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«Heyman, Michael Benjamin (1999) Isles of Boshen : Edward Lear's literary nonsense in context. PhD thesis. Copyright and ...»

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destroy her. Of course, the subsequent denunciation of these imaginative responses only shows that, though this faculty is recognized and elevated to a degree much higher than previous writers, it is still not held in as high esteem as it is in Blake or Wordsworth. The nature of the imagination is different here, though it outwardly resembles the more progressive Romantic view. Lamb recognizes the characteristics of imagination, but attributes it to the lower level of childhood, that which is below the adult level--the image more common with the previous writers. In "First Going to Church," also by Charles, the girl who imagines church bells were angels singing, at the time of telling the story says, "But I never can hear the sweet noise of bells, that I don't think of the angels singing, and what poor but pretty thoughts I had of angels in my uninstructed solitude." (p. 383-4).

Such is an illustration of Lamb's sentimental, nostalgic view of children: the child's imagination is a powerful deceiver and should be discouraged, but out of the evil comes some good, at which the adult can look back in an amused state of condescension. 331 Charles Lamb's works about children rather than for children often reflected this same sentimental, angelic view of children which became increasingly popular as the nineteenth century progressed. The essay ''The Child Angel; A Dream" in The Last Essays ofElia (1833) shows just such a child, a half-human, half-angel babe deposited for heaven's safe-keeping. Because the child is only half-angelic, it "was to know weakness, and reliance, and the shadow of human imbecility; and it went with a lame gait" (p. 278).

Heaven is also shown to be a place which nurtures the child-like and excludes the adult.

The child, Ge-Urania, must forever remain a child, because "by reason that Mature Humanity is too gross to breathe the air of that super-subtile region, its portion was, and is, to be a child for ever" (p. 278). Child-like nature, in direct opposition to the more "gross" adult ''fallen'' state, is allowed access to heaven and is akin to divinity. But going further than the typical early-Wordsworthian linkage of the child and the man, Lamb's dream-child is a predecessor to some of the sentimentalized Victorian child constructs.

Like Ruskin's Gluck at the end of The King of the Golden River (1841), the child is 331 See Richardson (p. 23) for more about the Lambs' "sentimentalized" view of children.

trapped in perpetual childhood. Like the lisping, sometimes lame, angelic children in Mrs.

Molesworth's This and That (1899), the child is enfeebled sentimentally.

A Romantic child's reaction is derived from a different source from that exhibited in the Lambs' writing. Blake and Wordsworth portrayed a child that could participate in what Edgeworth would label a "reverie," but what they would dub a visionary trance. This trance is not the immature, almost useless fancy attributed to children by the pre-Romantic theories, but a creative moment, resembling divine creativity. As we have seen, the Romantic child is closer to divinity, the repercussions of which are felt most strongly in the concept of the imagination. This divinity, and the visions which accompany it, is, Blake saw, particularly strong in children. From his Platonic leanings, Blake believed in anamnesis, the idea that we are born into the world already stocked with knowledge from the realm of the ideal, or God. He writes, "Man Brings All that he has or can have Into the World with him. Man is Born like a Garden ready Planted and Sown. ''332 Richardson remarks that for Blake, "children are natural visionaries" (p. 21). Their inward vision is the god within humanity, but for Blake this is a complex issue. Because Blake's idea of divinity is inextricably linked to innocence, imagination, and most importantly, a refutation of conventional, i.e. Enlightenment, modes of "sense," the consideration of Blake's role in nonsense will be addressed in Chapter 7.

A Platonic interpretation of childhood and anamnesis are also the basis of some of Coleridge's writings, though his opinion of the child would fluctuate dramatically. In his "Sonnet: Composed on a Journey Homeward; The Author Having Received Intelligence of the Birth of a Son, Sept. 20, 1796" Coleridge gives an account of a "strange fancy," in which "some have said / We liv'd, ere yet this robe of flesh we wore" (11.5-6). In a notebook entry of 1804, he writes, ''To deduce instincts from obscure recollections of a pre-existing State--I have often thought of it... ''333 It is difficult to know whether such ideas came originally from Wordsworth or Coleridge, but Coleridge \vas certainly not as 332In Blake's annotations to Reynolds' Works, (471A). Qtd. in David Newsome.

Two Classes o/Alen:

Platonism and English Romantic Thought (London: John Murray. 1974). p. 3'+.

333The Notebooks 0/ Samuel Taylor Coleridge. ed. Kathleen Coburn. 2 volumes(London: Routledge & Keg,m Paul. 1%2), II. 2332.

strong a believer in them, and his poetry makes slightly more modest claims for the child.

Indeed, in Biographialiteraria (1817) he expresses his dismay at the elevated image of the child presented by Wordsworth. Coleridge quotes a few lines from the Ode (''There \vas a time... ") and wonders,... what does all this mean? In what sense is a child of that age a philosopher? In w~~t sense does he read "the eternal de~p?" In what sense IS he declared to be Jar ever haunted by the Supreme Bemg? or so inspired as to d~serve the splendid titles of a mighty prophet, a blessed seer? By reflectIon? by knowledge? by conscious intuition? or by any form or modification of consciousness?" These would be tidings indeed~ but such as would pre-suppose an immediate revelation to the inspired communicator, and require miracles to authenticate his inspiration. Children at this age give us no such information of themselves~ and at what time were we dipt in the Lethe, which has produced such utter oblivion of a state so godlike? There are many of us that still possess some remembrances, more or less distinct, respecting themselves at six years old; pity that the worthless straws only should float, while treasures, compared with which all the mines of Golconda and Mexico were but straws, should be absorbed by some unknown gulf into some unknown abyss. " (II, 138-9) In this sketch, which denies so much of the "Romantic" view of the child, the child's unknowing and unexpressed proximity to God makes it on the same level as "a bee, or a dog, or afield of corn; or even to a ship, or to the wind and waves that propel it? The omnipresent Spirit works equally in them, as in the child~ and the child is equally unconscious of it as they." (II, 140). While these statements might suggest a "nonsense" child construct, it is a negative image of the child's unknowability, not the elevated Godlike inscrutability ascribed to the child by Wordsworth and Coleridge himself, in other writings. In taking these passages into account, we must remember that the Biographia literaria was published twelve or more years after most of Coleridge's poetry on the child, and that, like Wordsworth, he changed his views considerably over the years. Most evidence in his poetry, letters, and other writings is contrary to this image of the child. The child he portrays, coloured by his son, the extraordinary Hartley, is given a visionary hue and appears to contradict his denouncement of Wordsworth in the Biographialiteraria. In the letter previously quoted to Thomas Poole of 14 October, 1803, he uses Wordsworth's own words to describe Hartley as '" exquisitely wild'! An utter Visionary! ''334 Whether as.:U-lColeridge Letters, II, p. 101-+.





the visionary "limber Elf" or the "Untaught, yet wise! ''335 infant, childhcxxl for Coleridge was, though perhaps something less than Wordsworth's image, an ideal state from which much of the value and ability of adulthcxxl is derived. Newsome explains that for Coleridge, "the particular genius of the child... was the combination of simplicity, innocence and sensibility which enabled it to penetrate to the essence of what it obserycd, without being able to explain the process in intellectual or rational terms" (p. 33).

Coleridge, in a similar manner to Blake, constructed a spiritual philosophy based on the imagination and its relation to the divine and humankind. The famous bipartite definition of the imagination in BiographiaLiteraria illustrates the inseparability of the imagination, God, and humanity: ''The primary Th1AGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM." (1,304). The "secondary imagination," being an "echo of the former," is identical "in the kind of its agency." (1, 304). The distinction between the two, though an area of continuing critical debate, is not important here;336 what is crucial is the acknowledgment that the "finite mind," or the human imagination, performs the same function as God, whose most important act was in the self-creating statement "I AM." Add this broad statement to Coleridge's observation that the child, whether in Plato's vision of anamnesis or not, was naturally endowed with a powerful imagination, and we must conclude that the child is much closer to God, not in the same way as a "bee," "dog," or "a field of com," but as a divinely creative, vital being. The imagination is not something we gain through age, but something pre-established.

Coveney remarks, "Only by the preservation of the child's wonder, joy, and spontaneous imagination could Man's moral nature develop into Reason and Imagination, the two sovereigns of his mature existence" (p. 88). Furthermore, Coleridge's description of the imagination, in a slightly earlier work, shows its similarity to the process of nonsense by which paradoxical meanings are endlessly juggled. In the Shakespeare Lecture on Romeo andJuliet(l811-12), Coleridge claims that the "nonsense" of Romeo's "0 heavy lightncss~ 335"To an Infant" (1796).

336The Engell and Bate edition of Bwgraphia includes an extensive list of sources related to this distinction. Sec note 4 on pp. 304-5.

serious vanity!" induces "a middle state of mind more strictly appropriate to the imagination than any other, when it is, as it were, hovering between two images. As soon as it is fixed on one image it becomes understanding; but while it is unfixed and wavering between them, attaching itself permanently to none, it is imagination. "337 From these two descriptions of the imagination, as a reflection of divine power and a holding of contrary images in the mind, we begin to see how closely in Coleridge's writing, the child, the imagination, the divine, and a mental activity almost identical to the function of nonsense, are related.

Wordsworth also saw the creative imagination as a divine faculty stemming from the child's proximity to divinity. This idea of the imagination is central to Wordsworth's childhood theory (in his earlier works), in which "Our childhood sits, / Our simple childhood, sits upon a throne / That hath more power than all the elements" (The Prelude, V, 11. 531-33). Childhood, then, is the "king" which sits above the adult world on the throne of imagination, the faculty which has "more power than the elements" in that it can create its own reality, strongly affected by, but ultimately transcending the limitations of exterior nature. In Gadamer and Sewell's "play" of nonsense, and in Iser's reader response theory, the child construct must receive and create simultaneously, forming the impossible sense-context in the gaps between sense and nonsense. Similarly, the Romantic child's divine imagination is both a receiver and creator. In The Prelude Wordsworth

describes the child's simultaneous passive and active imagination:

–  –  –

Such a child as this would be wholly accepting of nonsense and would participate in the "game" which creates other realities. Indeed, the Romantic conception of imagination is an earthly reflection of the creative mind of God, and the child is closest to this state, 337S amue l Taylor Coleridge, "Romeo and Juliet,"Lectureson Shakespeare in Samuel Taylor Coleridge, l'd.

I £.1. Jackson (Oxford: oUP, 1985), pp. 640-5+ (p. 648).

exercising "the holy forms / Of young imagination.,,338 Such elevated imagination is also able, as is necessary in reading nonsense, to combine imaginatively the known and the unknown, the unlike components, which cannot be, yet are combined. Just as Lamb's Maria Howe was able to see her aunt as both a good person and an evil witch simultaneously, so the Romantic child, even as an infant, is

–  –  –

The Norton editors of The Prelude note that this child performs the basic imaginative function of forming parts into a whole, but Wordsworth is implying more, emphasizing that the parts are not only "detached," but "loth to coalesce," which implies that the imagination does not simply combine parts, but actually allows the combination of unlike elements. 339 There is an implicit irrationality in such a faculty, an acceptance of combinations which have no logical connection. It is this faculty which nonsense takes advantage of. The mind receives wildly disjunct images which it attempts to combine in the imagination's play.340 Wordsworth demonstrates this type of imagination in The Prelude, in the boatstealing "spot of time." After returning the stolen boat, the young Wordsworth is haunted by his experience. Wordsworth attempts to remain within the child's mind which "worked with a dim and undetermined sense" (I, 11. 121) to describe his reaction. The image which 338Wordsworth, "lines left upon a Seat in a Yew-tree," 11.47-48.

339The components of the whole "same object" here may seem to an adult to be related, but to the child without experience, they are without the least relation.



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