Monday 13 May 2024

Third Course of Table Talk

Here is a third and final selection from Coleridge's Table Talk, again with comments in italics.

Facts, you know, are not truths; they are not conclusions; they are not even premises, but in the nature and parts of premises. The truth depends on, and is only arrived at, by a legitimate deduction from all the facts which are truly material. 

Truth is made up of facts but it goes beyond facts as reality transcends things.


How inimitably graceful children are in general before they learn to dance ! 

Dance, like music, can exalt or corrupt but it tends to increase self-awareness so compounds a loss of innocence.

* s face is almost the only exception I know to the observation that something feminine — not effeminate mind — is discoverable in the countenances of all men of genius. Look at the face 

of old Dampier, a rough sailor, but a man of exquisite mind. How soft is the air of his countenance, how delicate the shape of  his temples!

The evolved soul will combine elements of the masculine and the feminine though always in the context of the man or woman that he or she is. You could see transexuals as a corrupted debasement of this idea.


On Astrology and Alchemy

It is curious to mark how instinctively the reason has always pointed out to men the ultimate end of the various sciences, and how immediately afterwards they have set to work, like children, to realize that end by inadequate means. Now they applied to their appetites, now to their passions, now to their fancy, now to the understanding, and lastly, to the intuitive reason again. There is no doubt but that astrology of some sort or other would be the last achievement of astronomy: there must be chemical relations between the planets; the difference of their magnitudes compared with that of their distances is not explicable otherwise; but this, though, as it were, blindly and unconsciously seen, led immediately to fortune- telling and other nonsense. So alchemy is the theoretic end of chemistry: there must be a common law, upon which all can become each and each all; but then the idea was turned to the coining of gold and silver.


It is my profound conviction that St. John and St. Paul were divinely inspired; but I totally disbelieve the dictation of any one word, sentence, or argument throughout their writings. Observe, there was revelation. All religion is revealed;— revealed religion is, in my judgment, a mere pleonasm. Revelations of facts were undoubtedly made to the prophets; revelations of doctrines were as undoubtedly made to John and Paul;—but is it not a mere matter of our very senses that John and Paul each dealt with those revelations, expounded them, insisted on them, just exactly according to his own natural strength of intellect, habit of reasoning, moral, and even physical temperament?

The way the heavenly powers work is to impress ideas on their disciples in the world. That way human will is left free and we have to, as it were, find the original within ourselves, stretch up to it from the clues given so increasing our own intuitive faculties. 


So little did the early bishops and preachers think their Christian faith wrapped up in, and solely to be learned from, the New Testament,—indeed, can it be said that there was any such collection for three hundred years? —that I remember a letter from x to a friend of his, a bishop in the East, in which he most evidently speaks of the Christian Scriptures as of works of which the bishop knew little or nothing.

Interesting if true. I don't know enough of early church history to know.

In natural history, God's freedom is shown in the law of necessity. In moral history, God's necessity or providence is shown in man's freedom.

What makes a human being human? Freedom.


The sum total of moral philosophy is found in this one question, Is Good a superfluous word,—or mere lazy synonym for the pleasurable, and its causes;—at most, a mere modification to express degree, and comparative duration of pleasure?

What is the Good? We used to know but we don't any more. We have lost the idea of the true good.


It is curious to trace the operation of the moral law of polarity in the history of politics, religion, &c. When the maximum of one tendency has been attained, there is no gradual decrease, but a direct transition to its minimum, till the opposite tendency has attained its maximum; and then you see another corresponding revulsion. 

Hope for the future then.


Never take an iambus as a Christian name. A trochee, or tribrach, will do very well. Edith and Rotha are my favourite names for women.

I have no idea what this means but how could I leave it out?


No man was more enthusiastic than I was for France and the Revolution: it had all my wishes, none of my expectations. Before 1793, I clearly saw and often enough stated in public, the horrid delusion, the vile mockery, of the whole affair.

You could say this about many movements ostensibly for freedom which after the initial burst of energy turn sour as freedom becomes disorder and the breaking of boundaries leads to chaos.


Every attempt, in a sermon, to cause emotion, except as the consequence of an impression made on the reason, or the understanding, or the will, I hold to be fanatical and sectarian.

Any preacher or orator who seeks to appeal to his audience's emotions might enflame but does not illumine. In fact, he does the opposite. Wisdom is sober.


You are always talking of the rights of the negroes. As a rhetorical mode of stimulating the people of England here, I do not object; but I utterly condemn your frantic practice of declaiming about their rights to the blacks themselves. They ought to be forcibly reminded of the state in which their brethren in Africa still are, and taught to be thankful for the providence which has placed them within reach of the means of grace. I know no right except such as flows from righteousness; and as every Christian believes his righteousness to be imputed, so must his right be an imputed right too. It must flow out of a duty, and it is under that name that the process of humanization ought to begin and to be conducted throughout.

Which comes first, rights or duties? Certainly there can be no rights without duties. The first section shows the folly of the idea of reparations.


I think St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans the most profound work in existence; and I hardly believe that the writings of the old Stoics, now lost, could have been deeper.

 To carry on the feelings of childhood into the powers of manhood;…. this is the character and privilege of genius, and one of the marks which distinguish genius from talent. 

To preserve innocence while still absorbing experience is to maintain the contact with God.


I quite agree with Strabo that there can be no great poet who is not a good man, though not, perhaps, a goody man. His heart must be pure; he must have learned to look into his own heart, and sometimes to look at it; for how can he who is ignorant of his own heart know any thing of, or be able to move, the heart of any one else? 


Some music is above me; most music is beneath me. I like Beethoven and Mozart—or else some of the aĆ«rial compositions of the elder Italians, as Palestrina and Carissimi.—And I love Purcell.

Some music comes from the higher world, some from this world and some from the lower world. In fact, not just some but most now in the case of the latter.


The most common effect of this mock evangelical spirit, especially with young women, is self-inflation and busy-bodyism. 

Wokery summed up.

If a man is not rising upwards to be an angel, depend upon it, he is sinking downwards to be a devil. He cannot stop at the beast. The most savage of men are not beasts; they are worse, a great deal worse.


For compassion a human heart suffices; but for full and adequate sympathy with joy an angel's only. And ever remember, that the more exquisite and delicate a flower of joy, the tenderer must be the hand that plucks it.


The Trinity is the idea: the Incarnation, which implies the Fall, is the fact: the Redemption is the mesothesis of the two—that is—the religion.


I am, dying, but without expectation of a speedy release. Is it not strange that very recently by-gone images, and scenes of early life, have stolen into my mind, like breezes blown from the spice-islands of Youth and Hope— those twin realities of this phantom world! I do not add Love,—for what is Love but Youth and Hope embracing, and so seen as one? I say realities; for reality is a thing of degrees, from the Iliad to a dream; Yet, in a strict sense, reality is not predicable at all of aught below Heaven. Hooker wished to live to finish his Ecclesiastical Polity;—so I own I wish life and strength had been spared to me to complete my Philosophy. For, as God hears me, the originating, continuing, and sustaining wish and design in my heart were to exalt the glory of his name; and, which is the same thing in other words, to promote the improvement of mankind. But visum aliter Deo (God wishes otherwise), and his will be done.

This was spoken on July 10th 1834.  He died 2 weeks later.




Fen Tiger said...

Never take an iambus as a Christian name. A trochee, or tribrach, will do very well

Terms of art for a poet. An iamb is di-dum, like the appalling American pronunciation of Bernard... Trochees are dum-di, like Martin or Susan. A tribach is di-di-di: Gregory or Alistair.

William Wildblood said...

Thank you! I thought they were something to do with poetic meter but not what they actually were. I see I am a tribrach.

Daniel F said...

I really enjoyed these posts. Thank you for digesting this material and introducing some of us to this book.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks Daniel. I only came across it myself recently and thought it worth drawing attention to because much of it is relevant to the present time. Coleridge was living in the first age of our current culture wars when much that is now lost was still in the ascendant but it was beginning to be challenged.