One has just been sent out as a biblical dove, has found nothing green, and slips back
into the darkness of the ark -- Kafka

Monday, July 4, 2016

Re Pantisocracy: Letter from S. T. Coleridge to Robert Southey

It'll take some time, but I think it worthwhile: I'll peck out the entire thing.


*

 Autumn, 1794

Last night, dear Southey, I received a special invitation from Dr. Edwards (the great Grecian of Cambridge and heterodox divine) to drink tea and spend the evening. I there met a councillor whose name is Lushington, a democrat, and a man of the most powerful and Briarean intellect. I was challenged on the subject of pantisocracy, which is, indeed, the universal topic at the University. A discussion began and continued for six hours. In conclusion, Lushington and Edwards declared the system impregnable, supposing the assigned quantum of virtue and genius in the first individuals. I came home at one o'clock this morning in the honest consciousness of having exhibited closer argument in more elegant and appropriate language than I had ever conceived myself capable of. Then my heart smote me, for I saw your letter on the propriety of taking servants with us. I had answered that letter, and feel conviction that you will perceive the error into which the tenderness of your nature had led you. But other queries obtruded themselves on my understanding. The more perfect our system is, supposing the necessary premises, the more eager in anxiety am I that the necessary premises exist. O for that Lyncean eye that can discover in the acorn of Error the rooted and widely spreading oak of Misery! Quaere: should not all who mean to become members of our community be incessantly meliorating their temper and elevating their understandings? Qu.: whether a very respectable quantity of acquired knowledge (History, Politics, above all, Metaphysics, without which no man can reason but with women and children) be not a prerequisite to the improvement, of the head and heart? Qu.: whether our Women have not been taught by us habitually to contemplate the littleness of individual comforts and a passion for the novelty of the scheme rather than a generous enthusiasm of Benevolence? Are they saturated with the Divinity of Truth sufficiently to be always wakeful? In the present state of their minds, whether it is not probable that the Mothers will tinge the minds of the infants with prejudication? The questions are meant merely as motives to you, Southey, to the strengthening the minds of the Women, and stimulating them to literary acquirements. But, Southey, there are Children going with us. Why did I never dare in my disputations with the unconvinced to hint at this circumstance? Was it not because I knew, even to certainty of conviction, that it is subversive of rational hopes of a permanent system? These children, -- the little Frickers, for instance, and your brothers, -- are they not already deeply tinged with the prejudices and errors of society? Have they not learned from their schoolfellows Fear and Selfishness, of which the necessary offsprings are Deceit and desultory Hatred? How are we to prevent them from infecting the minds of our children? By reforming their judgments? At so early an age, can they have felt the ill consequences of their errors in a manner sufficiently vivid to make this reformation practicable? How can we insure their silence concerning God, etc.? Is it possible they should enter into our motives for this silence? If not, we must produce their Obedience by Terror. The repetition is sufficient. I need not inform you that they are as inadequate as inapplicable. I have told you, Southey, that I will accompany you on an imperfect system. I ask the question that I may know whether or not I should write the Book of Pantisocracy.
I received your letter of Oyez; it brought a smile on a countenance that for these three weeks has been cloudy and stern in its solitary hours. In company, wit and laughter are Duties. Slovenly? I could mention a lady of fashionable rank, and most fashionable ideas, who declared to Caldwell that I (S. T. Coleridge) was a man of the most courtly and polished manners, of the most gentlemanly address she had ever met with. But I will not crow! Slovenly, indeed! 


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