An Essay Picked by blupete

"Coleridge (II)" 1

Here is the true Simon Pure. We have by anticipation given some account of this Sermon. We have only to proceed to specimens in illustration of what we have said.

It sets out with the following sentence: --

"If our own knowledge and information concerning the Bible had been confined to the one fact of its immediate derivation from God, we should still presume that it contained rules and assistances for all conditions of men under all circumstances; and therefore for communities no less than for individuals."

Now this is well said; "and 'tis a kind of good deed to say well." But why did not Mr. Coleridge keep on in the same strain to the end of the chapter, instead of himself disturbing the harmony and unanimity which he here very properly supposes to exist on this subject, or questioning the motives of its existence by such passages as the following, p. 23 of the Appendix:

"Thank heaven! Notwithstanding the attempts of Mr. Thomas Paine and his compeers, it is not so bad with us. Open infidelity has ceased to be a means even of gratifying vanity; for the leaders of the gang themselves turned apostates to Satan, as soon as the number of their proselytes became so large, that Atheism ceased to give distinction. Nay, it became a mark of original thinking to defend the belief and the Ten Commandments; so the strong minds veered round, and religion came again into fashion."

Now we confess we do not find in this statement much to thank heaven for; if religion has only come into fashion again with the strong minds -- (it will hardly be denied that Mr. Coleridge is one of the number) -- as a better mode of gratifying their vanity than "open infidelity." Be this as it may, Mr. Coleridge has here given a true and masterly delineation of that large class of Proselytes or their teachers, who believe any thing or nothing, just as their vanity prompts them. All that we have ever said of modern apostates is poor and feeble to it. There is however one error in his statement, inasmuch as Mr. Thomas Paine never openly professed Atheism, whatever some of his compeers might do.

It is a pity that with all that fund of "rules and assistances" which the Bible contains for our instruction and reproof, and which the author in this work proposes to recommend as the Statesman's Manual, or the Best Guide to Political Skill and Foresight, in times like these, he has not brought forward a single illustration of his doctrine, nor referred to a single example in the Jewish history that bears at all, in the circumstances, or the inference, on our own, but one, and that one he has purposely omitted. Is this to be credited? Not without quoting the passage.

"But do you require some one or more particular passage from the Bible that may at once illustrate and exemplify its application to the changes and fortunes of empires? Of the numerous chapters that related to the Jewish tribes, their enemies and allies, before and after their division into two kingdoms, it would be more difficult to state a single one, from which some guiding light might not be struck." [Oh, very well, we shall have a few of them. The passage goes on.] "And in nothing is Scriptural history more strongly contrasted with the histories of highest note in the present age, than in its freedom from the hollowness of abstractions." [Mr. Coleridge's admiration for the inspired writers seems to be very much mixed with a dislike of Hume and Gibbon.] -- "While the latter present a shadow-fight of Things and Quantities, the former gives us the history of Men, and balances the important influence of individual minds with the previous state of national morals and manners, in which, as constituting a specific susceptibility, it presents to us the true cause, both of the influence itself, and of the Weal or Woe that were its consequents. How should it be otherwise? The histories and political economy of the present and preceding century partake in the general contagion of its mechanic philosophy." ['still harping on my daughter'] "and are the product of an unenlivened generalizing understanding. In the Scriptures they are the living educts of the Imagination; of that reconciling and mediatory power, which incorporating the reason in Images of the Sense, and organizing (as it were) the flux of the Senses by the permanence and self-circling energies of the Reason, gives birth to a system of symbols, harmonious in themselves, and consubstantial with the truths, of which they are the conductors. These are the Wheels which Ezekiel beheld when the hand of the Lord was upon him, and he saw visions of God as he sat among the captives by the river of Chebar. Whither soever the Spirit was to go, the wheels went, and thither was their spirit to go; for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels also. The truths and the symbols that represent them move in conjunction, and form the living chariot that bears up (for us) the throne of the Divine Humanity. Hence by a derivative, indeed, but not a divided influence, and though in a secondary, yet in more than a metaphorical sense, the Sacred Book is worthily entitled the Word of God." p. 36.

So that, after all, the Bible is not the immediate word of God, except according to the German philosophy, and in something between a literal and metaphorical sense. Of all the cants that ever were canted in this canting world, this is the worst! The author goes on to add, that "it is among the miseries of the present age that it recognises no medium between literal and metaphorical," and laments that "the mechanical understanding, in the blindness of its self-complacency, confounds SYMBOLS and ALLEGORIES." -- This is certainly a sad mistake, which he labours very learnedly to set right, "in a diagonal sidelong movement between truth and falsehood," -- We assure the reader that the passages which we have given above are given in the order in which they are strung together in the Sermon; and so he goes on for several pages, concluding his career where the allies have concluded theirs, with the doctrine of Divine Right; which he does not however establish quite so successfully with the pen, as they have done with the sword. "Herein" (says this profound writer) "the Bible differs from all the books of Greek philosophy, and in a two-fold manner. It doth not affirm a Divine Nature only, but God; and not a God only, but the living God. Hence in the Scriptures alone is the Jus Divinum [divine law] or direct Relation of the State and its Magistracy to the Supreme Being, taught as a vital and indispensable part of All Moral And All Political Wisdom, even as the Jewish alone was a true theocracy!"

Now it does appear to us, that as the reason why the Jus Divinum was taught in the Jewish state was, that that alone was a true theocracy, this is so far from proving this doctrine to be a part of all moral and all political wisdom, that it proves just the contrary. This may perhaps be owing to our mechanical understanding. Wherever Mr. C. will shew us the theocracy, we will grant him the Jus Divinum. Where God really pulls down and sets up kings, the people need not do it. Under the true Jewish Theocracy, the priests and prophets cashiered kings; but our lay-preacher will hardly take this office upon himself as part of the Jus Divinum, without having any thing better to shew for it than his profound moral and political wisdom. Mr. Southey hints at something of the kind in verse, and we are not sure that Mr. Coleridge does not hint at it in prose. For after his extraordinary career and interminable circumnavigation through the heaven of heavens, after being rapt in the wheels of Ezekial, and sitting with the captives by the river of Chebar, he lights once more on English ground, and you think you have him.

"But I refer to the demand. Were it my object to touch on the present state of public affairs in this kingdom, or on the prospective measure in agitation respecting our Sister Island, I would direct your most serious meditations to the latter period of the reign of Solomon, and the revolutions in the reign of Rehoboam his son. But I tread on glowing embers. I will turn to a subject on which all men of reflection are at length in agreement -- the causes of the Revolution and fearful chastisement of France." -- Here Mr. Coleridge is off again on the wings of fear as he was before on those of fancy. -- This trifling can only be compared to that of the impertinent barber of Bagdad, who being sent for to shave the prince, spent the whole morning in preparing his razors, took the height of the sun with an astrolabe, sung the song of Zimri, and danced the dance of Zamtout, and concluded by declining to perform the operation at all, because the day was unfavourable to its success. As we are not so squeamish as Mr. Coleridge, and do not agree with him and all other men of reflection on the subject of the French Revolution, we shall turn back to the latter end of the reign of Solomon, and that of his successor Rehoboam, to find out the parallel to the present reign and regency which so particularly strikes and startles Mr. Coleridge. -- Here it is for the edification of the curious, from the First Book of Kings: --

"And the time that Solomon reigned over all Israel was forty years. And Solomon slept with his fathers and was buried in the City of David his father: and Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead. And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king.2 And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came and spake unto Rehoboam, saying, Thy father (Solomon) made our yoke grievous; now therefore, make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee. And he said unto them, Depart yet for three days, then come again to me. And the people departed. And King Rehoboam consulted with the old men that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise, that I may answer this people? And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words unto them, then they will be thy servants for ever. But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him: And he said unto them, What counsel give ye, that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying Make the yoke which thy father did put upon us lighter? And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them. My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins. And now, whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had appointed., saying, come to me again the third day. And the king answered the people roughly and forsook the old men's counsel that they gave him: and spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My Father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke; my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying which the Lord spake by Ahijah, the Shilonite, unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat." [We see here pretty plainly how the principle of " a true theocracy" qualified the doctrine of Jus Divinum among the Jews; but let us mark the sequel.] "So when all Israel saw that the King hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David: neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the tribute; and all Israel stoned him with stones that he died; therefore King Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day. And it came to pass when all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again, that they sent and called him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel."

Here is the doctrine and practice of divine right, with a vengeance. We do not wonder Mr. Coleridge was shy of instances from his Statesman's Manual, as the rest are like this. He does not say (neither shall we, for we are not salamanders any more than he, to tread on glowing embers) whether he approves of the conduct of all Israel in this case, or of the grand magnificent, and gracious answer of the son of Solomon; but this we will say, that his bringing or alluding to a passage like this immediately after his inuendo (addressed to the higher classes) that the doctrine of divine right is contained par excellence in the Scriptures alone, is we should suppose, an instance of a power of voluntary self-delusion, and of a delight in exercising it on the most ticklish topics, greater than ever was or ever will be possessed by any other individual that ever did or ever will live upon the face of the earth. "Imposture, organized into a comprehensive and self-consistent whole, forms a world of its own, in which inversion becomes the order of nature." Compared with such powers of inconceivable mental refinement, hypocrisy is a great baby, a shallow dolt, gross dunce, a clumsy devil!

Among other passages, unrivalled in style and matter by any other author, take the following: --

"When I named this Essay a Sermon, I sought to prepared the inquirers after it for the absence of all the usual softening suggested by worldly prudence, of all compromise between truth and courtesy. But not even as a Sermon would I have addressed the present Discourse to a promiscuous audience: and for this reason I likewise announced it in the title-page, as exclusively ad clerum, i.e. (in the old and wide sense of the word3 ) to men of clerkly acquirements of whatever profession." [All that we know is, that there is no such title-page to our copy.] "I would that the greater part of our publications could be thus directed, each to its appropriate class of readers. But this cannot be! For among other odd burs and kecksies, the misgrowths of our luxuriant activity, we have a Reading Public, as strange a phrase, methinks, as ever forced a splenetic smile on the staid countenance of meditation; and yet no fiction! For our readers have, in good truth, multiplied exceedingly, and have waxed proud. It would require the intrepid accuracy of a Colquhoun" -- [Intrepid and accurate applied to a Colquhoun! It seems that whenever an objection in matter of fact occurs to our author's mind, he instinctively applies the flattering unction of words to smooth it over to his conscience, as you apply a salve to a sore] -- "to venture at the precise number of that vast company only, whose heads and hearts are dieted at the two public ordinaries of literature, the circulating libraries and the periodical press. But what is the result? Does the inward man thrive on his regimen? Alas! if the average health of the consumers may be judged of by the articles of largest consumption" -- [Is not this a side-blow at the Times and Courier?] -- "If the secretions may be conjectured from the ingredients of the dishes that are found best suited to their palates; from all that I have seen, either of the banquet or the guests, I shall utter my profaccia" -- ['Oh thou particular fellow!'] -- "with a desponding sigh: From a popular philosophy, and philosophic populace, good sense deliver us!"

Why so, any more than from a popular religion or a religious populace, on Mr. Coleridge's own principle, p. 12, "Reason and religion are their own evidence?" We should suspect that our unread author, the "Secret Tattle" of the Press, is thus fastidious, because the keeps an ordinary himself which is not frequented. He professes to be select; but we all know the secret of "seminaries for a limited number of pupils." Mr. Coleridge addresses his Lay-Sermon "to the higher classes," in his printed title-page: in that which is not printed he has announced it to be directed ad clerum, which might imply the clergy, but no: he issues another EXTENT for the benefit of the Reading Public, and says he means by the annunciation ad clerum, all persons of clerkly acquirements, that is, who can read and write. What wretched stuff is all this! We well remember a friend of his and ours saying, many years ago, on seeing a little shabby volume of Thomson's Seasons lying in the window of a solitary ale-house, at the top of a rock hanging over the British Channel, -- "That is true fame!" If he were to write fifty Lay-Sermons, he could not answer the inference from this one sentence, which is, that here are books that make their way wherever there are readers, and that there ought every where to be readers for such books!

To the words Reading Public, in the above passage, is the following note, which in wit and humour does not fall short of Mr. Southey's "Tract on the Madras System:" --

"Some participle passive in the diminutive form, eruditorum natio for instance, might seem at first sight a fuller and more exact designation: but the superior force and humour of the former become evident whenever the phrase occurs, as a step or stair in the climax of irony ... Among the revolutions worthy of notice, the change in the introductory sentence and prefatory matter is serious books is not the least striking. The same gross flattery, which disgust us in the dedications to individuals, in the elder writers, is not transferred to the nation at large, or the Reading Public; while the Jeremiads of our old moralists, and their angry denunciations against the ignorance, immorality, and irreligion of the people appear (mutatis mutandis, and with an appeal to the worst passions, envy, discontent, scorn, vindictiveness,4 &c.) in the shape of bitter libels on ministers, parliament, the clergy; in short, on the state and church, and all persons employed in them. Likewise, I would point out to the reader's attention the marvellous predominance at present of the words, Idea and Demonstration. Every talker now-a-days has an Idea; aye, and he will demonstrate it too! A few days ago, I heard one of the Reading Public, a thinking and independent smuggler, euphonise the latter word with much significance, in a tirade against the planners of the late African expedition: 'As to Algiers, any man that has half an Idea in his scull must know, that it has been long ago dey-monstered, I should say, dey-monstrified,' &c. But the phrase, which occasioned this note, brings to my mind the mistake of a lethargic Dutch traveller, who, returning highly gratified from a showman's caravan, which he had been tempted to enter by the words Learned Pig, gilt on the pannels, met another caravan of a similar shape, with the Reading Fly on it, in letters of the same size and splendour. 'Why dis is voonders above voonders,' exclaims the Dutchman, takes his seat as first comer, and soon fatigued by waiting, and by the very hush and intensity of his expectation; gives way to his constitutional somnolence, from which he is roused by the supposed showman at Hounslow, with a 'In what name, Sir, was your place taken? Are you booked all the way for Reading?' Now a reading Public is (to my mind) more marvellous still, and in the third tier of 'Voonders above voonders.'"

A public that could read such stuff as this with any patience would indeed be so. We do not understand how, with this systematic antipathy to the Reading Public it is consistent in Mr. Coleridge to declare of "Dr Bell's original and unsophisticated plan," that he "himself regards it as an especial gift of Providence to the human race, as an incomparable machine, a vast moral steam-engine." Learning is an old University mistress, that he is not willing to part with, except for the use of the church of England; he is sadly afraid she should be debauched by the "liberal ideas" of Joseph Lancaster! As to his aversion to the prostitution of the word Idea to common use and in common minds, it is no wonder from the very exalted idea which he has given us of this term.

"What other measures I had in contemplation it has been my endeavour to explain elsewhre. ....O what treasures of practical wisdom would be once more brought into open day by the solution of this problem," to wit, " a thorough recasting of the moulds in which the minds of our gentry, the characters of our future land-owners, magistrates, and senators, are to receive their shape and fashion. Suffice it for the present to hint the master-thought. The first man, on whom the light of an Idea dawned did in that same moment receive the spirit and credentials of a Lawgiver; and as long as man shall exist, so long will the possession that antecedent knowledge which exists only in the power of an idea, be the one lawful qualification for all dominion in the world of the senses," p. 52. Now we do think this a shorter cut towards the undermining of the rotten boroughs, and ousting the present ministry, than any we have yet heard of. One of the most extraordinary ideas in this work is where the Author proves the doctrine of free will from the existence of property; and again, where he recommends the study of the Scriptures, from the example of Heraclitus and Horace. To conclude this most inconclusive piece of work, we find the distant hopes and doubtful expectations of the writer's mind summed up in the following rare rhapsody. "Oh what a mine of undiscovered treasures, what a new world of power and truth would the Bible promise to our future meditation, if in some gracious moment one solitary text of all its inspired contents should but dawn upon us in the pure untroubled brightness of an Idea, that most glorious birth of the godlike within us, which even as the light, its material symbol, reflects itself from a thousand surfaces, and flies homeward to its parent mind, enriched with a thousand forms, itself above form, and still remaining in its own simplicity and identity! O for a flash of that same light, in which the first position of geometric science that ever loosed itself from the generalizations of a groping and insecure experience, did for the first time reveal itself to a human intellect in all its evidence and in all its fruitfulness, Transparence without Vacuum, and Plentitude without Opacity! O! that a single gleam of our own inward experience would make comprehensible to us the rapturous Eureka, and the grateful hecatomb of the philosopher of Samos; or that vision which, from the contemplation of an arithmetical harmony, rose to the eye of Kepler, presenting the planetary world, and all their orbits in the divine order of their ranks and distances; or which, in the falling of an apple, revealed to the ethereal intuition of our own Newton the constructive principle of the material universe. The promises which I have ventured to hold forth concerning the hidden treasures of the Law and the Prophets will nether be condemned as paradox, or as exaggeration, by the mind that has learnt to understand the possibility that the reduction of the sands of the sea to number should be found a less stupendous problem by Archimedes than the simple conception of the Parmenidean One. What, however, is achievable by the human understanding without this light may be comprised in the epithet cegosperoi; and a melancholy comment on that phrase would the history of the human Cabinets and Legislatures for the last thirty years furnish! The excellent Barrow, the last of the disciples of Plato and Archimedes among our modern mathematicians, shall give the description and state the value: and, in his words, I shall conclude: --

"Aliud agere, to be impertinently busy, doing that which conduceth to no good purpose, is, in some respect, worse than to do nothing. Of such industry we may understand that the Preacher, 'The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them.'"

A better conclusion could not be found for his Lay-Sermon: for greater nonsense the author could not write, even though he were inspired expressly for the purpose.

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NOTES:

1 Hazlitt's "Coleridge" (II) is to be found in Political Essays (1819). The essay carries the date, Dec. 29, 1816, and was entitled "The Statesman's Manual; or the Bible the best Guide to Political Skill and Foresight. A Lay Sermon, addressed to the Higher Classes of Society. By S. T. Coleridge, Esq. Gale and Fenner."

2 (Does this verse come under Mr. C.'s version of Jus Divinum?) The original footnote found in the original work; I have, in turn, placed them in parentheses.

3 (That is, in a sense not used and without any intelligible meaning.)

4 (If these are the worst passions, there is plenty of them in this Lay-Sermon.)

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Peter Landry