like voice of the goddesses as it spreads abroad, and the peaks of snowy Olypmus resound, and the homes of the immortals. And they, raising up their immortal voice, celebrate in song: the gods and how they were created by Earth and lovely Heaven, and the gods begat by these, givers of good things to the Earth. Then next, the goddesses sing of Zeus, the father of gods and men, the most marvellous among all the gods and greatest in power. And again, they chant of mortal men and giant beings, and Zeus’s heart is gladdened upon gracious Olympus,—the Olympian Muses, daughters of Zeus the aegis-holder.]

Monday, 16 June 2014

Iliad in Old English

I had the idea a while ago, and would like to put it into practice (except: oh the labour! and oh -- who would ever want to publish such a thing?) of an anthology of Greek verse translated into an English that marked the historical range of the language in which the originals were written. This came to me after reading an anthology (I think it was this one) that translated choice portions of Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Hellenistic poets, New Testament, early Christian writings and so on, right up to modern-day Greek poetry, all into the same contemporary-idiom English. That's fine as far as getting at the meaning goes, of course; but it inevitably flattens and erases our sense of the poetry. Because of course the Greek of Homer is two and a half thousand years older than the Greek of Seferis -- as different linguistically as Old English is from blog-speak. 'What would an anthology look like,' I thought to myself, 'that translated Homer into Old English, Hesiod into Chaucerian English, the Attic tragedians into Shakespearian English, Hellenistic poets into the idiom of the metaphysicals (or maybe into 18th-century English) and so on?' It would be a curious and absorbing task to generate so much text; but would the result be worthwhile in any sense?

One way to find out is actually to do it. So here, to begin with, are the opening eight lines of the Iliad in Anglo Saxon. Assuming I haven’t perpetrated any ghastly howlers, Old-English-wise. Which I daresay I have. To quote Anglo-Saxon George III: hwæt-hwæt?
Ábylgnesse æðelinges         Achilleses, sing þu gyden,
Maegan mága Peleuses        þæt mannmyrringe gewrecen
Hildewulfas an héape        tō Hades forsendede
Ábær Achaeanum        weáan al unárímede
Hereréafa hunda        ond þá herefuglas beadwe;
Þus Goddes geþoht        gefullforðed wæs
þā Agamemnon æðelcyning        þā rόfan Achilles
scearp sundrodedon wǣron        ádæledon in sacum.

[Lines 1-7] Sing of the anger of Prince Achilles, O goddess, the mighty son of Peleus whose wrath sent down to Hades many valiant souls of heroes and brought woes all unnumbered upon the Achaeans, and made them spoil for dogs and the birds that haunt the battlefield; thus the plan of Zeus came to fulfilment, and the noble king Agamemnon and brave Achilles were first parted in sharp strife.
[UPDATE: Tuesday 17th June 2014. Here are lines 8-21 of the Homeric original:]
Hwilc god gielda       brōhton on geador
Þǣra twa gára gúðrincas      sæccan geornlich?
Hit wǣs hyse Latones       ond híehþe God;
séocnes he sendede     in hine strong irre
ond Þe folc hie forfóron       sē fela ácwælon.
Be Atreuses æðeling       dede æpsenys æt Chryse,
Túnpréost Troyan. Cóm       tilan to Achaeanum
Ond to him scipum swiftum       unlíesan swéte dóhter.
Geþingsceat goldes ábær,       ond godeswriða Apollan
Habbede in hande, Þe god       hnæppaþ from feorwege
On ān gefýstlaþ gullisc.       Gebæd he Þe Achaeanas
Ond Þe twa telgan Atreuses,       teoha dryhtenweardas:
‘Atreuses æðelinges! ond       oþres Achaeanes bangebeorgen
Be goddes ásitteaþ Alympian       áhýðedest þu al Troyan
Ond æthwurfen earda æfter!       Ac mīn fréobearn ábirmē,
Þige þis þanc weoroidlean       in áre þrýþ-líc Apollan!’

[lines 8-21] Which of the gods was it that brought these two armed warriors eagerly to contend? The son of Leto together with the greatest God; for in his strong anger he sent sickness throughout the land, and the people began to perish, because the son of royal Atreus wrought dishonour upon the Trojan priest Chryses. For he came to the Achaeans and their swift ships to free his lovely daughter, bearing a golden ransom; and in his hands he held the holy wreath of Apollo who strikes from afar, on a staff of gold; and he implored all the Achaeans, and (especially) the two sons of Atreus, the marshallers of the troops: ‘Sons of Atreus, and other greave-clad Achaeans: by the gods who dwell in Olympus, may you sack the city of Troy, and afterwards return to your homes! but give my child back to me, and accept the ransom out of reverence for mighty Apollo!'
[UPDATE 2: Wednesday 18th June 2014. I'm going to keep adding to this post, as and when I get the odd moments necessary to turn these lines into Anglo-Saxon. A lull this afternoon resulted in the following stab at lines 22-32. Subsequent verse paragraphs will be added in other days.]
Swā hréopon ælfaru Achaeanes       geÁtan þis héah æweweard
Geþicgan þis greát geþingsceat;      gíet Agamemnon geunblissede,
Ac ágénsendede he him       ond ábéonn him áforlic:
“betst þu bēo ne here      bī þǣm hóle bátas,
Ealda, ne nū ne náwa,       ofnime þē stæf nīwgoldfyld
Ond þē wræd gedwolgod       weorne on þē andwlitan.
Hīe ic ne nyllað aheorde       onealde hīe in mīn hám
Æt Argos al feorþéode!       ic þe ágend!
Onstepee hie ombeht mīn       oft aet lám, ond
Fūs in forligerbedd!       Ne fýsest mīn irre!
Greme mē no: gǣst-þu,       gif þu wille tō géanhwierfan.”

[22-32] Then all the host of the Achaeans shouted assent, agreeing with this holy priest, to accept this great ransom, yet the thing did not please Agamemnon, but he sent him away harshly, and harshly commanded him: "Let me not find you, old man, by these hollow ships, not now not ever, lest your new-gilded staff not protect you and the wreath of the god wither on your brow. Her I will not set free. May she grow old in my home, in Argos, far from her native land, I her owner, as she walks to and fro as my slave, before the loom and eagerly serves my bed. Do not rouse up my anger! Go now, if you ever wish to return."

Swā he sægde       óht slæhtede þē ealdan
éaðmódede ond ēodon;       on his eft-sið
bi swinsunglic sǣ       al in sálnesse.
Ánfald þē ealda ábæd         ac æðel Apollan
godbearn geboren to      hwítloces Letoan:
“Heorcne, heofondéma!       hláford bogan seolfrenes
Chrysen ond Cillan bewacende       cynehláford Tenedosan
If ealltæw ic hréfede          hearge þīn, Sminthiane,
Ac gebær þu bernelác      bulena ond gætenua,
Andsware mīn orlegsceaft       æfne bén mīn:
Ásende arwan ac sé       attorsceaða Danaanum".

[33-42] So he spoke, and the old man was seized with fear and obeyed his word. He made his way beside the loud-resounding sea in silence. When he was alone, the old man prayed to the lord Apollo, the godchild born to glad fair-haired Leto: "Hear me heavenly one, lord of the silver bow, who stand over Chryse and holy Cilla, and rule mightily over Tenedos, Sminthian god, if ever I roofed over a temple to your pleasing, or if ever I made burnt-offerings of bulls and goats, fulfill this prayer for me: let the Danaans pay for my tears by your arrows."
[Sat. 21st June. This'll do me for now, I think.]
Swā ábæd he: Apollo       andswarede him líhting.
Ágrýndede from Alympe       wiþ ánhýdig stræde
háthiertede in heortan            hangelle on sculdran
flánboga ond bogefódder.      Ábrasledon þe flánas
eāc þe gealg godde ēodon       cóm nihtbealu.
Settede bī scipum:       scéat he ān arwe,
Þréalic ond þéowwracu       wæs hire flyhtdyn þurh.
Forma hradendlic hundas       he hearmde forman
manþwæree múlas        ac æfter menn—
wið stingende sceaftum        slæhtedon, befylledon.
Á áburnon       ádas ásprungenra.

[43-51] So he prayed, and bright Apollo answered him. He descended Olympus with resolute stride, angered at heart, his bow and quiver hanging from his shoulders. The arrows rattled in time with the stride of the angry god as he moved, and his coming was like the night. Then he sat down beside the ships and shot off an arrow: terrible was the rush of the arrows’s flight. At first he harmed the swift dogs and the harmless mules, but then the men themselves—shot down with his stinging shafts, and struck; and constantly burned the pyres of the dead.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Vitaly

The etymology of the name 'Italy' has been (according to this impeccable scholarly source) widely debated.
According to one of the more common explanations, the term Italia, from Latin: Italia, was borrowed through Greek from the Oscan Víteliú, meaning "land of young cattle" (cf. Lat vitulus "calf", Umb vitlo "calf"). The bull was a symbol of the southern Italic tribes and was often depicted goring the Roman wolf as a defiant symbol of free Italy during the Social War.
A shame the initial 'v' dropped off, if so. I liked the idea of a country called Vitaly. Indeed, there's a Fantasy novel to be written based in such a kingdom, I think.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Coleridge's Church and State: Scattered Thoughts



So, it’s proved a little harder than I thought it was going to, getting my Church and State thoughts in order (my read through of chapters 1-4 is here, and chapters 5-12 here). I think this is because it’s still my default critical attitude to take STC as a poet, rather than a political thinker. I have previously wondered: can he have coined the phrase ‘clerisy’ without being aware on some level of the rhyme with ‘heresy’? Is that a distraction, or a cunning piece of ironic wordplay? Or another fossilised thought from when I first read this book lo these many years since: there’s something compelling about writing a book setting out to nail-down the Constitution of Church and State when at the heart of your point is that none of the three words in the title have clear unambiguous meanings. After all, famously, Britain does not have a written Constitution: just a ragbag of parliamentary statute and judicial precedents.

And Coleridge himself notes that the word ‘State’ means both the entirety of the entity we might call ‘Britain’ including the church, and those aspects of entity we might call ‘Britain’ except the church. You might think that the very title of STC’s book means he is pointing to the second these, but it’s not as simple as that—the Church is not an add-on or extra to be bolted onto the State in Coleridge’s vision: it’s integral to it, historically, morally and practically. And as for defining the term 'Church'—why: Coleridge defines not one but three separate meanings for this word. There's the actual church (to which Coleridge belonged, and with whose congregants he worshipped of a Sunday), the ‘Church of Christ’, an other-worldly Platonic ideal, and a sort of tertium quid church that his book is kind-of about.

Indeed, given that it’s something of a cliché of Church and State studies that it is a complex and baffling text [‘the book is a perplexing mixture of political commentary, social theory, and historical analysis’; Peter Allen, ‘S. T. Coleridge's Church and State and the Idea of an Intellectual Establishment’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 46:1 (1985), 89] I was expecting to find my re-read a complexifying process. But actually it didn’t go down like that. The book is, I think, simpler than has been thought. The key, I think, is the ‘three churches’ idea. It is almost commonplace, in our Dawkinsy militant atheist times, to distinguish two aspects to religion. There’s religious beliefs as a set of metaphysical propositions to which the believer assents (assents in the strong, Newman sense of that word)—there exists a God, I have an immortal soul, God cares what I do in the world and so on. This is the level at which Dawkins engages: denying the truth of these beliefs. He thinks this is enough to pull-down the edifice of the Church; but as many people have pointed out ‘religious people’ are not individuals who are defined merely by a set of beliefs in their heads. They are also defined by membership of a particular community, and engagement with a particular social praxis. This is the second aspect of contemporary religion, about which Dawkins has almost nothing to say: not only attending church, but helping run the church jumble sale, running soup kitchens, meeting with friends for coffee, helping out and trying to live the values of your religion in the world. Coleridge certainly understood that the Church was these two things together. But one of the novelties of the Church and State volume is the way it is arguing for a third sense of ‘Church’, extramural to the sorts of things seen as ‘Churchy’. There are two main things here: one that we would nowadays call ‘general taxation and the welfare state’; and two that falls under the heading of education (primary, secondary, tertiary and research). In many ways, in the 21st-centry, these things are not ‘churchy’: they are not administered by the church (quite rightly not), not part of the usual duties of the church. Nor is STC saying that social workers, teachers and academics should be members of the church clergy. But he is saying that, even when they are not of the church, they are clergy-y. If you see what I mean. That there is something combined of a moulded church-ness and state-ness about this body of people he named ‘clerisy’.

This doesn’t bring us any closer to the most obvious question we surely want to pose of Coleridge’s Church and State: does it have anything to teach us today? Or is it a text of merely historical interest?

We can break this question into at least two, I think. One is: was Coleridge right? And right or not, is what he says still relevant today? Church and State makes a number of verifiable, or at least falsifiable, assertions and it is surely worth checking whether they are true or not. To pick out a couple: is his theory about the origin of the system of taxation as, essentially, religious tithes correct? (Short answer: no—taxation was a secular business in ancient Egypt and Persia; although titheing was also commonplace in the middle east). Whether this has any bearing on the real point STC is making—the advantages of disbursing tax income nationally in ways that are informed by a religious rather than secular rationale—is another matter.

What about the ‘clerisy’? Here matters get tangled. As I noted in the earlier post, one of the ways Coleridge’s clerisy idea developed is into the expansion of the university sector, not just to broaden educational opportunities for the citizenry but to furnish the nation with an intelligentsia. Given the glowing terms in which STC talks of ‘the clerisy’, it would be hard for any latter-day inheritor of the mantle—such as myself—to talk objectively about it. (We’re liable to say: ‘of course the State should pay for our upkeep—and pay us handsomely!’) But I don’t think Coleridge had, well, me in mind when he coined his term. It’s not just that I’m not religious, and that I’m part of a university system specifically set apart from the church. It’s that what we do (increasingly so, with the introduction of tuition fees) is simply not disseminated into every village and home of the realm.

This is one reason—a practical reason—why STC models the clerisy on the clergy. The clerisy’s job is to educate the nation, practically and morally; and to do that it needs to go into every village, even into every home. Priests already do that. My sense is that STC can’t imagine a secular organisation having that same access without it becoming a horrific secret-police-style invasion of privacy. (The 1820s, and the established of the Metropolitan Police Force, was a time when the French-style invasion of state apparatus of law, order and control into private life was fiercely debated and as fiercely opposed).

What about relevance? I want to limit this to the situation in the UK, simply to keep the discussion manageable; but that’s harder to do than it might otherwise be, since it is precisely globalisation that poses the biggest contemporary challenge to the argument Coleridge makes. Relevance becomes hard to assert.

It’s one thing to note how influential he was on the traditions of 19th-century Liberal and even Conservative political thought; it’s another to make the case for his continuing relevance. Indeed, it could be argued that the political world has changed since 1830 in ways that render Coleridge besides the point. It’s not just that the question of whether Catholics should be treated equally under the law is a dead one, for surely nobody would deny that they should. It is more to the point that two of the key salients of Coleridge’s discussion no longer obtain: first, religion is not the force it was—it no longer really makes sense, some might say, to talk of the UK as ‘a Christian nation’ for instance, partly because it is a much more ethnically and religiously diverse nation than it used to be, but also because Atheism has made so many inroads into popular belief. And secondly ‘we’ don’t really believe nations should be run by monarchs any more. The popularity of the House of Windsor has waned and waxed over the last few decades, hitting a low point immediately after the death of Diana (currently, and rather bafflingly to my eyes, the royal family is very popular); but nobody really thinks the Queen should be anything other than a figurehead. Coleridge proposes a checks-and-balances system of government of a particular kind, with the Upper House (‘tradition’) exactly balancing the powers of the lower (‘innovation’); but in the UK over the last century or so we have seen a steady erosion of the powers of the House of Lords, and an increasingly ‘Presidential’ style government by the Commons, which means the Cabinet, which means the P.M. This is not what STC would have wanted

This in turn leads to a question of whether the terms of the debate could be ‘transposed’ into a modern idiom. As it might be: STC talks about Catholics; today ‘we’ are more worried about—let us say—Muslims. But the questions are very similar: do Muslims ‘really’ belong to the UK, or is their allegiance necessarily to a foreign power in Mecca? Can they be trusted, or do they represent a sort of fifth-column within the state? Does ‘accepting’ them (whatever that means) weaken the identity of the UK as a Christian nation? This precise question was being asked in Parliament and the media earlier this year, actually -- and this very week the UK media has been full of pother about 'Muslim schools' in Birmingham supposedly 'indoctrinating' kids into Islam. The code-work here is 'radicalising'; which means (since it doesn't really mean, whatever UKIP think, literally 'turning-into-a-terrorist') 'un-Britishizing'. This in turn could lead to a particular reading of Church and State, or perhaps an argument as to its contemporary relevance, of the sort which I’m sure I can leave to the reader as an exercise. A modern-day Coleridgean would say: we need to rebalance the constitution, taking power away from the executive of the Commons—and the P.M. in particular—and rebooting the Upper Chamber in some way that empowers it; and we need a third element (a President, perhaps, if the monarch no longer has any political credibility) to adjudicate. And indeed, in one big way such a transposition has a lot to recommend it. The political landscape today is polarised between ‘conservatives’ and ‘progressives’ to a much greater degree than was the case in Britain in 1830, when ‘radical’ was (largely) a term of abuse, and liberalism was pretty much indistinguishable from old-school Toryism of the 1970s. In this world, where political commentators tend increasingly to pick a side and argue polemically from it, there might be something quite radical in the notion that a health body politic should have both these forces constitutionally balanced equally, with some notional arbiter (monarch, President, HAL-style computer, whatever) to ensure that the balance remains equal. I don’t know of any contemporary commentator who is arguing that.

There’s a very obvious objection to be made here. What Coleridge means by a Conservative is very different to what a voter in 2014 understands by the term. Indeed, the change wrought by the Thatcher-Reagan reconfiguration of ‘conservatism’ may be the biggest of all the socio-cultural changes between 1830 and now. For Coleridge a conservative is a landowner aristocrat who wants to conserve the old ways, and to resist any modification or amelioration of them. Theirs is an essential feudal view of the way society should operate. Coleridge opposes them to a set of merchants, financiers and professional classes who want to mobilise social change to maximize wealth-generation. This latter group sound very like modern-day Tories (and US Republicans). It’s hard to deny, in fact, that in the terms that Coleridge puts forward, the ‘Commons’ won—they swept the board in fact. They are the only game in town. This (my notional neoColeridgean might say) has proved a pretty mixed blessing; and there it would be to the good if we re-instituted some politically structural way of putting the breaks on unfettered ‘growth’. According to this reading, the contemporary relevance of Church and State would be a matter of replacing the ‘Barons’ of Coleridge’s original design with—let’s say—the Greens of today: a political force premised upon the notion that we have to rein-in change, ‘progress’ and unregulated capitalism in order to preserve something absolutely valuable, the land itself. The problem here, I think, is that the Greens, though certainly popular, are too marginal a force in contemporary politics.

But stop a moment. Is ‘transposition’ into contemporary terms of reference the way to talk about this text? Put it another way: are monarchism, anti-Catholicism and the church all so passé? The news has recently been full of the abdication of Juan Carlos I of Spain, a monarch in exactly the sense that Coleridge would have understood the term who did exactly what Coleridge, in Church and State, says a monarch should do—after Franco’s death in 1975, he restrained the Falangist authoritarian party and brought the progressive democratic party back into the political arena. As for anti-Catholicism—this, it seems to me, is an immensely deep-rooted prejudice in British cultural life. It is not, of course, that active discrimination against Catholics is any longer a feature of the law of the land. But it’s pervasive in a way people looking from outside sometimes find hard to credit. Charles II converted to Catholicism on his deathbed in 1685: he was, actually, functionally a ‘Catholic’ in his private beliefs; but after the Restoration he kept that to himself, believing that the British people would simply not accept rule by a Catholic. His openly Catholic brother James succeeded him, and lasted barely 3 years before the Brits chased him out in a revolution still called ‘Glorious’, replacing him with a foreigner whose chief merit was his Protestantism. Does this have any contemporary relevance? Have we ever had a Catholic Prime Minister? (Answer: oh no). No Catholic has ever so much been leader of the Conservative or Labour parties—though Jews have held both positions. Tony Blair was a Christian, who steered clear of religion in his political dealings—Alastair Campbell famously said ‘we don’t do God’—and was an Anglican communicant throughout his term as PM. His wife, though, was Catholic; and almost as soon as Blair stepped down from being Prime Minister he himself converted. You think that timing was coincidental?

To judge by their dominance of the categories of ‘historical fiction’ and ‘screen drama’, the three historical periods which which contemporary Brits are most fascinated, or perhaps obsessed, are: the Tudors (all those sexy woman in elaborate dresses running the risk of getting their elegant swan-white necks chopped by the axe-man); the Victorians—everything from neo-Dickensian tales of urchins and prostitutes, to Steampunk and its variants—and World War 2. Putting the last one on one side for a moment, what is it that links the previous two? Outwith living memory, but times of national ‘belief’ that hinge, in crucial though largely hidden ways, on the relationship between Englishness and Protestantism, in contra-distinction to Catholicism. Henry VIII’s creation of the Church of England is the horizon of all those sexy Tudor stories. The emancipation of Catholics in 1829 is the context for (to return to the matter in hand) Coleridge’s Church and State.

‘Religion?’ you say. ‘No, no: class is the crucial thing. Or ethnicity.’ I don’t know. The main focus for the question of Catholicism was Ireland; and Ireland is still a live political issue—even after the Good Friday agreement and the reduction (though not cessation) of hostilities. ‘The Troubles’ shaped my own upbringing, in London in the 1970s as the IRA planted bombs to kill people like me. And the key question here is: why was it Irish nationalists who did this? There have been equally earnest Welsh and Scottish nationalist movements—the latter may be about to engineer an independent Scotland. But the Tartan Army never mobilized the way the IRA did. What this says to me is that these movements were not about ‘celtic-ness’, or about mere hostility to ‘England’, in both of which Scotland and Wales were surely as energised as was Ireland. They are about religion: wholly Protestant Wales, largely Protestant Scotland.

Some 1830 context. The Jacobite rebellion of 1746 had been a sectarian as well as a Tory-political attempt to revolution; and Scotland suffered oppression in its aftermath, up to and including legislative strictures. But by the early 1900s Scotland was more-or-less re-assimilated into the UK, with the enormous success of Scott’s novels throwing a Romantic glamour over the land. The Irish equivalent would be the Irish Confederate Wars, a full century earlier (dragging on through the 17th-century until the Battle of the Boyne in 1690). A hundred years earlier! Yet the reaction from the mainland was both much more severe and long-lasting. Here’s a quick summary of the anti-Catholic ‘Penal Laws’ (mostly enacted after 1690’s Battle of the Boyne, although some predate that battle): exclusion of Catholics from most public offices; a ban on intermarriage with Protestants (repealed 1778); Catholics barred from owning guns or serving in the armed forces (repealed in the Militia Act of 1793); Catholics not permitted to be MPs (not repealed until 1829); Catholics excluded from voting (until 1793); not permitted to study at Trinity College Dublin (repealed 1793); Catholics excluded from the legal professions and the judiciary (repealed, respectively, 1793 and 1829); on a Catholic’s death his legatee could benefit by conversion to the Protestant Church of Ireland; a ban on converting from Protestantism to Catholicism ‘on pain of forfeiting all property estates and legacy to the monarch’ and ‘imprisonment at His Majesty’s Pleasure’; a ban on Catholics buying land under a lease of more than 31 years (repealed 1778); a ban on custody of orphans being granted to Catholics on pain of a £500 fine; a ban on Catholics inheriting Protestant land; Roman Catholic lay priests permitted to preach only after registering to do so according to the terms of the Registration Act of 1704 (but seminary priests and Bishops could not do even this until 1778); when allowed, Catholic churches to be built only from wood, not stone, and away from main roads; ‘no person of the popish religion shall publicly or in private houses teach school, or instruct youth in learning within this realm' upon pain of twenty pounds fine and three months in prison for every such offence’ (repealed in 1782). Is that enough context?

STC thinks that what holds societies together is always an idea. By this he means something halfway between the conventional sense of ideals or notions inside the heads of the many citizens (what a Marxist-influenced thinker might call ‘ideology’)—and a more specifically teleological truth: an idealised destination or aim or purpose. For him the crucial question is not whether laws can be framed to repeal these anti-Catholic oppressions; it is whether British Catholics can buy-in to the idea of being British, rather than French, Roman and whatever else. And his answer to that question is implicit in his three churches. The first of those three is different depending on whether one is a Protestant or a Catholic Church; the third of those three (presumably; for who can fathom divine Providence?) will see the erasure of all petty doctrinal differences over transubstantiation or whatever else. But it is the second, the medial church, that is the crucial battleground.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Coleridge, On the Constitution of Church and State (1830), chapters 5-12




Chapters 1-4, here. Those first four chapters are the prelude to the main discussion of Constitution of Church and State. We know this because STC opens chapter 5 with: ‘After these introductory preparations, I can have no difficulty in setting forth the right idea of a national Church.’ We leave the Levites behind to pot a history of the Church of England as a third estate, after the Lords Temporal and the Commons. The ‘Nationality’ (STC’s term for that portion of the national wealth extracted from the private hands of landowners and aristos by titheing) is there for the financial maintenance of this third estate. The twist is that, according to Coleridge, their duties were only partly ‘spiritual’—preaching, burying, marrying and so on. More important was that the church provided an educative and cultural lead. The clergy were
a permanent class or order, with the following duties. A certain smaller number were to remain at the fountain heads of the humanities, in cultivating and enlarging the knowledge already possessed, and in watching over the interests of physical and moral science; being, likewise, the instructors of such as constituted, or were to constitute, the remaining more numerous classes of the order. This latter and far more numerous body were to be distributed throughout the country, so as not to leave even the smallest integral part or division without a resident guide, guardian, and instructor; the objects and final intention of the whole order being these — to preserve the stores, to guard the treasures of past civilization, and thus to bind the present with the past … but especially to diffuse through the whole community and to every native entitled to its laws and rights, that quantity and quality of knowledge which was indispensable both for the understanding of those rights, and for the performance of the duties correspondent. [44-45]
The clergy also had an ‘international’ role, in maintaining the nation’s ‘character of general civilization’, something which STC rather strikingly places ‘equal with, or rather more than’ tax-funded armies, navies and air forces (not that last one, obviously) as ‘the ground of its defensive and offensive power.’ What is it stops Putin invading? Why, a phalanx of our cultured and acculturing vicars, of course.

So the model is: the Lords temporal work for ‘permanence’, the commons, merchants, professionals and so on—work for ‘progression’. And? ‘The object of the National Church, the third remaining estate of the realm, was to secure and improve that civilization, without which the nation could be neither permanent nor progressive.’ ‘Clergy’, STC insists, is the same word etymologically as ‘clerk’, the educated or learned man. And here we get two central Coleridgean ideas. First the difference between the perfect ‘Church of Christ’ and the actual church. The first of these is an ekklesia. This is the Greek word for ‘church’ in the NT: from the older Greek for ‘assembly’, any place where people assembled, from where the call went out (ἐκ “out” καλέω “I call”); but Coleridge takes it in a special sense. The ‘out’ means ‘out of this world’; and the communion of this ‘Church’ is ‘the communion of such as are called out of the world’. I don’t honestly know whether STC means, by this, people who have departed the world altogether—who have, that is, died and gone to Christ; or whether he means people who have done the hermetic or monkish thing and left behind all worldly things. It probably doesn’t matter, since the emphasis here is not on this ‘out-of-the-world’ of the church; it’s on the in-the-world version of the church, the church that engages with actual peoples’ day-to-day living, and for that Coleridge coins the term ‘enclesia’, the ‘in-called’, what STC defines as ‘an order of men chosen in and of the realm, and constituting an estate of that realm’

The second thing is the Big Idea to have come out of this book—the ‘clerisy’. Here’s what the chapter says:
The CLERISY of the nation, or national church, in its primary acceptation and original intention, comprehended the learned of all denominations;—the sages and professors of the law and jurisprudence, of medicine and physiology, of music, of military and civil architecture, of the physical sciences, with the mathematical as the common organ of the preceding; in short, all the so called liberal arts and sciences, the possession and application of which constitute the civilization of a country, as well as the Theological. The last was, indeed, placed at the head of all; and of good right did it claim the precedence. But why? Because under the name of Theology, or Divinity, were contained the interpretation of languages; the conservation and tradition of past events; the momentous epochs, and revolutions of the race and nation; the continuation of the records; logic, ethics, and the determination of ethical science, in application to the rights and duties of men in all their various relations, social and civil; and lastly, the ground-knowledge, the prima scientia as it was named, — PHILOSOPHY. [47]
In the first edition this definition gets hived off under the slightly strange sub-header ‘PARAGRAPH THE FIRST’. It’s been a pretty influential notion, not least in my own day-job profession of ‘Academic’. Because STC is clear that the duties of the clerisy are largely pedagogic: primarily to dispose of ‘materials of NATIONAL EDUCATION, the nisus formativus of the body politic, the shaping and informing spirit, which, educing or eliciting the latent man in all the natives of the soil, trains them up to be citizens of the country, free subjects of the realm’. ‘Nisus formativus’ means the forming force, the formative urge; and ‘educing’ (Latin: educo ‘I lead out, I draw out; I raise up, I erect”; via e ‘from, out of’; and duco ‘I lead, I conduct’) puts me in mind of my old English teacher at school, Mr Broadstairs. ‘Education is a drawing out, not a putting in’ he would announce ringingly: 'drawing out! not putting in!' ... and, ignoring our titters, he would then proceed to cram in as much as he could of the stuff we needed to pass the exams. Ah, the joys of a state school education.

So, yes; the UK’s reliance on church schools (to this day) is a function of this idea of Coleridge’s clerisy (compare the resolutely secular school provision of France). But more to the point the development and expansion of the university sector in the later 19th and throughout the 20th-centuries was—right up to the Thactherite redefinition of education as a function of market-force-led adding value in a strictly monetary sense—a concerted and large-scale attempt precisely to realise a non-clerical clerisy, to create a new class—the academics—that would function as a British intelligentsia, with these larger Coleridgean ideals in mind.

I’ll come back to the notion of the ‘clerisy’ in a moment. First a quick scan through chapter 6 (51-63)—a brief history of Henry VIII’s Reformation, and how it went wrong: in a nutshell, the pre-Reformation church had abused the Nationality for its own glory; Henry VIII, having seized the Nationality, should have returned this wealth to the nation by spending liberally on [1] ‘universities and the great schools of liberal learning’, [2], paying for ‘a pastor, presbyter, or parson in every parish and [3] ‘a schoolmaster in every parish’
— namely, in producing and re-producing, in preserving, continuing, and perfecting, the necessary sources and conditions of national civilization. [56]
But Henry didn’t do this. Luckily for Coleridge’s purposes, he is not presenting the actual church Henry set-up as the model. ‘Let it be borne in mind,’ he reminds the reader, with some asperity, ‘that my object has been to present the idea of a National Church, not the history of the Church established in this nation.’ [61].

Chapter 7 (63-71; ‘Regrets and Apprehensions’) notes that the nation is more prosperous than it was in Tudor times; despite the absence of a ‘clerisy’ in the fullest sense, merchants, financiers, lawers and other professionals have grown rich. But, in rather clotted polemical style, STC spends this chapters attacking this wealth:
Yea, the machinery of the wealth of the nation made up of the wretchedness, disease and depravity of those who should constitute the strength of the nation! Disease, I say, and vice, while the wheels are in full motion; but at the first stop the magic wealth-machine is converted into an intolerable weight of pauperism! [65]
The antiquated cod-Biblicalisms of this aside, there’s a strikingly up-to-date Occupy-esque outrage about this. Coleridge lays into ‘Game Laws, Corn Laws, Cotton Factories, Spitalfields, the tillers of the land paid by poor rates, and the remainder of the population mechanized into engines for the manufactory of new rich men’. He attacks ‘a swarm of clever, well-informed men’ governing without wisdom or heart—‘Despotism of finance in government … and hardness of heart in political economy’ [69], and points to the fruit of such behaviour in mass alcoholism and a huge explosion in crime:
Gin consumed by paupers to the value of about eighteen millions yearly: … crimes quadrupled for the whole country, and in some counties decupled.
Neither of these were mere rhetoric. In the 1820s 14 million gallons of gin were being consumed annually  [Peter Mathias, The Brewing Industry in England, 1700-1830 (Cambridge Univ. Press 1959), 375]. Gin drinking was widely perceived as a social problem of long-standing, and one which had been exacerbated by the reduction of Gin Duty in 1826, which, by lowering the price, resulted in an increase in gin-related drunkenness. As for crime—well in 1809 5,330 criminal trials resulted in 3,238 prosecutions. In 1815 those numbers had risen to 7,818 and 4,883 respectively, and by 1829 (when STC was writing Church and State) the numbers were 18,675 and 13,261. ‘Quadrupled’, in other words, is no exaggeration. [Figures for England and Wales only, from B .R Mitchell, British Historical Statistics (Cambridge Univ. Press 1988), 783]

So: Britain was going to hell in a handcart. What to do? Chapter 8 has the answer: a proper reorientation of the potential of the Nationality. Coleridge proposes, in essence, a sort of ur-Welfare State, although one with a primary focus on (religiously led) education and only secondarily on the maintenance of paupers—and even then only those too old and infirm to work.
Determin[ing] the nationalty to the following objects: 1st. To the maintenance of the Universities and the great liberal schools: 2ndly. To the maintenance of a pastor and schoolmaster in every parish: 3rdly. To the raising and keeping in repair of the churches, schools, &c., and, Lastly: to the maintenance of the proper, that is, the infirm, poor whether from age or sickness. [72]
What’s interesting here, in hindsight, is that STC is not making the case for what actually (in essence) came to pass—that general taxation should be used to fund a welfare state. He’s adamant that the clerisy should be, at heart, agents of the National Church, not of the secular government. He concludes chapt. 8 with a gushing panegyric to the Church of England, lifted from Biographia Literaria (‘Protestant Church Establishment, this it is, which the patriot, and the philanthropist, who would fain unite the love of peace with a faith in the progressive amelioration of mankind, cannot estimate at too high a price—It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire’ and so on). Chapter 9 stresses the things that would disqualify a person from being a member of the clerisy: two big no-nos, one bigger than the other (it would be ‘a foul treason against the most fundamental rights and interests of the realm’):
what the reader will have anticipated, that the first absolute disqualification is allegiance to a foreign power: the second, the abjuration — under the command and authority of this power … — of that bond, which more than all other ties connects the citizen with his country. [83-84]
A third thing creeps in as this chapter proceeds: the ‘compulsory celibacy’ of the clergy. It’s clearly enough a dig at the Catholics, this.

We’re now declaredly into the ‘practical conclusion’, as Coleridge calls it, of the volume. Chapter 10 praises the necessity of the King as a unifying point for the nation: ‘as the head of the National Church,or Clerisy, and the protector and supreme trustee of the NATIONALTY’. STC makes several points in this chapter. Here's one:
The first condition then required, in order to a sound constitution of the Body Politic, is a due proportion of the free and permeative life and energy of the nation to the organized powers brought within containing channels.
These two forces (‘free and permeative’ on the hand, ‘containing channels and organizing powers’ on the other) need to be in balance, but that balance can’t be relied upon to happen naturally. That’s why a monarch is needful, to adjudicate. And so to chapter 11, on the powers of Parliament and the necessary limitations of same, with the emphasis on the latter. Finally chapter 12 sums up: Parliament on its own is too fallible, too subject to the ‘fluctuating majorities’ of the popular vote—‘an Omnipotency which ha[s] so little claim to Omniscience’. As for the Lords, they may ‘be reasonably presumed to feel a sincere and lively concern, but who, the experience of ages might teach us, are not the class of persons most likely to study, or feel a deep concern in, the interests here spoken of, in either sense of the term CHURCH; — i.e. whether the interests be of a kingdom “not of the World”.
Knowing this, our ancestors chose to place their reliance on the honour and conscience of an individual, whose comparative height, it was believed, would exempt him from the gusts and shifting currents, that agitate the lower region of the political atmosphere. [119]
And the book concludes with a consideration of whether the King’s coronation oath restricts him from giving royal assent to the emancipation of Catholics. I say ‘concludes’: not for the first time in his publishing career Coleridge adds lengthy appendices—two long disquisitions on the ‘Idea of the Christian Church’ and another on the ‘Third’ Church ‘Neither National nor Universal’, which puts the boot into Roman Catholicism. But, lacking world enough and time, I won’t go into those two essays here. Then there’s a ‘Letter to a Friend’, about the specifics of the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Bill (the second edition entitled this ‘AIDS TO A RIGHT APPRECIATION OF THE ACT ADMITTING CATHOLICS TO SIT IN BOTH HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT’) and a glossary explaining the terminology of the preceding letter. The volume ends with a long letter, originally sent to Edward Coleridge in July 1826, here added-in as ‘Appendix’, which touches on some of the fundamentals of STC’s own faith. Phew!

Tomorrow I'll post some thoughts on the whole thing, with particular attention to contemporary relevance etc.

Coleridge, On the Constitution of Church and State (1830), chapters 1-4




Andrew Elfenbein has it right. ‘Victorianists,’ he says, ‘have not been entirely ignorant of Coleridge's tract, but ...' But?
But it is generally relegated to the tomb of intellectual history, a victim of concise paraphrase. Paraphrases do not get Coleridge wrong, but they kill off his intellectual seriousness, ambition, and emotional longing. They do not convey why so many Victorians cared as much as they did about what Coleridge wrote. [Elfenbein, ‘Samuel Taylor Coleridge, On the Constitution of the Church and State (1829)’, Victorian Review 35:1 (Spring 2009), 19]
And care they did! This short book directly inspired and informed the political and social theories of John Stuart Mill, Thomas Arnold, Matthew Arnold, Henry Sidwick, F D Maurice and many others. Gladstone called the book 'masterly', and attempted to govern by its principles.

It really deserves to be better known; and for that reason I’m now going to lay out precisely the kind of paraphrase Elfenbein is deprecating in that opening quotation. I’m doing so because it seems to me a useful first step in getting a hold of Church and State. This book, as Peter Allen says, ‘became his most immediately influential work, has inspired a succession of distinguished social critics and remains essential reading in the history of thought on educated elites’; but he’s also spot-on that ‘as descriptive catalogues go Church and State is brilliantly suggestive and maddeningly elliptical.’ [Peter Allen, ‘S. T. Coleridge's Church and State and the Idea of an Intellectual Establishment’, Journal of the History of Ideas 46:1 (1985), 89-106; 89] So let me quickly step through the argument of this short book. I’m going to refer to the different chapters, even thought STC’s first edition doesn’t divide the work that way—Henry Nelson Coleridge’s 1839 edition, issued five years after Coleridge’s death, replaces the first two subheadings (‘Prefatory Remarks’, ‘Concerning the Right Idea of the Constitution’ and so on) with ‘Chapter 1’, ‘Chapter 2’, and then cuts up the remaining block of text into another 10. And I shall follow him, even though it’s the first edition (available free online in its entirety from Google Books) that I’m working from.

Chapter 1 starts with some remarks on the historical circumstance out of which the book was written: ‘the Bill lately passed for the admission of Roman Catholics into the Legislature’ (which is to say: the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829). But the third paragraph gets to the meat of the issue without further to-doing. STC defines what he means by ‘Constitution’ and by ‘National Church’.
the true Idea of a CONSTITUTION, and, likewise, of a NATIONAL CHURCH. And in giving the essential character of the latter, I shall briefly specify its distinction from the Church of Christ, and its contra-distinction from a third form, which is neither national nor Christian, but irreconcileable with, and subversive of, both. [3]
The latter is a three-part distinction. There is the actual Church (in this case the Anglican Church, made up of its priests and its congregation, owning certain properties such as churches, performing religious services on Sundays and at other times, and doing all the things Anglicanism does—from organising fêtes on up. That’s A. Then there’s a kind of spiritual perfection of ‘the Church’, what it means to be a member of the body of Christianity in the eyes of God, under the species of eternity. That’s C. Then, Coleridge insists, there is a third thing meant by ‘Church’, which is somehow strung between the two. Park that idea; we’ll come back to it. For now we need to know what STC means by ‘idea’. Not Platonic form—not ‘generally held belief about’ a thing and not an notion abstracted from specific examples of a thing in the world. Coleridge means something much more teleological.
By an idea, I mean, (in this instance) that conception of a thing, which is not abstracted from any particular state, form, or mode, in which the thing may happen to exist at this or at that time; nor yet generalized from any number or succession of such forms or modes; but which is given by the knowledge of its ultimate aim. [3]
STC’s idea of the state, and of the Church, is where these two things should be going. In the next paragraph STC says that many people can conceive of what is meant by Church and State, few possess the idea of either. Most people, he says, do not possess an idea, they ‘are possessed by it’. [4]. I'm not sure about that myself, but OK.

He gives the example of Rousseau’s Social Contract. As a ‘conception’, STC says; or something that literally and historically happened, it is clearly bobbins: ‘at once false and foolish’. No two humans ever signed such a contract, thereby inspiring others to structure society according to the rational equity of contractualism. But, says Coleridge, as an idea, the social contract is a powerful good.
But if instead of the conception or theory of an original social contract, we say the idea of an ever-originating social contract, this is so certain and so indispensable, that it constitutes the whole ground of the difference between subject and serf, between a commonwealth and a slave-plantation. And this, again, is evolved out of the yet higher idea of person in contra-distinction from thing—all social law and justice being grounded on the principle that a person can never, but by his own fault, become a thing, or, without grievous wrong, be treated as such; and the distinction consisting in this, that a thing may be used altogether and merely as the means to an end; but the person must always be included in the end: [7-8]
This, of course, is a Kantian ethics; and quite right too. What’s distinctively Coleridgean is the notion that the ‘social contract’ is valuable inasmuch as it tends towards an ideal future in which we contract freely with one another as autonomous individuals, each treating each always as an ends in itself rather than as a means to an end.

So, STC insists, with ‘free will’; it makes more ethical sense to think of this as an ‘idea’ than to delve into the brain chemistry of it as an actual fact. Thus, says Coleridge, the ‘Constitution’ of the State. There is no actual British Constitution; but the idea of the Constitution is demonstrated by ‘our whole history from Alfred onward’ [11]. It is a principle, and thus exists ‘in the only way in which a principle can exist,—in the minds and consciences of the persons whose duties it prescribes, and whose rights it determines. In the same sense that the sciences of arithmetic and of geometry, that mind, that life itself, have reality ; the Constitution has real existence, and does not the less exist in reality, because it both is, and exists as, an IDEA.’ He goes on to compare ‘life’ as determined by ‘a vital principle’; and draws a parallel with the planets orbiting the sun. Kepler and Newton established certain facts about orbital mechanics, which is all to the good; ‘but the principle of gravity, the law in the material creation, the idea of the Creator, is pre-supposed in order to the existence, yea, to the very conception of the existence, of matter itself.’ [14]

He ends the first chapter by lamenting the potential confusion of the term ‘State’. There are, he says, two senses in which the word signifies: there’s a larger sense, where State means ‘the entire realm, including the Church’ and a narrower sense in which the State is the secular architecture of social life, distinguished from the spiritual and religious architecture we call Church.

Chapter 2 picks up on this, and explores ‘the Idea of a State in the larger sense of the term, introductory to the constitution of the State in the narrower sense’. The main theme here is that the state is a balance—I’m tempted to say, a dialectic—of ‘permanence’ and ‘progression’. He glances at Roman history before setting out his stall: there are two main power blocs in modern society: on the one hand ‘the agricultural or possessors of land’ and on the other the ‘citizens’ (‘the mercantile, the manufacturing, the distributive, and the professional bodies, under the common name of citizens’). The former, broadly, want to keep things as they have always been; the latter, broadly, want to change things—as they see it, to change things for the better. The chapter then gallops through several historical examples: Dante’s Florence was a free principality, but Austria and Spain have degraded Italy into a feudal state, running-down commercial innovation and concentrating all power in the landowners' hands, such that Italy is now a nation of slaves ‘from the Alps to the Straits of Messina’. Britain, STC argues, is better placed: because the landowners own half the means of legislation—that is, the House of Lords—and the citizens own the other half—the House of Commons—with the monarch, by granting or withholding royal assent, acting as a kind of ‘beam’ or halfway point.
That harmonious balance of the two great correspondent, at once supporting and counterpoising, interests of the State, its permanence, and its progression; that balance of the landed and the personal interests was to be secured by a legislature of two Houses; the first consisting wholly of barons or landholders, permanent and hereditary senators; the second of the knights or minor barons, elected by, and as the representatives of, the remaining landed community, together with the burgesses, the representatives of the commercial, manufacturing, distributive, and professional classes, — the latter (the elected burgesses) constituting the major number. The king, meanwhile, in whom the executive power is vested, it will suffice at present to consider as the beam of the constitutional scales. [27]
And so to the two brief chapters 3: ‘on the National Church’ [30-35] and 4 ‘the Hebrew Commonwealth’ [35-42]. Here Coleridge sketches a history of religious establishment, drawing on the origins of ‘the church’ amongst the Scandinavian, Celtic, Gothic and Semitic tribes. This strikes me as a slightly eccentric narrative, but fair enough: nations get established, and land is distributed between ‘individual warriors’ and ‘heads of families’ and suchlike aristocrats; but the whole wealth of the land is not snaffled up by these people; a ‘reserve’ (what STC called the ‘Nationality’, opposed to the ‘Propriety’ of individual estates) is set aside ‘for the nation itself’. Chapter 4 then elaborates one specific example of this from the history of Israel. Twelve tribes, eleven of which divided the ‘Propriety’ amongst themselves; but Moses insists each have to pay a tithe to the tribe of Levi, who are intrusted not only with the material ‘Nationality’ of this commonwealth but also, and more importantly, with the duty of advance the ‘moral and intellectual character’ of the nation.

The implication of this chapter is that Coleridge could tell a similar history concerning ‘the Celtic, Gothic, and Scandinavian’, but with two crucial salient differences. One is that these tribes have been historically feudal in essence, and more-or-less hostile to the mercantile and professional classes—where with Solomon the Jewish people actively embraced such (as we would say nowadays) ‘wealth-creating’ opportunities—hence all the Jewish merchants, money-lenders and professionals. The other is that these other tribes were polytheistic where the Jews were monotheistic. Both these things, STC thinks, are relevant to the history of Christianity.
relatively to the Jewish polity, the Jehovah was their covenanted king: and if we draw any inference from the former, the Christian sense of the term, it should be this—that God is the unity of every nation; that the convictions and the will, which are one, the same, and simultaneously acting in a multitude of individual agents, are not the birth of any individual; “that when the people speak loudly and unanimously, it is from their being strongly impressed by the godhead or the demon. Only exclude the (by no means extravagant) supposition of a demoniac possession, and then Vox Populi Vox Dei.” [44]
That last bit loosely quoted from William Wordsworth’s Convention of Cintra (1808). Anyhow, Coleridge closes this chapter with the notion that ‘it was in the name of the KING, in whom both the propriety and the nationalty ideally centered.’

The second part of this read-through is here.