Monday, February 16, 2009

Coleridge mentions of the Nights

Here is a collection of mentions of the Arabian Nights by English Romantic Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. There are a lot of mentions of the Nights in just about every book ever written so it would be quite a task to compile them but I’m interested in at the least looking at some of the most prominent ones.

Quotes are from the book:

Jackson, HJ, ed. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992.

[31 May 1830] Mrs Barbauld once told me that she admired the Ancient Mariner very much, but that there were two faults in it – it was improbable and had no moral. As for the probability, I owned that that might admit some question; but as to the want of a moral, I told her that in my judgement the poem had too much; and that the only, or chief fault, if I might say so, was the obtrusion of the moral sentiment so openly on the reader as a principle or cause of action in a work of such pure imagination. It ought to have had no more moral than the Arabian Nights’ tale of the merchant’s sitting down to eat dates by the side of a well, and throwing the shells aside, and lo! a genie starts up, and says he must kill the aforesaid merchant, because, one of the date shells had, it seems, put out the eye of the genie’s son. (p 594).

[To James Gillman, 9 October 1825]

My dear Friend

It is a flat’ning Thought, that the more we have seen, the less we have to say. In Youth and early Manhood the Mind and Nature are, as it were, two rival Artists, both potent Magicians, and engaged, like the King’s Daughter and the rebel Genie in the Arabian Nights’ Enternts., in sharp conflict of Conjuration – each having for its object ot turn the other into Canvas to paint on, Clay to mould, or Cabinet to contain. For a while the Mind seems to have the better in the contest, and makes of Nature what it likes; takes her Lichens and Weather-stains for Types & Printer’s Ink and prints Maps & Fac Similes of Arabic and Sanskrit Mss. on her rocks; composes Country-Dances on her moon-shiny Ripples, Fandangos on her Waves and Walzes on her Eddy-pools; transforms her Summer Gales into Harps and Harpers, Lovers’ Sighs and sighing Lovers, and her Winter Blasts into Pindaric Odes, Christabels & Ancient Mariners set to music by Beethoven, and in the insolence of triumph conjures her Clouds into Whales and Walrusses with Palanquins on their Backs, and chaces the dodging Stars in a Sky-hunt! – But alas! alas! that Nature is a wary wily long-breathed old Witch, tough-lived as a Turtle and divisible as the Polyp, repullulative in a thousand Snips and Cuttings, integra et in toto [whole and entire]! She is sure to get the better of Lady MIND in the long run, and to take her revenge too – transforms our To Day into a Canvass dead-colored to receive the dull featureless Portrait of Yesterday; not alone turns the mimic Mind, the ci-devant Sculptress with all her kaleidoscopic freaks and symmetries! into clay, but leaves it such a clay, to cast dumps or bullets in; and lastly (to end with that which suggested the beginning - ) she mocks the mind with its own metaphors, metamorphosing the Memory into a lignum vitae Es-crutoire [a Writing-desk made of the wood of life] to keep unpaid Bills & Dun’s Letters in, with Outlines that had never been filled up, MSS that never went farther than the Title-pages, and Proof-Sheets & Foul Copies of Watchmen, Friends, Aids to Reflection & other Stationary Wares that have kissed the Publisher’s Shelf with gluey Lips with all the tender intimacy of inosculation! – Finis! – And what is all this about? Why, verily, my dear Friend! the thought forced itself on me, as I was beginning to put down the first sentence of this letter, how impossible it would have been 15 or even ten years ago for me to have travelled & voyaged by Land, River, and Sea a hundred and twenty miles, with fire and water blending their souls for my propulsion, as if I had been riding on a Centaur with a Sopha for a Saddle - & yet to have nothing more to tell of it than that we had a very fine day, and ran aside the steps in Ramsgate Pier at ½ past 4 exactly, all having been well except poor Harriet, who during the middle Third of the Voyage fell into a reflecting melancholy, in the contemplation of successive specimens of her inner woman in a Wash-hand Basin. She looked pathetic; but I cannot affirm, that I observed any thing sympathetic in the countenances of her Fellow-passengers – which drew forth in a sigh from me & a sage remark, how many of our virtues originate in the fear of Death - & that while we flatter ourselves that we are melting in Christian Sensibility over the sorrows of our human Brethren and Sistreen, we are in fact, tho’ perhaps unconsciously, moved at the prospect of our own End – For who ever sincerely pities Sea-sickness, Toothache, or a fit of the Gout in a lusty Good-liver of 50? - …(p. 534)

Excerpt from

[To Thomas Poole, 9 October 1797]

At six years old I remember to have read Belisarius, Robinson Crusoe, & Philip Quarll – and then I found the Arabian Nights’ entertainments – one tale of which (the tale of a man who was compelled to seek for a pure virgin) made so deep an impression on me (I had read it in the evening while my mother was mending stockings) that I was haunted by spectres, whenever I was in the dark – and I distinctly remember the anxious & fearful eagerness, with which I used to watch the window, in which the books lay - & whenever the Sun lay upon them, I would seize it, carry it by the wall, & bask, & read - . My Father found out the effect, which these books had produced – and burnt them. – So I became a dreamer – and acquired an indisposition to all bodily activity – and I was fretful, and inordinately passionate, and as I could not play at any thing, and was slothful, I was despised & hated by the boys…


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