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Biographia Literaria by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Part 8 out of 8

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She to the mountain-top would go,
And there was often seen;
'Tis said a child was in her womb,
As now to any eye was plain;
She was with child, and she was mad;
Yet often she was sober sad
From her exceeding pain.
Oh me! ten thousand times I'd rather
That he had died, that cruel father!

* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *

Last Christmas when they talked of this,
Old Farmer Simpson did maintain,
That in her womb the infant wrought
About its mother's heart, and brought
Her senses back again:
And, when at last her time drew near,
Her looks were calm, her senses clear.

No more I know, I wish I did,
And I would tell it all to you
For what became of this poor child
There's none that ever knew
And if a child was born or no,
There's no one that could ever tell;
And if 'twas born alive or dead,
There's no one knows, as I have said:
But some remember well,
That Martha Ray about this time
Would up the mountain often climb."

[66] It is no less an error in teachers, than a torment to the poor
children, to enforce the necessity of reading as they would talk. In
order to cure them of singing as it is called, that is, of too great a
difference, the child is made to repeat the words with his eyes from
off the book; and then, indeed, his tones resemble talking, as far as
his fears, tears and trembling will permit. But as soon as the eye is
again directed to the printed page, the spell begins anew; for an
instinctive sense tells the child's feelings, that to utter its own
momentary thoughts, and to recite the written thoughts of another, as
of another, and a far wiser than himself, are two widely different
things; and as the two acts are accompanied with widely different
feelings, so must they justify different modes of enunciation. Joseph
Lancaster, among his other sophistications of the excellent Dr. Bell's
invaluable system, cures this fault of singing, by hanging fetters and
chains on the child, to the music of which one of his school-fellows,
who walks before, dolefully chants out the child's last speech and
confession, birth, parentage, and education. And this soul-benumbing
ignominy, this unholy and heart-hardening burlesque on the last
fearful infliction of outraged law, in pronouncing the sentence to
which the stern and familiarized judge not seldom bursts into tears,
has been extolled as a happy and ingenious method of remedying--what?
and how?--why, one extreme in order to introduce another, scarce less
distant from good sense, and certainly likely to have worse moral
effects, by enforcing a semblance of petulant ease and self-
sufficiency, in repression and possible after-perversion of the
natural feelings. I have to beg Dr. Bell's pardon for this connection
of the two names, but he knows that contrast is no less powerful a
cause of association than likeness.

[67] Altered from the description of Night-Mair in the REMORSE.

"Oh Heaven! 'twas frightful! Now ran down and stared at
By hideous shapes that cannot be remembered;
Now seeing nothing and imagining nothing;
But only being afraid--stifled with fear!
While every goodly or familiar form
Had a strange power of spreading terror round me!"

N.B.--Though Shakespeare has, for his own all justifying purposes,
introduced the Night-Mare with her own foals, yet Mair means a Sister,
or perhaps a Hag.

[68] But still more by the mechanical system of philosophy which has
needlessly infected our theological opinions, and teaching us to
consider the world in its relation to god, as of a building to its
mason, leaves the idea of omnipresence a mere abstract notion in the
stateroom of our reason.

[69] As the ingenious gentleman under the influence of the Tragic Muse
contrived to dislocate, "I wish you a good morning, Sir! Thank you,
Sir, and I wish you the same," into two blank-verse heroics:--

To you a morning good, good Sir! I wish.
You, Sir! I thank: to you the same wish I.

In those parts of Mr. Wordsworth's works which I have thoroughly
studied, I find fewer instances in which this would be practicable
than I have met to many poems, where an approximation of prose has
been sedulously and on system guarded against. Indeed excepting the
stanzas already quoted from THE SAILOR'S MOTHER, I can recollect but
one instance: that is to say, a short passage of four or five lines in
THE BROTHERS, that model of English pastoral, which I never yet read
with unclouded eye.--"James, pointing to its summit, over which they
had all purposed to return together, informed them that he would wait
for them there. They parted, and his comrades passed that way some two
hours after, but they did not find him at the appointed place, _a
circumstance of which they took no heed:_ but one of them, going by
chance into the house, which at this time was James's house, learnt
_there,_ that nobody had seen him all that day." The only change which
has been made is in the position of the little word there in two
instances, the position in the original being clearly such as is not
adopted in ordinary conversation. The other words printed in italics
were so marked because, though good and genuine English, they are not
the phraseology of common conversation either in the word put in
apposition, or in the connection by the genitive pronoun. Men in
general would have said, "but that was a circumstance they paid no
attention to, or took no notice of;" and the language is, on the
theory of the preface, justified only by the narrator's being the
Vicar. Yet if any ear could suspect, that these sentences were ever
printed as metre, on those very words alone could the suspicion have
been grounded.

[70] I had in my mind the striking but untranslatable epithet, which
the celebrated Mendelssohn applied to the great founder of the
Critical Philosophy "Der alleszermalmende KANT," that is, the all-
becrushing, or rather the all-to-nothing-crushing Kant. In the
facility and force of compound epithets, the German from the number of
its cases and inflections approaches to the Greek, that language so

"Bless'd in the happy marriage of sweet words."

It is in the woful harshness of its sounds alone that the German need
shrink from the comparison.

[71] Sammlung einiger Abhandlungen von Christian Garve.

[72] Sonnet IX.

[73] Mr. Wordsworth's having judiciously adopted "concourse wild" in
this passage for "a wild scene" as it stood to the former edition,
encourages me to hazard a remark, which I certainly should not have
made in the works of a poet less austerely accurate in the use of
words, than he is, to his own great honour. It respects the propriety
of the word, "scene," even in the sentence in which it is retained.
Dryden, and he only in his more careless verses, was the first, as far
as my researches have discovered, who for the convenience of rhyme
used this word in the vague sense, which has been since too current
even in our best writers, and which (unfortunately, I think) is given
as its first explanation in Dr. Johnson's Dictionary and therefore
would be taken by an incautious reader as its proper sense. In
Shakespeare and Milton the word is never used without some clear
reference, proper or metaphorical, to the theatre. Thus Milton:

"Cedar, and pine, and fir, and branching palm
A sylvan scene; and, as the ranks ascend
Shade above shade, a woody theatre
Of stateliest view."

I object to any extension of its meaning, because the word is already
more equivocal than might be wished; inasmuch as to the limited use,
which I recommend, it may still signify two different things; namely,
the scenery, and the characters and actions presented on the stage
during the presence of particular scenes. It can therefore be
preserved from obscurity only by keeping the original signification
full in the mind. Thus Milton again,

------"Prepare thee for another scene."

[74] Which Copland scarce had spoke, but quickly every hill,
Upon her verge that stands, the neighbouring vallies fill;
Helvillon from his height, it through the mountains threw,
From whom as soon again, the sound Dunbalrase drew,
From whose stone-trophied head, it on the Windross went,
Which tow'rds the sea again, resounded it to Dent.
That Brodwater, therewith within her banks astound,
In sailing to the sea, told it to Egremound,
Whose buildings, walks, and streets, with echoes loud and long,
Did mightily commend old Copland for her song.
Drayton's POLYOLBION: Song XXX.

[75] Translation. It behoves me to side with my friends, but only as
far as the gods.

[76] "Slender. I bruised my shin with playing with sword and dagger
for a dish of stewed prunes, and by my troth I cannot abide the smell
of hot meat since."--So again, Evans. "I will make an end of my
dinner: there's pippins and cheese to come."

[77] This was accidentally confirmed to me by an old German gentleman
at Helmstadt, who had been Klopstock's school and bed-fellow. Among
other boyish anecdotes, he related that the young poet set a
particular value on a translation of the PARADISE LOST, and always
slept with it under his pillow.

[78] Klopstock's observation was partly true and partly erroneous. In
the literal sense of his words, and, if we confine the comparison to
the average of space required for the expression of the same thought
in the two languages, it is erroneous. I have translated some German
hexameters into English hexameter; and find, that on the average
three English lines will express four lines German. The reason is
evident: our language abounds in monosyllables and dissyllables. The
German, not less than the Greek, is a polysyllable language. But in
another point of view the remark was not without foundation. For the
German possessing the same unlimited privilege of forming compounds,
both with prepositions and with epithets, as the Greek, it can express
the richest single Greek word in a single German one, and is thus
freed from the necessity of weak or ungraceful paraphrases. I will
content myself with one at present, viz. the use of the prefixed
participles ver, zer, ent, and weg: thus reissen to rend, verreissen
to rend away, zerreissen to rend to pieces, entreissen to rend off or
out of a thing, in the active sense: or schmelzen to melt--ver, zer,
ent, schmelzen--and in like manner through all the verbs neuter and
active. If you consider only how much we should feel the loss of the
prefix be, as in bedropt, besprinkle, besot, especially in our
poetical language, and then think that this same mode of composition
is carved through all their simple and compound prepositions, and many
of their adverbs; and that with most of these the Germans have the
same privilege as we have of dividing them from the verb and placing
them at the end of the sentence; you will have no difficulty in
comprehending the reality and the cause of this superior power in the
German of condensing meaning, in which its great poet exulted. It is
impossible to read half a dozen pages of Wieland without perceiving
that in this respect the German has no rival but the Greek. And yet I
feel, that concentration or condensation is not the happiest mode of
expressing this excellence, which seems to consist not so much in the
less time required for conveying an impression, as in the unity and
simultaneousness with which the impression is conveyed. It tends to
make their language more picturesque: it depictures images better. We
have obtained this power in part by our compound verbs derived from
the Latin: and the sense of its great effect no doubt induced our
Milton both to the use and the abuse of Latin derivatives. But still
these prefixed particles, conveying no separate or separable meaning
to the mere English reader, cannot possibly act on the mind with the
force or liveliness of an original and homogeneous language such as
the German is, and besides are confined to certain words.

[79] Praecludere calumniam, in the original.

[80] Better thus: Forma specifica per formam individualem translucens:
or better yet--Species individualisata, sive Individuum cuilibet
Speciei determinatae in omni parte correspondens et quasi versione
quadam eam interpretans et repetens.

[81] ------"The big round tears
Cours'd one another down his innocent nose
In piteous chase,"

says Shakespeare of a wounded stag hanging its head over a stream:
naturally, from the position of the head, and most beautifully, from
the association of the preceding image, of the chase, in which "the
poor sequester'd stag from the hunter's aim had ta'en a hurt." In the
supposed position of Bertram, the metaphor, if not false, loses all
the propriety of the original.

[82] Among a number of other instances of words chosen without reason,
Imogine in the first act declares, that thunder-storms were not able
to intercept her prayers for "the desperate man, in desperate ways who

"Yea, when the launched bolt did sear her sense,
Her soul's deep orisons were breathed for him;"

that is, when a red-hot bolt, launched at her from a thunder-cloud,
had cauterized her sense, to plain English, burnt her eyes out of her
head, she kept still praying on.

"Was not this love? Yea, thus doth woman love!"

[83] This sort of repetition is one of this writers peculiarities, and
there is scarce a page which does not furnish one or more instances--
Ex. gr. in the first page or two. Act I, line 7th, "and deemed that I
might sleep."--Line 10, "Did rock and quiver in the bickering glare."
--Lines 14, 15, 16, "But by the momently gleams of sheeted blue, Did
the pale marbles dare so sternly on me, I almost deemed they lived."--
Line 37, "The glare of Hell."--Line 35, "O holy Prior, this is no
earthly storm."--Line 38, "This is no earthly storm."--Line 42,
"Dealing with us."--Line 43, "Deal thus sternly:"--Line 44, "Speak!
thou hast something seen?"--"A fearful sight!"--Line 45, "What hast
thou seen! A piteous, fearful sight."--Line 48, "quivering gleams."--
Line 50, "In the hollow pauses of the storm."--Line 61, "The pauses of
the storm, etc."

[84] The child is an important personage, for I see not by what
possible means the author could have ended the second and third acts
but for its timely appearance. How ungrateful then not further to
notice its fate!

[85] Classically too, as far as consists with the allegorizing fancy
of the modern, that still striving to project the inward,
contradistinguishes itself from the seeming ease with which the poetry
of the ancients reflects the world without. Casimir affords, perhaps,
the most striking instance of this characteristic difference.--For his
style and diction are really classical: while Cowley, who resembles
Casimir in many respects, completely barbarizes his Latinity, and even
his metre, by the heterogeneous nature of his thoughts. That Dr.
Johnson should have passed a contrary judgment, and have even
preferred Cowley's Latin Poems to Milton's, is a caprice that has, if I
mistake not, excited the surprise of all scholars. I was much amused
last summer with the laughable affright, with which an Italian poet
perused a page of Cowley's Davideis, contrasted with the enthusiasm
with which he first ran through, and then read aloud, Milton's Mansus
and Ad Patrem.

[86] Flectit, or if the metre had allowed, premit would have supported
the metaphor better.

[87] Poor unlucky Metaphysicks! and what are they? A single sentence
expresses the object and thereby the contents of this science. Gnothi

Nosce te ipsum,
Tuque Deum, quantum licet, inque Deo omnia noscas.

Know thyself: and so shalt thou know God, as far as is permitted to a
creature, and in God all things.--Surely, there is a strange--nay,
rather too natural--aversion to many to know themselves.

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