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Posts Tagged ‘Coleridge

“In wonder all philosophy began, in wonder it ends”*…

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) stands tall in the cultural pantheon for his poetry. It’s less well known that in his own lifetime, and in the decades following his death, this canonical poet had an equal reputation as a philosopher. His published works containing much of his philosophical prose span from The Statesman’s Manual (1816), which set out his theory of imagination and symbolism; Biographia Literaria (1817), one of the great and founding works of literary criticism; The Friend (1818), which includes his philosophical ‘Essays on the Principles of Method’; Aids to Reflection(1825), where he expounds his religious philosophy of transcendence; and On the Constitution of the Church and the State (1829), which presents his political philosophy.

The effect of those last two books was so impressive that John Stuart Mill named Coleridge as one of the two great British philosophers of the age – the other being Jeremy Bentham, Coleridge’s polar opposite. His thinking was also at the root of the Broad Church Anglican movement, a major influence on F D Maurice’s Christian socialism, and the main source for American Transcendentalism. Ralph Waldo Emerson visited Coleridge in 1832, and John Dewey, the leading pragmatist philosopher, called Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection ‘my first Bible’.

Yet philosophical fortunes change. The almost-total eclipse of British idealism by the rise of analytic philosophy saw a general decline in Coleridge’s philosophical stock. His philosophy languished while his verse rose. Coleridge’s poetry resonated with the psychedelia of the 1960s and a general cultural shift that emphasised the value of the imagination and a more holistic view of the human place within nature. Today, Coleridge is far more often remembered as a poet than a philosopher. But his philosophy was spectacular in its originality and syntheses…

Though largely remembered only as a poet, Coleridge’s theory of ideas was spectacular in its originality and bold reach; Peter Cheyne explains: “Coleridge the philosopher.”

For other literary philosophers, see “On Exploring Philosophy in Fiction and Autobiography: A Reading List.”

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Aids to Reflection

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As we muse on meaning, we might spare a thought for one of Coleridge’s philosophical beneficiaries, Ralph Waldo Emerson; he died on this date in 1882.  The essayist (“Nature,” “Self-Reliance,” et al.), lecturer, and poet who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century, he was one of the linchpins of the American romantic movement, and friend and mentor to Henry David Thoreau.

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“There are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe”*…

 

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Gustave Doré. From an illustration in the 1877 edition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

 

Roaring out of the radical 1790s, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a founding fable for our time. A fable must by definition revolve around an animal, and in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s nightmare the slain albatross hangs around the fated sailor’s neck like a broken cross, an emblem of his sin against nature. It is all too relevant today, as a statement of isolation and despair: “Alone, alone, all, all alone, / Alone on a wide, wide sea!” Yet in that forlorn expression is great power; the power of art to change us…

Slavery, ecocide, plague … the warnings of Coleridge’s poem resound down the ages.  Now 40 actors, musicians and authors are performing in a daily mass-reading: “Why Willem Dafoe, Iggy Pop, and more are reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to us.”

Then experience “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Big Read.”

[TotH to friend MK]

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* Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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As we dig for a drop to drink, we might recall that it was on this date in 1665 that Samuel Pepys made his first diary reference to the Great Plague in London.  “Great fears of the sicknesses here in the City, it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all.”  The entries in his diary continue throughout the year, documenting the horrifying conditions in the city, as many thousands died, until Winter’s freezing cold reduced the number of fleas that spread the disease.  (Pepys also wrote, the following year, about the Great Fire of London.)

pepys plague source

 

Written by LW

April 30, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Being good is easy, what is difficult is being just”*…

 

Spliddit offers quick, free solutions to everyday fair-division problems, using methods that provide indisputable fairness guarantees and build on decades of research in economics, mathematics, and computer science.  The project of a professor and his research assistant at Carnegie-Mellon University, Spliddit is an attempt to provide easy access to carefully designed fair-division methods, thereby making the world a bit fairer, and at the same time, to communicate to the public the beauty and value of theoretical research in computer science, mathematics, and economics– from an unusual perspective.

And, its creators assert, you can trust it:

When we say that we guarantee a fairness property, we are stating a mathematical fact. In other words, there are formal proofs showing that each of our algorithms provides rigorous fairness guarantees. The surprising possibility of formulating fairness in mathematical terms is the beauty of the scientific field of fair-division, and the force behind Spliddit.

* Victor Hugo

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As we get in touch with our inner Solomon, we might recall that it was on this date that “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was begun as a collaborative effort between Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth while walking through the Valley of Stones near Lynmouth.  Wordsworth brought up a book he’d been reading, A Voyage Round The World by Way of the Great South Sea (1726) by Captain George Shelvocke, in which a melancholy sailor, Simon Hatley, shoots a black albatross.  Coleridge expressed an interest in rhyming on the subject; Wordsworth gave advice {including “suppose you represent him as having killed one of these birds on entering the south sea, and the tutelary spirits of these regions take upon them to avenge the crime”); and by the end of the walk the poem– one of the cornerstones of English Romantic poetry– had largely taken shape.

The mariner up on the mast in a storm. One of Gustave Doré’s wood-engraved illustrations of the poem.

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Written by LW

November 13, 2014 at 1:01 am

“I have never met a vampire personally, but I don’t know what might happen tomorrow”*…

 

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Readers will know of the evening in 1816, on the shores of Lake Geneva, when a challenge from her husband-to-be and his friend Lord Byron led Mary Shelley (then, Mary Godwin) to create Frankenstein.  What’s less well known is that this same challenge led another guest to create that other great figure of 19th-century gothic fiction – the vampire.

The first fully realized vampire story in English, John William Polidori’s “The Vampyre”… establishes the vampire as we know it via a reimagining of the feral mud-caked creatures of southeastern European legend as the elegant and magnetic denizens of cosmopolitan assemblies and polite drawing rooms.

“The Vampyre” is a product of 1816, the “year without summer,” in which Lord Byron left England in the wake of a disintegrating marriage and rumours of incest, sodomy and madness, to travel to the banks of Lake Geneva and there loiter with Percy and Mary Shelley (then still Mary Godwin). Polidori served as Byron’s traveling physician, and played an active role in the summer’s tensions and rivalries, as well as participating in the famous night of ghost stories that produced Mary Shelley’s “hideous progeny,” Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

Like Frankenstein, “The Vampyre” draws extensively on the mood at Byron’s Villa Diodati. But whereas Mary Shelley incorporated the orchestral thunderstorms that illuminated the lake and the sublime mountain scenery that served as a backdrop to Victor Frankenstein’s struggles, Polidori’s text is woven from the invisible dynamics of the Byron-Shelley circle, and especially the humiliations he suffered at Byron’s hand…

Find the rest of this twisted tale (if not eternal life) at “The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire.”

* Bela Lugosi

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As we make the Sign of the Cross, we might send metrical birthday greetings to Samuel Taylor Coleridge; he was born on this date in 1772.  A poet, literary critic, and philosopher, Coleridge is probably best remembered for two poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, and for his prose work Biographia Literaria.  Coleridge and his dear friend (and partner in founding the Romantic Movement) Wordsworth were contemporaries of Byron– who went out of his way to insult them in Canto III of Don Juan.

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Written by LW

October 21, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Makes Ben Hur look like an epic”*…

 

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Book blurbs– the promotional copy and quotes that adorn the jackets of novels and the one-sheets for films– date back to the early 20th century… since which time they’ve become, well, a little over-ripe…

…blurbs have gotten so over-the-top. With fewer eyes to see them, an endorsement must be big to gain any traction.

—Jennifer Weiner, “All Blurbed Out,” The New York Times, May 17

Tom Rachman (author of the best-selling The Imperfectionists and the recent The Rise and Fall of Great Powers) imagines how the blurbs for works of classic literature might have read:

THE DIVINE COMEDY, by Dante Aligheri

“Nowadays, who’s got time for poetry, what with everyone gearing up for the Renaissance? But this laugh-out-loud comedy is a must-read. Perfect for the beach, or when taking a break from your fresco.”

–Petrarch, father of humanism and runner-up for National Book Award

THE PRINCE, by Niccolò Machiavelli

“Unputdownable. If this rip-roaring, gob-smacking, take-me-with-you-to-the-Palazzo-Vecchio gem doesn’t start the field of political science, I seriously don’t know what will.”

–Lorenzo de Medici (during TED talk)

DON QUIXOTE, by Miguel de Cervantes

“Like a cross between Orlando Furioso and Apuleius’s The Golden Ass, this is the picaresque road-trip novel to end begin all picaresque road-trip novels. What’s that noise? Oh, just the 17th century getting off to a bang. Bravo, señor.”

–William Shakespeare, author of Tony Award-winning sensation Hamlet

More preposterous promotion at The Rumpus in “Great Blurbs in History: a Selection.”

* the blurb for Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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As we search for our grains of salt, we might it was on this date in 1792 that William Wordsworth, on a walking tour of the Lake District with his sister Dorothy, visited the ruins of Tintern Abbey.  The visit inspired one of Wordsworth’s earliest poems (“Tintern Abbey”), in which he articulated some of the fundamental themes of Romantic poetry– main among them, the restorative power of nature. The poem appeared in Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems in 1798, on which Wordsworth collaborated with his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge (whose Rime of the Ancient Mariner was also included).  The book sold out quickly, occasioning a second edition that included a preface by Wordsworth widely considered to be a central work of Romantic literary theory.

William Shuter’s portrait of Wordsworth (at age 28), 1798- the year of the publication of Lyrical Ballads

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Written by LW

July 13, 2014 at 1:01 am

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