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Meter, identity, voice: untranslating Christabel.

This essay poses a riddle: what can be plagiarized, but not copyrighted? It answers by connecting the technical management of meter with the property of "voice" which, in turn, responds to the problem of defining poetic "identity" in copyright law. The essay proceeds, first, to discuss how Coleridge links meter with the idealized identity he calls "untranslatableness." Next it contextualizes this understanding of identity in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century copyright debates, arguing that one strain of anglophone law grounds "identity" in nonsemantic aspects off form, such as meter. Taking Coleridge's Christabel as a case study, the essay's third section discusses how Walter Scott's "plagiarism Using ideas, plots, text and other intellectual property developed by someone else while claiming it is your original work. " of Christabel's meter in The Lay of the Last Minstrel ultimately affirms the identity of Coleridge's poem. The essay concludes with speculations on how literary materiality relates to transmission.


[T]hat rich, varied movement in the verse ... gives a distant idea of the lofty or changeful tones of Mr Coleridge's voice.

--William Hazlitt, "Mr Coleridge" (1)

This essay began with a riddle: what feature of a poetic work can be plagiarized, but not copyrighted? (2) The solution I propose, "meter" (Hazlitt's "movement"), turns out to illuminate a larger question: what can neither be copyrighted nor plagiarized? The usual answer, "voice," is generally agreed to be a legacy of Romanticism--specifically, the notion of "untranslatableness" instituted by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the Biographia Literaria. Left unanswered, however, is how untranslatableness (a standard of meaning) relates to the sound-patternings of verse, and why the metaphor of voice should prevail as a synonym for "essence" or "quiddity quid·di·ty  
n. pl. quid·di·ties
1. The real nature of a thing; the essence.

2. A hairsplitting distinction; a quibble.
" in print culture. The status of meter in Romantic poetics, I will suggest, provides a link between the phonic phon·ic
Of, relating to, or having the nature of sound, especially speech sounds.


pertaining to the voice.
 and the ontological senses of voice, while also offering a perspective on why this term came to substitute for what eighteenth-century law courts called "identity," i.e., the subject of literary property. Thus, the broader context of this essay concerns the relationship between copyright law, with its persistent distinction between the material "body" and the immaterial "spirit" of a literary work, and what contemporary theorists call "the materiality of the signifier." I will approach this issue by sketching a rapid history of poetic "identity" in its aesthetic and legal guises, and then examining an instance of plagiarism that might be titled "the case of the stolen meter." Beginning with an aspect of Coleridgean theory, the discussion proceeds by exploring Coleridge's precursors and descendants in copyright law, and ends by returning to his poetic practice and its imitators. Coleridge's Christabel, the poem whose recitation induced illegitimate repetition, is also the work that most dramatically exemplifies the relationship between voice and literary property. (3)

I start by premising that the Coleridgean thesis of untranslatableness responds directly to the controversy over literary identity that had transpired throughout the later eighteenth century in the arena of copyright law. Coleridge suggests as much when, in defense of his friend's originality, he declares that "WORDSWORTH, where he is indeed Wordsworth, may be mimicked by Copyists, he may be plundered by Plagiarists, but he can not be imitated, except by those who are not born to be imitators." (4) The threats of "plagiarism" and "copying" locate the problem of identity in the context of commercial disputes over piracy which did not, as David Saunders insists, initially concern "the subjectivity of writers." (5) As questions of ownership expanded from verbatim reprints to ambiguously authored performances such as translations and abridgments, however, jurists were obliged to construct increasingly elaborate definitions of the properties that the 1710 Statute of Anne might be held to protect. The consequent debates, therefore, generally took plagiarism as their key term.

The equivocations that attended legal attempts to characterize "the identity of a literary composition"--that which, being proper to the author, may in turn be stolen--will be examined in greater detail below. In the meantime Adv. 1. in the meantime - during the intervening time; "meanwhile I will not think about the problem"; "meantime he was attentive to his other interests"; "in the meantime the police were notified"
meantime, meanwhile
, we may note that Coleridge defines poetic originality less in terms of novelty than as the resistance to legal infringement, or as the interdependency of content and form. "[I]t would scarcely be more difficult," he affirms, "to push a stone out from the pyramids with the bare hand, than to alter a word, or the position of a word, in Milton or Shakspeare" (BL 1:23). Elevating bardolatry Noun 1. bardolatry - the idolization of William Shakespeare
idolisation, idolization - the act of worshiping blindly and to excess
 into theory, Coleridge argues that literary value may be gauged by the work's "untranslatableness in words of the same language without injury to the meaning. Be it observed, however, that I include in the meaning of a word not only its correspondent object, but likewise all the associations which it recalls. For language is framed to convey not the object alone, but likewise the character, mood and intentions of the person who is representing it" (BL 2:142). The "heresy" of paraphrase consists in its indifference to voice, the "formal ... impersonation Impersonation

wore the armor of Achilles against the Trojans to encourage the disheartened Greeks. [Gk. Lit.: Iliad]

Prisoner of Zenda, The
" of subjectivity held to guarantee the uniqueness of a verbal artifact. (6) The "person" is to be recognized not only by an "individualized" diction but also by "the order, in which the words ... are wont to succeed each other" (BL 2:58, 99). This subjectivity, then, is less an origin than a hypostasis hypostasis /hy·pos·ta·sis/ (hi-pos´tah-sis) poor or stagnant circulation in a dependent part of the body or an organ.

n. pl. hy·pos·ta·ses
 of the meaning lost when words are substituted or rearranged. (7)

The concept of voice names that shade of difference by which meaning transcends mere signification, and so assures the specificity of a verbal artifact. "The absurdity of arguing that the poetry of Tennyson cannot be distinguished from that of Longfellow," observes the legal scholar Eaton S. Drone, "would seem to be sufficiently apparent." (8) In the paradigmatic version of this claim, Coleridge skirts tautology tautology

In logic, a statement that cannot be denied without inconsistency. Thus, “All bachelors are either male or not male” is held to assert, with regard to anything whatsoever that is a bachelor, that it is male or it is not male.
 ("Wordsworth, where he is indeed Wordsworth, is Wordsworth and no other") by positing, as the second self of the empirical poet, a voice that both invites and resists appropriation--and whose singularity is indeed vindicated by its feeble echoes in the works of admirers. If all writers are "guilty of imitation," as Coleridge remarks, literature is the domain in which such flattery secures the identity of the original. (9) This version of identity may be understood as the horizon or excess of codifiable infringement: William Wordsworth's Wordsworthianism is what remains after pirates and plagiarists have done their worst. Thus the idea of voice answers the question posed by eighteenth-century courts of law--what is the essence of a property in words?--by proposing a quality of form that cannot be stolen and so transcends juridical Pertaining to the administration of justice or to the office of a judge.

A juridical act is one that conforms to the laws and the rules of court. A juridical day is one on which the courts are in session.

 discourse altogether.

Familiar enough so far, this account of voice takes an unexpectedly materialist turn when we notice how, in the Biographia Literaria, Coleridge associates untranslatableness with that most mechanical aspect of form, meter. In itself indifferent to meaning, meter nevertheless cannot (as Coleridge argues contra Wordsworth) be regarded purely as a "superaddition" to prose sense, for a patterned "recurrence of accent and sound" induces, as it presumes, "perpetual and distinct attention to each part" of the composition (BL 2: 12-3). Though no touchstone of "essential poetry," the discipline of metrical met·ri·cal  
1. Of, relating to, or composed in poetic meter: metrical verse; five metrical units in a line.

2. Of or relating to measurement.
 composition conduces to a "collocation of words ... so artificial" as to resist all rearrangement (BL 1:23 and note). Hence meter does contribute to meaning, both as a "stimulant of the attention" and as a corollary of the "language of excitement" (BL 2:69, 65). If meter originates in "passion," the achieved poem exemplifies the "interpenetration In`ter`pen`e`tra´tion

n. 1. The act or process of penetrating between or within other substances; mutual penetration; also, the result of a process of interpenetration.

Noun 1.
 of passion and of will, of spontaneous impulse and of voluntary purpose," through which the givenness of language is appropriated by Coleridgean dialectic (BL 2:65).

Coleridge's treatment of meter complicates his rejection of paraphrase by making nonmeaning a constituent of identity. To this extent, his organicism or·gan·i·cism
1. The theory that all disease is associated with structural alterations of organs.

2. The theory that the total organization of an organism, rather than the functioning of individual organs, is the principal or
 goes beyond New Critical doctrine in recognizing what contemporary theorists call the materiality of the signifier. (10) Meter, that is, concerns the "alogical a·log·i·cal  
Beyond or outside the bounds of logic.

a·logi·cal·ly adv.
" qualities of words--their existence as physical entities, prior to the message they carry. The total effect Coleridge calls untranslatableness depends in part on the sequences and juxtapositions (the "order") made available, and made significant, by these material characteristics. (11) Meter is both the most elementary and the most ineffable of linguistic properties, like a "yeast, worthless or disagreeable by itself," that "give[s] vivacity and spirit to the liquor with which it is proportionally combined" (BL 2:67). The "yeast" of materiality transmutes into the "spirit" of poetic voice: metrical properties inform composition both below and above the level of prose translation. (12)

By incorporating meter into his account of identity, Coleridge also makes the untranslatableness of a print composition rely upon its encoding of sound patterns, thus evoking the nontechnical sense of voice as physical utterance. In this way a "residual" version of sound serves as the alibi for a poetics grounded in the reproducibility of print. (13) Coleridge even attributes a degree of originality to the management of prosody prosody: see versification.

Study of the elements of language, especially metre, that contribute to rhythmic and acoustic effects in poetry.
. He observes that some of his contemporaries have misguidedly sought novelty in "the introduction of new metres ... having in their very mechanism a specific overpowering tune" which distracts from "the meaning or quantity of the words." "[O]ur elder bards," by contrast, "produced a far greater, as well as more charming variety by countless modifications, and subtle balances of sound in the common metres of their country. A lasting and enviable reputation awaits that man of genius, who should attempt and realize a union" (BL 2:33-4). The final sentence indicates Coleridge's ambition and its dialectical form: the union of old and new, compelling mechanism and charming modification. Thus, I suggest, the Coleridgean account of meter also requires that the contemporary understanding of "materiality" be extended, as it usually is not, to actual and even virtual oral utterance. Originality does not consist in the repression of sonic matter, but in its mastery. Disdaining the innovations of popular writers (Coleridge is thinking of Matthew Lewis), a truly original spirit would imbue im·bue  
tr.v. im·bued, im·bu·ing, im·bues
1. To inspire or influence thoroughly; pervade: work imbued with the revolutionary spirit. See Synonyms at charge.

 an iterable pattern with unaccountable variation. Such "numerous sounds" may be mimicked by copyists and plundered by plagiarists, but they cannot be imitated except to the credit of the originator (BL 2:34).

In this way the law of meter evades the law per se. Whether figured as body or as spirit, qualities of sound and rhythm exceed the purview of legal discourse on the identity of the literary text. More generally, we may say that the law cannot countenance the materiality of the signifier. To defend this claim, however, we will need first to review how and why literary identity became a question for the law--a story that begins in territory mapped by Mark Parker and Martha Woodmansee, among many others, but which changes direction when, in the nineteenth century, such identity comes to be identified by explicitly Coleridgean aesthetic criteria, and by an implicitly metrical understanding of voice. The next section accordingly yokes the disparate idioms and concerns of copyright and aesthetics to suggest how certain poetic practices, and a specialized definition of the literary, precipitate from the categorical tensions of property law. The formalist account of poetry, I suggest, recognizes materiality in the ascription as·crip·tion  
1. The act of ascribing.

2. A statement that ascribes.

[Latin ascr
 of a voice that is both more and less than the sum of its utterances. To instantiate In object technology, to create an object of a specific class. See instance.

instantiate - instantiation
 such an understanding of literature, the third part of this essay describes how Coleridge won his voice through the loss of a "property," the meter of Christabel. While part II reviews some familiar material on copyright, part III revives an old literary debate, the nature of Walter Scott's indebtedness to Coleridge in The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Through this act of "plagiarism," I argue, Scott confirmed the existence, as voice, of an ontologically elusive identity.


The canonical statement on literary identity may be found in Justice Blackstone's opinion for the pivotal 1774 case Donaldson v. Beckett Donaldson v. Beckett, 2 Brown's Parl. Cases 129, 1 Eng. Rep. 837; 4 Burr. 2408, 98 Eng. Rep. 257 (1774); 17 Cobbett's Parl. Hist. 953 (1813) is the ruling by the British House of Lords that denied the existence of a perpetual common law copyright and held that copyright was . "The Identity of a literary Composition," Blackstone declared, "consists entirely in the Sentiment and the Language; the same Conceptions, cloathed in the same Words, must necessarily be the same Composition: and whatever Method be taken of conveying that Composition, to the Ear, or to the Eye, of another, by Recital, by Writing, or by Printing, in any Number of Copies, at any Period of Time; it is always the identical Work of the Author." (14) The uncertain relationship between "sentiments" and "language" was noted and questioned by Lord Camden, who in his dissenting opinion on the same case asked whether this identity lay "in the Sentiments, the Language, and Style, or the Paper? If in the Sentiments, or Language, no one can translate or abridge TO ABRIDGE, practice. To make shorter in words, so as to retain the sense or substance. In law it signifies particularly the making of a declaration or count shorter, by taking or severing away some of the substance from it. Brook, tit. Abridgment; Com. Dig. Abridgment; 1 Vin. Ab. 109.  them. Locke's Essay might perhaps be put into other Expressions, or newly methodized, and all the original System and Ideas be retained. These Questions shew shew  
v. Archaic
Variant of show.

Verb 1. shew - establish the validity of something, as by an example, explanation or experiment; "The experiment demonstrated the instability of the compound"; "The mathematician
 how the Argument counter-acts itself, how the Subject of it shifts, and becomes public in one Sense, and private in another." (15) Is language merely the vehicle of sentiment, or are words themselves subject to protection? If "sentiment" alone constitutes a property, then any translation or abridgment should count as theft; yet the legitimacy of both endeavors had long been established in case law. (16) If language is the property at issue, then the challenge becomes that of distinguishing what is unique in each person's use of a common language. Content must therefore be understood as both identical with expression and independent of it.

Such objections prompted the Blackstonian William Enfield to insist that the "train of thoughts and sentiments which a man forms in his mind, though compounded of ideas which might have before existed in other minds, and expressed in words which have been before used, is nevertheless and properly his own." Enfield's caveat draws attention to the persistent problem of how to screen out the "public" components of a "private" utterance. The raw materials of composition, be they words or ideas, must be animated by an individual spirit to become property. To Blackstone's sentiments or "thoughts ... cloathed in the same language," Enfield therefore adds the stipulation that they be "ranged in the same order." (17) Thus while William Warburton, in what Mark Rose calls "the First theoretical treatment of literary property," had asserted that this property consists in "doctrine," later writers defined the literary work as a "Corporeation of Parts" or in terms of its "form and composition." Francis Hargrave further suggested in his 1774 Argument in Defence of Literary Property that "[e]very man has a mode of combining and expressing his ideas peculiar to himself," and that "like the human face," this combination "will always have some singularities, some lines, some features, to characterize it." (18)

Such refinements, as Woodmansee has argued, seem to anticipate the discoveries of formalism, even while eliding such technical considerations of form as rhyme, stanzaic structure, or even punctuation--a point the more striking when we recall that the property at issue in Donaldson v. Beckett was Thomson's blank-verse meditation The Seasons. None, however, undoes the metaphysical division perceived by both the advocates and the opponents of copyright. (19) In order to be recognized as property, writing must be divorced from "its Appendage appendage /ap·pen·dage/ (ah-pen´dij) a subordinate portion of a structure, or an outgrowth, such as a tail.

epiploic appendages  see under appendix .
 or Adjunct, the corporeal Possessing a physical nature; having an objective, tangible existence; being capable of perception by touch and sight.

Under Common Law, corporeal hereditaments are physical objects encompassed in land, including the land itself and any tangible object on it, that can be
 Part," i.e., the physical book or manuscript. Yet this separation between body and "original spirit" negates the quality of ostensiveness presumed by the model of real (landed) estate. (20) Naked of material "cloathing," "sentiments" and "ideas" remain "publici Juris," incapable of ownership once uttered. (21) In his dissenting opinion for the 1769 case of Millar v. Taylor Millar v. Taylor, 4 Burr. 2303, 98 Eng. Rep. 201 (K.B. 1769), is an English court decision that held there is a perpetual common law copyright and that no works ever enter the public domain. , Justice Yates had complained that the "Incorporeality in·cor·po·re·al  
1. Lacking material form or substance. See Synonyms at immaterial.

2. Law Of or relating to property or an asset that does not have value in material form, as a right or patent.
" of ideas renders them inaccessible to "identification": "Their whole existence is in the mind alone; incapable of any other modes of acquisition or enjoyment than by mental possession or apprehension; safe and invulnerable in·vul·ner·a·ble  
1. Immune to attack; impregnable.

2. Impossible to damage, injure, or wound.

[French invulnérable, from Old French, from Latin
 from their own immateriality im·ma·te·ri·al·i·ty  
n. pl. im·ma·te·ri·al·i·ties
1. The state or quality of being immaterial.

2. Something immaterial.

Noun 1.
 ... Yet these are the phantoms which the author would grasp and confine to himself." (22) A property, as Yates and others argued, must pertain to a "subject." or something present to the senses. Because it is impossible to picture a text floating free of its embodiment in print, that text can only be accorded a hypothetical existence. When Blackstone and his followers supplement "ideas" with their clothing in "language" or even "composition," they lift the dichotomy between matter and spirit to another level of analysis, without identifying the tangible qualities or minimum unit of significance that would invest language with the needed concreteness. (23)

The Blackstonian view of language is no less idealist than Yates's, because it treats words as secondary to thoughts even while acknowledging the unavailability of thoughts in themselves. Literary creations, in such a view, seem less bodies than ghosts, less things to be known than self-alienating visitations. The fear of propagating pseudopersons may also prompt Camden's deference to "the solid written Authority" he finds in "the old black Letter of our Law." (24) We may predicate, therefore, that the recurrent figure of incorporeal Lacking a physical or material nature but relating to or affecting a body.

Under Common Law, incorporeal property were rights that affected a tangible item, such as a chose in action (a right to enforce a debt).
 "phantoms" symptomatizes the repression--by all parties in this debate--of language in its dimension as mere letters or soundclusters, the material conventions that subtend sub·tend  
tr.v. sub·tend·ed, sub·tend·ing, sub·tends
1. Mathematics To be opposite to and delimit: The side of a triangle subtends the opposite angle.

 individual expression. Thus Ilay Campbell, a lawyer retained by the accused pirate Donaldson, granted the notion of a "possessio animi" and acknowledged that anyone who publishes has "a right to all the fame arising" from "the character of [an] author." He denied, however, that injuries to fame were "cognizable The adjective "cognizable" has two distinct (and unrelated) applications within the field of law. A cognizable claim or controversy is one that meets the basic criteria of viability for being tried or adjudicated before a particular tribunal.  in courts of common law," proposing instead that they be referred to "an extraordinary jurisdiction, erected for the purpose of regulating such matters, and of inquiring into literary frauds." (25) The polemical edge to this argument should not obscure the shrewdness of Campbell's prediction that new forums would be required to adjudicate adjudicate (jōō´dikāt´),
 disputes between authors. In this remark Campbell anticipated the double movement by which the law expanded its jurisdiction to literary matters, while projecting its own limit (and shadow) in the courts of a professionalized literary criticism. (26)

Campbell's doubts about whether literary thefts were "cognizable" by lawyers have in effect been conceded by the prevailing anglophone definition of legal "originality," which, as Saunders remarks, "is not a quality located in the work itself" but instead refers to "the minimum of labour that distinguishes a writing from a copying." (27) British and American case law, that is, developed the concept of originality from its Lockean basis in "occupancy" away from Hargrave's protoformalism, thereby subordinating questions of identity to questions of function. At the same time, however, literature proper (or what Hargrave called "a literary work really original") came to be understood as a domain of self-evidence that offered a foil to the blandness of the legal requirement. (28) Coleridge's "spirit" of originality is the quality that calls forth legal protection even while transcending its codes of measurement. We may anticipate Coleridge's own response to this paradox by glancing at the way a later and countervailing legal tradition reinstated the formal criteria and the essentialist rationale that had been ceded to literary criticism.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the desynonymy of authorship and literary property was a basic fact of British commerce; but the term of ownership, its alienability, and its relation to authorial prerogative remained controversial questions. Thus it happened that, as late as 1854, the philosophical origins of copyright could be reargued--and even reversed--in what Drone considered "the leading copyright case of this century, as Millar v. Taylor and Donaldson v. Becket [sic] were of the last." (29) In the case of Jefferys v. Boosey, which concerned the English publication of a libretto by Vincenzo Bellini, Justice Erle strongly endorsed what he considered the rights of authors, while denying that literary property consisted in either "the ideas expressed by ... words" or "the words themselves, they being analogous to the elements of matter, which are not appropriated unless combined." With this recognition of materiality and dismissal of expressivism, Erle went on to argue that "the claim is not to ideas, but to the order of words, and that this order has a marked identity and a permanent endurance. Not only are the words chosen by a superior mind peculiar to itself, but in ordinary life no two descriptions of the same fact will be in the same words ... The order of each man's words is as singular as his countenance." (30) Erle's opinion radicalizes Coleridge's standard of untranslatableness by severing diction, or "the words" themselves, from "the order of" those words, or their form (BL 2:77). In an analogy that recalls Immanuel Kant's abstraction of purposiveness from purpose, Erle compares this order to "the property in a stream of water, which is not in any of the atoms of the water, but only in the flow of the stream." (31) This purified form achieves "endurance" to the extent, apparently, that it sloughs off mere content, as though by shedding words it could also dispense with the "[p]oor earthly casket[s]" that Wordsworth imagines as entombing the voices of Shakespeare and Milton. (32) To the degree that form stands independent of words or ideas, identity must be indifferent to signification. (Here, in true Coleridgean fashion, extremes meet: while Erle's notion of form endorses the Kantian subordination of message--or informational "use value"--to perception, Lockean theory regards informational content only as the signifier of labor.) And although Erle's rejection of "matter" or "atoms" shares in the Romantic idealization idealization /ide·al·iza·tion/ (i-de?il-i-za´shun) a conscious or unconscious mental mechanism in which the individual overestimates an admired aspect or attribute of another person.  of form, it grants two crucial qualities of materiality--ostensiveness and durability--to a form that has been stripped of its concrete components.

If Justice Erle's linkage of physiognomy physiognomy /phys·i·og·no·my/ (fiz?e-og´nah-me)
1. determination of mental or moral character and qualities by the face.

2. the countenance, or face.

 with order recalls both the French droit [French, Justice, right, law.] A term denoting the abstract concept of law or a right.

Droit is as variable a phrase as the English right or the Latin jus. It signifies the entire body of law or a right in terms of a duty or obligation.
 morale and the Coleridgean defense of Wordsworth, it remains for Drone, nineteenth-century law's most vociferous apologist Apologist

Any of the Christian writers, primarily in the 2nd century, who attempted to provide a defense of Christianity against Greco-Roman culture. Many of their writings were addressed to Roman emperors and were submitted to government secretaries in order to defend
 for copyright, to unite the metaphysics of "intellectual creation" with the abstraction of "invisible form." Drone begins his 1879 Treatise on the Law of Property in Intellectual Productions by premising that
   [a]n intellectual creation without material form may exist
   in the mind of the author. But it is only when embodied in
   written or spoken language that it can possess the attributes
   of property; for it is only by language that it can
   have any being out of the author's mind, that it can be
   enjoyed by others, that it can be identified. There can,
   then, be no property in a production of the mind unless it
   is expressed in a definite order of words. But the property
   is not in the mere words alone ... It is in the intellectual
   creation, which language is merely a means of expressing
   and communicating. The words of a literary composition
   may be changed by substituting others of synonymous
   meaning; but the intellectual creation will remain substantially
   the same. (33)

While regarding the "incorporeal" idea as the true subject of property, Drone preserves Erle's distinction between words and their order; for the units themselves, regarded as transparent vehicles, may be exchanged for others without "substantial," or material, effect on doctrine. The pressure exerted by this assumption may be gauged by Drone's contradictory (and Coleridgean) hypothesis that the correction of a single word--from "spear" to "spur"--in Scott's ballad "Glenallen's Earl" might entitle the volume in which it appeared to a new term of copyright. Here the subordination of materials to ideas is strained to the point of inversion, as a typographical error mutates into a blot "sufficient to mar the whole" composition. (34) More stridently than Erle, Drone insists both upon the inviolability INVIOLABILITY. That which is not to be violated. The persons of ambassadors are inviolable. See Ambassador.  of each letter and upon their humble service to the profundity of the original concept. He pushes the claim a step further when he argues, without precedent from case law, that "[a] poem when read, a lecture when delivered, a song when sung ... may have all the attributes of property, though not a word has been written or printed. (35) Eighty years earlier, Lord Camden had dismissed Blackstone's equation of "recital" and "writing" by asking whether he proposed to "claim the Breath, the Air, the Words in which his Thoughts are cloathed? Where does this fanciful Property begin, or end, or continue?" (36) Drone, however, contends that "The Iliad was as valid a subject of property when recited from memory at the Greek festivals as it was when, long afterward, it appeared in written or printed language." (37) The primacy of oral performance in this genealogy underscores the indebtedness of legal theory to aesthetics, with recitation supplying the empirical alibi for Drone's idealization of authorial personality. (38)

Drone's reliance on the fidelity of memory, however, partly undermines the stability of his attributions. "So complete may be the identity of an incorporeal literary composition," he continues,
   that, even when it has no existence in writing or print, it
   may be preserved in its entirety for ages in the memory;
   passing from generation to generation, from country to
   country. The composer will conceive and give expression
   to a musical composition without putting a note on paper.
   It is a creation, without material form, in the realm of
   the imagination; but so complete is its incorporeal, invisible
   form, so marked its individuality, so distinctly perceptible
   to the musical mind, that another will reproduce
   it "by ear," without the aid of written or printed notes. (39)

By conflating poetry and music, Drone emphasizes the aural and nonsignifying aspects of language, apparently extending the literary-critical habit of designating meter and rhyme as the musical elements of verse. The qualities of permanence and inimitability lodge, for Drone, within this sensuous dimension; yet they are secured, paradoxically, by the iteration of the literary work, or its passage "from generation to generation." In the days of oral poetry, as Coleridge observes, meter "possessed an independent value as assisting the recollection, and consequently the preservation" of cultural artifacts (BL 2:67). When he associates the aural qualities of poetry with "incorporeality," however, Drone overlooks the material production of sound and the system of conventions that organizes sounds into language. In this as in much else, he recapitulates the phonocentric assumption that only written words possess physicality. The invisible cadence of the oral poem is its materiality, although that form has, as Drone imagines it, been spiritualized into voice. Voice may thus be understood as the idealization of form, with meter as its mnemonic Pronounced "ni-mon-ic." A memory aid. In programming, it is a name assigned to a machine function. For example, COM1 is the mnemonic assigned to serial port #1 on a PC. Programming languages are almost entirely mnemonics. : the beat that remembers, even while identity is dispersed. A literary property, in Drone's unresolved but exemplary contradiction, is the "subject" that exists only in its transmission; but if it correlates, as Susan Stewart suggests, with "the unlocalizable, the excess of the signifier, the nondeclarative in syntax," the courts of criticism exist to ensure that these impersonal qualities of language be reassigned to an authorial signature. (40)

At this point, the apex of Coleridgeanism in legal scholarship, we may return to the fortunes of Coleridge, "the music of [whose] divine philosophy"--as Serjeant ser·jeant  
n. Chiefly British
Variant of sergeant.


same as sergeant

Noun 1.
 Talfourd intoned in an 1837 speech on copyright--exemplified not merely "the liberality lib·er·al·i·ty  
n. pl. lib·er·al·i·ties
1. The quality or state of being liberal or generous.

2. An instance of being liberal.
 of genius," but "its profuseness." Careless of his "vast intellectual treasures," Coleridge "scattered abroad the seeds of beauty and of wisdom ... and was content to witness their fruits in the productions of those who heard him." (41) The logic of copyright, according to Talfourd, directly contravenes the literary requirement of influence, without which no voice could be posited as the source of its own dispropriation. The name for this prodigality prod·i·gal·i·ty  
n. pl. prod·i·gal·i·ties
1. Extravagant wastefulness.

2. Profuse generosity.

3. Extreme abundance; lavishness.
 is "Coleridge," an authorial personality canonized by the trope trope  
1. A figure of speech using words in nonliteral ways, such as a metaphor.

2. A word or phrase interpolated as an embellishment in the sung parts of certain medieval liturgies.
 of theft.


It may seem peculiar to associate individuality with a feature of language as anonymous and repetitious rep·e·ti·tious  
Filled with repetition, especially needless or tedious repetition.

 as its meter, but Romantic biography offers some precedents. An obituary notice in The Edinburgh Review, for example--echoing Hazlitt's praise in The Spirit of the Age--lingers on "the mechanical enchantments of [Coleridge's] versification versification, principles of metrical practice in poetry. In different literatures poetic form is achieved in various ways; usually, however, a definite and predictable pattern is evident in the language. ," whose "charm ... was like the charm of his voice." (42) The quality recognized as Coleridgean has less to do with "the introduction of new metres," or the mere fact of a rhythmical pattern, than with the cadencing and subtle modifications that lead Hazlitt both to praise and to denigrate "Kubla Khan" as a "musical composition" without meaning. (43) Voice links most powerfully, then, with a formalized resistance to the tyranny of form, like the temporizing Coleridge notes in his 1816 preface to Christabel. The meter of his poem, Coleridge asserts, "is not, properly speaking, irregular, though it may seem so from its being founded on a new principle ... Though the [syllables] may vary from seven to twelve, yet in each line the accents will be found to be only four. Nevertheless this occasional variation in number of syllables is not introduced wantonly ... but in correspondence with some transition in the nature of the imagery or passion." (44)

For this "new principle"--no jangling jan·gle  
v. jan·gled, jan·gling, jan·gles

To make a harsh metallic sound: The spurs jangled noisily.
 "mechanism" but an "interpenetration of passion and of will," somatic pulsation pulsation /pul·sa·tion/ (pul-sa´shun) a throb, or rhythmic beat, as of the heart.

1. The act of pulsating.

2. A single beat, throb, or vibration.
 and disciplined resistance--Coleridge claims all the originality he denies to Monk Lewis. He had, in fact, once planned to accompany Christabel with an essay "Concerning Metre," and his comments on the poem mainly revolve around its technical accomplishments (CL 2:716). Upon the 1815 publication of The White Doe of Rylstone, for example, he complained of Wordsworth's failure to declare "that the peculiar metre and mode of narration he had imitated from the Christabel. For this is indeed the same metre, as far as the Law extends" (CL 4:603). (45) While impossible to copyright--for unlike ink and paper, it cannot be seen--meter may evidently be plagiarized.

But how to put a finger on Wordsworth's imitation? The stated "law" of Christabel's meter is its adherence to stress count rather than syllables. In fact, as has more than once been noticed, the poem's meter is both more and less regular than Coleridge allows: more, because the majority of its lines are regular iambic tetrameter; less, because some lines do not possess four stresses, and the number of syllables varies more widely than he states. (46) Thus, since Coleridge cannot claim to have invented either tetrameter te·tram·e·ter  
1. A line of verse consisting of four metrical feet.

2. A line of verse consisting of four measures of two feet each, especially one in iambic, trochaic, or anapestic meter in classical prosody.
 or the accentual-syllabic system, he must mean that The White Doe, like Christabel sophisticates the rude accentualism of balladry bal·lad·ry  
Ballads considered as a group.
 with a scansion scan·sion  
Analysis of verse into metrical patterns.

[Late Latin scnsi
 based on variously combined classical feet. (47) Christabel's is a law of license or self-abrogation, by which the irregularities of passion are reinscribed as the transcendence of automatism automatism

Method of painting or drawing in which conscious control over the movement of the hand is suppressed so that the subconscious mind may take over. For some Abstract Expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock, the automatic process encompassed the entire process of
. Its legislation extends to the reader, enjoined to find the regularity belied by heterogeneous metrical units. The White Doe, however, softens this demand with its variously rhymed but otherwise standard octosyllabics, interspersed here and there with lines of anapestic tetrameter. The same meter in the eyes of the law, then, may not produce the richly varied movement appreciated by Hazlitt. Concerned nonetheless that the delayed publication of Christabel may have dimmed "the impression of its originality," Coleridge mentions its dates of composition "for the exclusive purpose of precluding charges of plagiarism or servile imitation from myself. For there is amongst us a set of critics, who ... would ... derive every rill they behold flowing, from a perforation made in some other man's tank. I am confident, however, that as far as the present poem is concerned, the celebrated poets whose writings I might be suspected of having imitated, either in particular passages, or in the tone and the spirit of the whole, would be among the first to vindicate me from the charge" (CP, pp. 481-2). Coleridge enters this plea in the "extraordinary jurisdiction" of literary criticism to claim property in the flow of his "rill." Lord Byron and Scott, the two celebrities, had each anticipated Christabel's appearance with publications that, like The White Doe, obeyed the earlier poem's self-canceling law. Rather than analyze their prosody, Coleridge focuses the question of imitation on "tone" and "spirit," those ineffable qualities, synonymous with voice, which, he contends, cannot be replicated insofar as they pertain at all: "He who can catch the Spirit of an original, has it already," he tells an admirer (CL 3:361). By raising the stakes in this way, Coleridge implies that the expressive origin reified by Drone may be indistinguishable from practices elsewhere denigrated as mere techne. The poetic spirit must indeed overcome the dead letter of mechanism, but this transcendence consists in a representation of, and a "shiftily identificatory relation to," the accidents of language that subtend authorial mastery. (48) Meter, the exemplary meeting ground of accident and design, both antedates and corroborates a fully dialectical consciousness.

The urgency of Coleridge's self-defense may be traced to its symmetrical inversion, an 1810 letter in which he exonerates Scott from the same charge. His correspondent had evidently read The Lay of the Last Minstrel, and regarded its widespread acclaim and extraordinary sales as a robbery of Coleridge. In answer, Coleridge surveys several kinds of evidence--"certain lines the same or nearly the same," similarities in "the manner of narration and the arrangement of the Imagery"--but pauses at only one, "the supposed close likeness of the metre, the movements, the way of relating an event, in short ... the general resemblance of the great Features, which have given to the Physiognomy of Mr W. S.'s late Poems their marked originality, in the public Feeling" (CL 3:356-8). Admitting some resemblance, he nonetheless acquits Scott of "plagiarism or even of intentional imitation." The fact that Scott had memorized and publicly recited Christabel clinches rather than undermines the case. "An intentional Plagiarist," Coleridge argues, "would have translated, not transcribed," for "a purpose [to plagiarize pla·gia·rize  
v. pla·gia·rized, pla·gia·riz·ing, pla·gia·riz·es
1. To use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another) as one's own.

], of course, implies consciousness" (CL 3:357). (49) The obviousness of the echo proves Scott innocent of intention, and his transcription preserves the essence of Coleridge's poem intact. This verdict, however, does not constitute an endorsement of the "marked originality" popularly ascribed to the Lay. There remains the possibility of "an unconscious imitation," as Dorothy Wordsworth described the lines she and William heard recited "in an enthusiastic style of chant" during their visit to the Border in 1804. (50)

Scott had evidently been "very much struck with" Coleridge's poem upon first hearing it from John Stoddart, and "desired him to repeat it again" until "he himself after this could repeat a good deal of it." And so, Dorothy speculates, Scott must have been "led by it insensibly in·sen·si·ble  
a. Imperceptible; inappreciable: an insensible change in temperature.

b. Very small or gradual: insensible movement.
 into the same path, and, even where the words are the very same ... I believe that he is equally ignorant of it." (51) When, in turn, Scott recited Christabel to Byron, "all took a hold on my imagination which I never shall wish to shake off." (52) Neither poet can tell what struck him; he can only repeat. As Coleridge comments on the "sympathy of feeling" engendered by such performances, they are "really a species of Animal Magnetism, in which the enkindling Reciter ... lends his own will and apprehensive faculty to his Auditors" (BL 2:239). In particular, he associates this effect with "metre itself," which "implies a passion, i.e. a state of excitement, both in the Poet's mind, & ... in that of the Reader" (CL 2:812). "As far as metre acts in and for itself," he adds, "it tends to increase the vivacity and susceptibility both of the general feelings and of the attention ... by the continued excitement of surprize, and by the quick reciprocations of curiosity still gratified grat·i·fy  
tr.v. grat·i·fied, grat·i·fy·ing, grat·i·fies
1. To please or satisfy: His achievement gratified his father. See Synonyms at please.

 and still re-excited, which are too slight indeed to be at any one moment objects of distinct consciousness, yet become considerable in their aggregate influence. As a medicated atmosphere, or as wine during animated conversation; they act powerfully, though themselves unnoticed" (BL 2:66). If its nonsignifying characteristics may loosely be called the "unconscious" of language, here Coleridge allies meter, or movement, with the shifts and displacements of fantasy. Like a drug, meter intensifies affect, converting recitation into possession. A pattern of semantically empty repetition, meter is the uncanny reminder, and vehicle, of "repetition itself." (53) Poetic movement elicits the intersubjective mobility that Jacques Lacan calls "the agency of the letter," and thus fulfills the author's wish "to communicate [his] possession to all mankind," as Campbell puts it. (54)

More prosaically, we may suppose that because meter is only realized as a concrete property during the embodied act of reading (because, more obviously than a written word, it is always both created and perceived), it offers a "free switchpoint for the identities of subject, object," speaker, listener, and so forth. (55) Coleridge implies as much in metrical experiments that choreograph their own performance: "Read with a nod of the head in a humouring recitativo re·ci·ta·ti·vo  
n. pl. re·ci·ta·ti·vi or re·ci·ta·ti·vos
See recitative2.

[Italian; see recitative2.]
; / And, as I live, you will see my hexameters hopping before you," he instructs in a verse epistle (CP 528.78). Nor is the insistence of meter canceled by the practice of silent reading: the medium of print exerts additional pressure to realize, or even "hallucinate hal·lu·ci·nate  
v. hal·lu·ci·nat·ed, hal·lu·ci·nat·ing, hal·lu·ci·nates

To undergo hallucination.
To cause to have hallucinations.
," a virtual pattern made both elusive and exigent EXIGENT, or EXIGI FACIAS, practice. A writ issued in the course of proceedings to outlawry, deriving its name and application from the mandatory words found therein, signifying, "that you cause to be exacted or required; and it is that proceeding in an outlawry which, with the writ of  by the frequency of its exceptions. (56) Thus the reader's mixed pleasure of mastery and submission, as Adela Pinch has remarked, "confer[s] iterability on a representation," exaggerating the ventriloquistic structure of all quotation. (57) If the meter corresponds to an "irregular" law, its gentle shocks and surprises must be the greater, its "reciprocations" the more demanding. Because the essence of this law is its variability, no reader can be sure of "get[ting] it right." (58) Such a suspended reader will "be carried forward" by pleasurable oscillations like "the motion of a serpent ... or like the path of sound through the air," from each "retrogressive ret·ro·gress  
intr.v. ret·ro·gressed, ret·ro·gress·ing, ret·ro·gress·es
1. To return to an earlier, inferior, or less complex condition.

2. To go or move backward.
 movement" collecting "the force which again carries him onward" (BL 2: 14).

The effect of Coleridge's theory and Dorothy's application is to cast Scott in the role of Christabel's heroine, who, "O'ermaster'd by [a] mighty Spell," is moved by "unconscious Sympathy" "passively [to] imitate" her enchantress (CP 501-2.605-20). Compelled to repeat, Scott takes on the burden of automatism at stake in Coleridge's negative account of meter as "overpowering tune." This trope of influence invests the physical qualities of Coleridge's verse with the power of folk spells, typically nonsense syllables (abracadabra) or the words of an occult language, uttered with exaggerated rhythmical emphasis. (59) As Scott much later recalled, in 1802 he had recently begun meditating a "goblin story" in verse when Stoddart "repeat[ed] to me ... the striking fragment called Christabel, by Mr. Coleridge, which, from the singularly irregular structure of the stanzas," gave him "an opportunity of varying his measure with the variations of a romantic theme" and so producing "the effect of novelty on the public ear." (60) Hardly a tale of unconscious possession (Scott, a lawyer, knew how to cover his tracks), this urbane acknowledgment belatedly confers intention on his response to a spectacular ventriloquy. But Christabel comes to Scott as sheer voice, dislocated from its source: the apotheosis of an "incorporeal, invisible form, so marked [in] its individuality, so distinctly perceptible to the musical mind, that another will reproduce it 'by ear,' without the aid of written or printed notes." (61) The identity of an orally transmitted poem, like the metrical law of Christabel, is at once over- and underdetermined. Pace Blackstone, recitations were not protected by statute, and in no case was an oral performance like Stoddart's treated as a piracy. Legally, Christabel was invisible; only its echo granted it the intelligibility of a cause.

Such asymmetries of tonal cause and semantic effect are prefigured in the onomatopoetic on·o·mat·o·poe·ia  
The formation or use of words such as buzz or murmur that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.
 stanzas that describe eerie distortions of ordinary sounds. Christabel's part 2, for example, begins with the "Custom and Law" of counting "five and forty beads" between each stroke of the matin mat·in   also mat·in·al
Of or relating to matins or to the early part of the day.

[Middle English, from Old French, sing. of matines, matins; see matins.]
 bell (CP 493.338-41). a law "strikingly consonant," as Karen Swann observes, with Coleridge's discussion of meter. (62) As insignificant as the syllabic syl·lab·ic  
a. Of, relating to, or consisting of a syllable or syllables.

b. Pronounced with every syllable distinct.

 elements of a line, the beads function like the "blank counters" to which language reduces when used unthinkingly, "in mere aid of vacancy" (BL 2:57). When the Bard retorts "let it knell" (CP 494.345), he apparently calls forth the material antecedent of his utterance. The toll reverberates in garbled echoes, from the "Death-note[s]" of the "Sextons' Ghosts" to the "merry Peal" of the mocking devil. When they "give back ... The Death-note to their living Brother," they invest it with resonances alien to the original signal (CP 494.353-9).

More reflexively, part 1 of Christabel narrates its poetic origins as echolalia echolalia /echo·la·lia/ (ek?o-la´le-ah) stereotyped repetition of another person's words and phrases.

 gone awry:
   Tis the middle of Night by the Castle Clock;
   And the Owls have awaken'd the crowing Cock:
   Tu-u-whoo7 Tu-u-whoo!
   And hark, again! the crowing Cock,
   How drowsily it crew.

   Sir Leoline, the Baron rich,
   Hath a toothless mastiff Bitch:
   From her Kennel beneath the Rock
   She maketh Answer to the Clock,
   Four for the Quarters, and twelve for the Hour,
   Ever and aye, by Shine and Shower,
   Sixteen short Howls, not overloud;
   Some say, she sees my Lady's Shroud.

(CP 483.1-13)

Here the chime is met by hoots hoots  
Variant of hoot2.
 from the owls, whose call provokes an answer from the awakened rooster rooster

its crowing at dawn heralds each new day. [Western Folklore: Leach, 329]

See : Dawn


symbol of maleness. [Folklore: Binder, 85]

See : Virility
. These lines were universally reviled by Coleridge's early critics, who repeated them with hypnotized regularity to illustrate the "nonsense," "childishness," "absurdity," and "unintelligibility" of the poem. (63) Reviewers particularly objected to the imitative im·i·ta·tive  
1. Of or involving imitation.

2. Not original; derivative.

3. Tending to imitate.

4. Onomatopoeic.
 harmony of line three--"Tu-u-whoo! Tu-u-whoo!"--each of whose "infantine in·fan·tine  
Infantile; childish.
" syllables, if Coleridge's prefatory pref·a·to·ry  
Of, relating to, or constituting a preface; introductory. See Synonyms at preliminary.

[From Latin praef
 remarks are to be trusted, must count as (or stand for) one full metrical foot. (64) Equally offensive was the "toothless mastiff mastiff (măs`tĭf), breed of very large, powerful working dog developed in England more than 2,000 years ago. It stands from 27 to 33 in. (68.6–83.8 cm) high at the shoulder and weighs from 165 to 185 lb (74.9–83.9 kg).  bitch," whose spondaic "sixteen short howls" evoke the syllabic content of two consecutive lines. An example of "unmeaning un·mean·ing  
1. Devoid of meaning or sense; meaningless: gave a vapid and unmeaning response to a difficult query.

" detail, she poses the punning figure for "doggerel dog·ger·el   also dog·grel
Crudely or irregularly fashioned verse, often of a humorous or burlesque nature.

[From Middle English, poor, worthless, from dogge, dog; see
," as Coleridge denominates the "lame & limping metre" of the "monkish Latin hexameters" he translates in his Preface (CP p. 482). (65) Hootings and howlings synecdochically Syn`ec`doch´ic`al`ly

adv. 1. By synecdoche.
 represent a poem apparently "manufactured by shaking words together at random," to "the exclusion of any theme." (66)

To restate this complaint more analytically, the confusion of signals suggests not only how one noise evokes another from its unconscious respondent, but also how meaning belatedly supervenes on contingencies of sound. The poem's blank counters instantiate its meter precisely as nonmeaning, or sheer materiality. (67) Sense, however, is not a condition of iterability; Hazlitt attests that "we could repeat these lines to ourselves not the less often for not knowing the meaning of them." (68) The poem's mimetic mimetic /mi·met·ic/ (mi-met´ik) pertaining to or exhibiting imitation or simulation, as of one disease for another.

1. Of or exhibiting mimicry.

 account of its own genesis thus rebukes the legal assumption that literary identity originates in "sentiments." To the contrary, Christabel allegorizes poetry as the moment of error in which, like Geraldine manifesting herself from a disembodied moan, mere sound converts into something other; this conversion makes possible the attribution of voice. The aesthetic object's immunity from paraphrase--"sheer materiality," in short--cannot survive its originary transmission. Yet if the senseless repetition of "Tu-u-whoo! Tu-u-whoo!" can be said to generate human utterances and interpretive uncertainty (in the questions that follow this first stanza), meter can also degenerate into mechanical barking; the law of iterability prescribes alteration as well as recurrence.

Needless to say, when Scott repeats Christabel, he does so with a difference. But despite his official disclaimer, the outer narratives of the Lay frame a primal scene of writing focused on the matter of composition--an autonomous rhythm seeking semantic content--rather than on spontaneous overflows of feeling. In the figure of the Minstrel, Scott evokes a preliterate pre·lit·er·ate  
Of, relating to, or being a culture not having a written language.

A person belonging to such a culture.

Adj. 1.
, prestatutory model of transmission that subordinates questions of originality to mnemonics. Uncertain how to begin, the Minstrel repeats Scott's own dilemma until "he caught the measure wild," and "in varying cadence, soft or strong ... swept the sounding chords along," filling "each blank" in his memory with "the poet's glowing thought." (69) The punitive version of this scenario appears in canto 3, where, upon repeating "one short spell" from Michael Scott's magic book, the dwarf is smitten by a punctual punc·tu·al  
1. Acting or arriving exactly at the time appointed; prompt.

2. Paid or accomplished at or by the appointed time.

3. Precise; exact.

 "stroke" whose provenance the narrator NARRATOR. A pleader who draws narrs serviens narrator, a sergeant at law. Fleta, 1. 2, c. 37. Obsolete.  "cannot tell." (70) Scott revises this myth of origins for print culture when, in retrospect, he chastises his Coleridgean "master" for leaving "unfinished scraps of poetry, which, like the Torso of antiquity" or "the proofs of careless engravers," challenge "his poetical brethren to complete them." (71)

The Lay's motifs of incantation incantation, set formula, spoken or sung, for the purpose of working magic. An incantation is normally an invocation to beneficent supernatural spirits for aid, protection, or inspiration. It may also serve as a charm or spell to ward off the effects of evil spirits.  and originary magic may thus be understood as thematic appropriations of a debt felt on the pulse. (72) In his first draft, Scott "packed" into his poem "all that was my own at least, for I had also included a line of invocation, a little softened, from Coleridge--'Mary, mother, shield us well.'" (73) Scott misquotes the fifth line of his own canto 1, which, by altering one word of Christabel's lines 54 and 582, applies the Coleridgean test of untranslatableness to Coleridge himself. (Perhaps the heresy of paraphrase inverts the prohibition that makes occult spells "deadly to tell," or to repeat verbatim.) Like borrowed rhymes and ballad commonplaces, Scott's allusions color, or give visibility to, the ghostly matter of meter. (74) Finally, in an interpolated episode of canto 6, a bard called "Fitzraver" sings in Spenserians of the "Lady Geraldine," who reads of herself in "Surrey's raptured line." (75) The reclining female figure shapes out the disembodied voice of Christabel, while deferring the question of influence to a more ancient tradition in which the latter-day master takes a subordinate place. An emblem of lyric interiority, the captivated cap·ti·vate  
tr.v. cap·ti·vat·ed, cap·ti·vat·ing, cap·ti·vates
1. To attract and hold by charm, beauty, or excellence. See Synonyms at charm.

2. Archaic To capture.
 Geraldine obliquely acknowledges the Lay's haunted formalism.

While the quantity of "lines the same or nearly the same" in Christabel and the Lay troubled Wordsworth, Dorothy could "not think the Imitations are of so much importance, Coleridge's poem bearing upon its face so bold a character of origi[nality], and ... being so very much superior to the other." His "Imitator[s]," she concludes, can produce only "faded impressions ... [like] the wrong side of a piece of Tapestry to the right." (76) This estimate bestows visibility and substance on the bodiless Christabel by reinvoking the physiognomic phys·i·og·no·my  
n. pl. phys·i·og·no·mies
a. The art of judging human character from facial features.

b. Divination based on facial features.

 analogy inherited from empiricism and the copyright debate. Coleridge himself, however, phrased the comparison in technical and aural terms, flatly denying a formal equivalence. Scott, he remarks in a notebook entry, is "in his diction and metre ... careless," as though the substitution of "us" for "her" could diminish a line's sensuous appeal. (77) A letter to Wordsworth derides Scott's later poem The Lady of the Lake for the "regular 8 syllable Iambics" that make up a "movement ... between a sleeping Canter and a Marketwoman's trot" (CL 3:291). This movement fails to effect the iterability Dorothy admires in Christabel; the Lay betrays "a want of harmony and of beautiful passages to remember, and turn to again." (78) Lapsing despite himself into limping doggerel or tolling regularity, Scott obeys the letter at the expense of his spirit. More exactly, by assuming the stigma of mechanism that haunts Romantic techne, Scott frees it for a transcendent reinscription. As Coleridge assures his well-meaning correspondent, "it will not [be] by Dates, that Posterity will judge of the originality of a Poem; but by the original spirit itself ... it is a subtle Spirit, all in each part, reconciling & unifying all" (CL 3:361).

Rather than steal Coleridge's voice, Scott's appropriation confers identity upon Christabel--the identity of an instigator, or a Geraldine. My point is not to find Scott "guilty of imitation" in any quasi-judicial sense (in fact, his investment of labor gives him clear title to the Lay), but to suggest how he participates in a drama of authorship that reifies call and response into mutually reinforcing canonical categories. This demonic tale of influence also offers a perspective on the idea of voice that distances it from the phonocentrism often associated with romantic aesthetics. Coleridge's debt to Scott consists in the deferred action that locates voice in transmission rather than expressive origin. Understood in this way, the concept points as much to the empirical author's absence as to any assumption of presence--and to the reconstitution of subjectivity as a formalism that is nothing but this history of transmission.

Empiricism teaches that we can only infer causes from the impressions they leave behind. The literary history of Christabel confirms this lesson with an implicit challenge to the logic of copyright. Unowned, the compulsively repeatable Christabel creates an authorial personality by possessing and reproducing itself in others. In so doing, it also poses the unthinkable possibility of a language without ideas, or what that hostile reviewer and eminent lawyer Francis Jeffrey called "a dark spell" to which we cannot "annex any meaning whatever." This very blankness, however, is inseparable from the poem's undeniable originality. (79) If the designation of literariness always implies, in its celebration of the wayward signifier, something greater than recuperable intention, Christabel's nonsense reminds us that poetic voice is necessarily also less than any pure articulation of meaning. Like its literary-historical analogue the canonical personality, the lyrical spell depends on accidents to vary the design of transmission. Thus Christabel's orality becomes the proof of its identity, an effect that persists in the absence of the dead letter. Sound reborn as pure spirit, it worketh a spell / which is lord of my utterance. "Christabel."


(1) William Hazlitt, Selected Writings of William Hazlitt, ed. Ronald Blythe (Harmondsworth UK: Penguin, 1970), p. 240.

(2) So far as I can recall, I first encountered this question in a graduate orals exam.

(3) Susan Eilenberg calls "the difficulty of speaking properly" about Christabel "essential rather than accidental ... there can be no language proper to an undefinable subject" (Strange Power of Speech: Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Literary Possession [New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992], p. 89). On the prepublication pre·pub·li·ca·tion  
Of or relating to the time just before a publication date, especially of a book: The marketing department was amazed by the number of prepublication orders. 
 history of Christabel, see pp. 100-1.

(4) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 2 vols., ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate bate 1  
tr.v. bat·ed, bat·ing, bates
1. To lessen the force or intensity of; moderate: "To his dying day he bated his breath a little when he told the story" 
 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983), 2:141-2; hereafter BL. Subsequent references will appear parenthetically par·en·thet·i·cal  
adj. also par·en·thet·ic
1. Set off within or as if within parentheses; qualifying or explanatory: a parenthetical remark.

2. Using or containing parentheses.
 in the text.

(5) David Saunders, Authorship and Copyright (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 23.

(6) On "the heresy of paraphrase," see Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1970), pp. 72-3, 201. Frances Ferguson critiques the New Critical concept of voice as "impersonation" in her review essay "On the Numbers of Romanticisms," ELH ELH English Literary History
ELH North Eleuthera, Bahamas (Airport Code)
ELH Entity Life History (database)
ELH Early Life History
ELH Epic Level Handbook (Dungeons and Dragons) 
 58, 2 (Summer 1991): 471-98, 483.

(7) On how "untranslatableness" correlates lexis and meter, see Paul Hamilton, Coleridge's Poetics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983), pp. 146-56.

(8) Eaton S. Drone, A Treatise on the Law of Property in Intellectual Productions in Great Britain and the United States (Boston: Little, Brown. 1879), p. 7.

(9) Coleridge. Letters, 6 vols., ed. Earl Leslie Griggs (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1959), 3:290 n; hereafter CL. Subsequent references will appear parenthetically in the text.

(10) As Frances Ferguson observes, deconstructive materialism does not refute but extends Coleridgean organicism; see her "Romantic Studies," in Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies, ed. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1992), pp. 100-29, 120.

(11) This is not, of course, a uniquely poststructuralist insight. W. K. Wimsatt long ago observed that "rhyme and other verse elements save the physical quality of words ... made transparent by daffy prose usage." Wimsatt calls poetry "an amalgam of the sensory and the logical, or an arrest and precipitation of the logical in sensory form" (The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry [Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1954], p. 165).

(12) Here and throughout, I build on Adela Pinch's remark about "the ways in which lyric voice is implicated in the nonsignificative aspects of poetic form," such as meter ("Female Chatter: Meter. Masochism masochism (măs`əkĭzəm), sexual disorder in which sexual arousal is derived from subjection to physical and emotional degradation. , and the Lyrical Ballads," ELH 55, 4 [Winter 1988]: 835-52. 846).

(13) I allude to Celeste Celeste is a woman's first name. Celeste may also refer to:

in Music
  • Voix céleste, a Pipe Organ stop.
  • Celesta, a musical instrument
  • Spanish/Portuguese for Sky Blue, Light Blue, Baby Blue
 Langan's account of "the residual sound effects of meter and rhyme" in "Understanding Media in 1805: Audiovisual Hallucination hallucination, false perception characterized by a distortion of real sensory stimuli. Common types of hallucination are auditory, i.e., hearing voices or noises and visual, i.e., seeing people that are not actually present.  in The Lay of the Last Minstrel," SIR 40, 1 (Spring 2001): 49-70, 50.

(14) The Cases of the Appellants and Respondents in the Cause of Literary Property, before the House of Lords House of Lords: see Parliament. : Wherein the Decree of Lord Chancellor Apsley Was Reversed, 26 Feb. 1774 (London: J. Bew, 1774; rprt. in Stephen Parks, ed., The Literary Property Debate: Six Tracts, 1764-1774 [New York: Garland. 1975]). p. 37.

(15) Cases of the Appellants, p. 52.

(16) The rest case to be tried under the Statute of Anne, Burnet burnet, hardy perennial herb of the family Rosaceae (rose) found in temperate regions, usually with white or greenish flowers. The European species are sometimes cultivated for the leaves, which are used in salads, for flavoring, and formerly as a poultice to stop  v. Chetwood (1720), concerned whether a translation might be considered a different book from the original. On this issue and the legal fortunes of abridgments, see Mark Rose, Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1993), pp. 49-59. For a thorough history of copyright legislation focusing on the book trade, see John Feather, Publishing. Piracy, and Politics: An Historical Study of Copyright in Britain (New York: Mansell, 1994).

(17) William Enfield, Observations on Literary Property, rprt. in Parks, ed., The Literary Property Debate: Eight Tracts, 1774- 75 (New York: Garland, 1974), pp. 11-2, 19.

(18) Qtd. in Rose, pp. 71, 88, 131, 124.

(19) Rose comments on the thematic appropriateness of The Seasons as a test case for copyright (p. 114). Martha Woodmansee attempts to derive Romantic formalism from the history of copyright in The Author, Art. and the Market: Rereading the History of Aesthetics (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1994], especially p. 52. For a skeptical view of this account, see Jerome Christensen, Practicing Enlightenment: Hume and the Formation of a Literary Career (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1987), p. 144 n.

(20) Council for the Appellants in Donaldson v. Beckett, in Cases of the Appellants, p. 19; Edward Young, qtd. in Rose, p. 6. Rose notes that the early case of Pope v. Curll, concerning the ownership of letters, established "the essentially immaterial nature of the object of copyright" (p. 60).

(21) Cases of the Appellants, p. 51.

(22) Qtd. in Drone, p. 32 n.

(23) Saunders notes the unresolved question in recent intellectual property law of whether a single word may constitute legal (copyrighted) originality (p. 22).

(24) Cases of the Appellants, p. 53.

(25) Ilay Campbell, "Information for Alexander Donaldson and John Wood" (1773), rprt. in Parks, ed., The Literary Property Debate: Six Tracts, pp. 6-7.

(26) Rose observes that "[i]f there was to be a statute protecting learned writings, judges would perforce find themselves making pronouncements on generic matters and on literary value" (p. 64). Though Rose is surely right about this, he does not comment on the relationship between the consequent legal impasse (as Judge Learned Hand famously declared, the line between legitimate borrowing and infringement can never be firmly drawn) and the development of an institutional criticism that "consisted of a quasi-judicial process in which the scholar was seen as determining the extent of one author's indebtedness to another" (p. 3). Saunders, by contrast, takes the incommensurability in·com·men·su·ra·ble  
a. Impossible to measure or compare.

b. Lacking a common quality on which to make a comparison.

2. Mathematics
 of legal and literary analysis for granted, endorsing the Weberian injunction to segregate different "departments of existence" without examining the diverging histories of these jurisdictions (p. 223).

(27) Saunders, p. 21. Thus a directory of names may be entitled to copyright, although little "invention" was needed to arrange the names alphabetically. On the other hand, a text identical to the "Ode on a Grecian Urn "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is a poem by John Keats, first published in January 1820. Its inspiration is considered to be a visit by Keats to the exhibition of Greek artifacts accompanying the display of the "Elgin Marbles" at the British Museum. " might be copyrightable if composed without any knowledge of Keats's poem.

(28) Francis Hargrave, qtd. in Rose, p. 125. For another example of the law's reliance on the self-evidence of literary excellence, see George Ticknor Curtis, A Treatise on the Law of Copyright (Boston: Little, Brown. 1847): "The poems of the great masters in every language ... however freely their authors may have used the thoughts of others, are at once seen to be just as original in a legal as they are in a critical sense" (p. 170). See also Susan Stewart, Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991), on how the law reifies "the indefinable aspect of the literary as that which escapes being" (p. 16).

(29) Drone, p. 223. Other historians of copyright have not generally shared Drone's view of this case's importance. Rose concludes his history in the late eighteenth century, while Feather arrives at the present without mentioning Jefferys v. Boosey. Saunders devotes a paragraph to Justice Erle's opinion, as an example of a French-style "personality rationale" for copyright that coexisted with the prevailing labor model (p. 148).

(30) Jefferys v. Boosey, reported in Charles Clark, House of Lords Cases on Appeals and Writs of Error, and Claims of Peerage, During the Sessions 1852, 1853, and 1854 (Boston: Little, Brown. 1870). pp. 661-3.

(31) Clark. p. 663.

(32) William Wordsworth. The Prelude [1805], ed. Jonathan Wordsworth et al. (New York: Norton, 1979), book 5, line 164.

(33) Drone, p. 97.

(34) Lord Deas, arguing in Black v. Murray, qtd. in Drone, p. 151 n.

(35) Drone, p. 98.

(36) Cases of the Appellants, pp. 51-2.

(37) Drone, p. 99. The ahistorical a·his·tor·i·cal  
Unconcerned with or unrelated to history, historical development, or tradition: "All of this is totally ahistorical.
 quality of this argument needs no emphasis, but Drone's position is typical of those who, with Wordsworth and Thomas Noon Talfourd, held that a "natural," perpetual and inheritable in·her·it·a·ble
Capable of being inherited.

in·herit·a·bili·ty n.
 copyright existed in common law and had been abridged by the Statute of Anne. On Wordsworth's participation in this debate, see Eilenberg, pp. 192-212.

(38) While Rose traces the "personality" theory of intellectual property (and Romantic "originality") back to Justice Ashton's opinion in Millar v. Taylor, I share Saunders's view that labor theory dominates British copyright law until the twentieth century. See Rose. pp. 114-20; Saunders, pp. 29-31.

(39) Drone, p. 7.

(40) Stewart, p, 16.

(41) Talfourd, Three Speeches Delivered in the House of Commons House of Commons: see Parliament.  in Favor of a Measure for an Extension of Copyright, qtd. in Curtis, p. 70 n.

(42) John Herman Merivale, unsigned essay in The Edinburgh Review, rprt. in J. R. de J. Jackson, ed., Coleridge: The Critical Heritage, Vol. II: 1834-1900 (New York: Barnes and Noble. 1970), pp. 27-55, 47.

(43) [William Hazlitt], review of Christabel in The Examiner, 2 June 1816; rprt. in Donald R. Reiman. ed., The Romantics Reviewed: Contemporary Reviews of British Romantic Writers (New York: Garland, 1972), p. 531.

(44) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Poetical Works I: Poems (Reading Text), Part 1, ed. J. C. C. Mays, vol. 16 of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2001), pp. 482-3; hereafter CP. Subsequent references will appear parenthetically in the text.

(45) See also CL 3:111, warning Wordsworth that The White Doe may "be talked of as an imitation of Walter Scott." For a related discussion of Christabel and "poetic debt" that surveys much of the biographical evidence presented here, see Rachel Crawford. "Thieves of Language: Coleridge, Wordsworth, Scott, and the Contexts of 'Alice du Clos,'" ERR 7, 1 (Summer 1996): 1-25.

(46) See Brennan O'Donneli, "The "Invention' of a Meter: 'Christabel' Meter as Fact and Fiction," JEGP JEGP Journal of English and Germanic Philology  100, 4 (October 2001): 511-36. 521-5.

(47) George Saintsbury makes this point more tendentiously in A History of English Prosody from the Twelfth Century to the Present Day, 3 vols. (London: Macmillan. 1910), 3:64. Others. such as Walter Jackson Bate Walter Jackson Bate (May 23 1918 – July 26 1999) was an American literary critic and biographer. He was born in Mankato, Minnesota.

He is known for two Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies, of John Keats and Samuel Johnson.
, simply assume that Coleridge "disregarded metrical feet" in Christabel (Coleridge [New York: Macmillan, 1968]. p. 67). The consensus among prosodists, as O'Donnell explains, is that Christabel exhibits "a variation of the accentualsyllabic system of versifying that is the stock-in-trade of the mainstream literary tradition from Chaucer forward" (p. 523). See also A. Elizabeth Kim, "Not, Properly Speaking, Irregular: The Metre of 'Christabel,'" Wordsworth Circle 24, 2 (Spring 1993): 74-8; and Ada L. F. Snell, "The Meter of 'Christabel,'" in The Fred Newton Anniversary Papers (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1929). pp. 93-115.

(48) I repeat a line from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's account of her metrical discipline in "A Poem Is Being Written," Representations 17 [Winter 1987): 110-43, 117.

(49) See also CL 3:39. 3:111.

(50) The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, ed. Ernest de Selincourt, vol. 1: The Early Years, 1787-1805 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), p. 633 (my emphasis); hereafter Early Years. William's remark is quoted in J. G. Lockhart, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea, and Blanchard. 1838), 1:223.

(51) Early Years, pp. 632-3.

(52) Leslie A. Marchand, ed., "Wedlock's the devil": Byron's Letters and Journals. Volume 4:1814-1815 (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1975), pp. 3189; see also p. 321 for Byron's opinion of Scott's indebtedness to Christabel.

(53) I allude to Neil Hertz's formulation in "Freud and the Sandman Sandman

induces sleep by sprinkling sand in children’s eyes. [Folklore: Brewer Dictionary, 966]

See : Sleep

Sandman - The DoD requirements that led to APSE.
" in The End of the Line: Essays on Psychoanalysis and the Sublime (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1985). pp. 97-121, 102.

(54) Campbell, p. 7.

(55) Sedgwick, p. 115.

(56) The point here concerns the print medium's alleged impoverishment of sensory experience and the consequent stimulus to audio-visual hallucination that, according to Langan, coincides with poetry's capitulation to print; see Langan, pp. 49-70, and also O'Donnell, p, 515. I would argue that "subvocalization," practiced more or less consciously by all readers of poetry, keeps meter in play as a "virtual" property even when the poem is not actually recited.

(57) Pinch, pp. 840, 845.

(58) O'Donnell, p. 521.

(59) Coleridge's reviewers refer often to the "spells" cast by his verse; see Reiman, pp. 240, 531, 891.

(60) Walter Scott, introduction to The Lay of the Last Minstrel: A Poem in Six Cantos (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, n.d.), pp. 17-9.

(61) Drone, p. 7.

(62) Karen Swann, "'Christabel': The Wandering Mother and the Enigma of Form," in Duncan Wu, ed., Romanticism: A Critical Reader (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1995), pp. 151-70, 168.

(63) Epithets selected from reviews in Reiman, ed., 216. 1,269, 35. Every negative review in this collection (the vast majority) quotes the first thirteen lines of Christabel; the few positive reviewers simply avoid mentioning them.

(64) See also O'Donnell, p. 522.

(65) Coleridge refers to the "lame & limping metre" of these Latin hexameters when he copies them into Notebook 21; the description is quoted in most editions of Coleridge's poetry, beginning with that of Hartley Coleridge and continuing with Mays (see CP, p. 482 n).

(66) Reiman, ed., pp. 240, 469, 471, 216; it is Francis Jeffrey who accuses Coleridge of "shaking words together at random." Saintsbury singles out line 3 as a "famous" innovation (p. 57). This is the first of six four-syllable lines, each of which serves to punctuate a long stanza or to mark a narrative "transition."

(67) Representations of nonmeaning do not escape the exigencies of meaning. As Susan Wolfson showed me, the "crowing" of the owls alludes to Wordsworth's "The Idiot Boy," which, like Christabel, examines the relation of metrical nonsense ("lips th[at] burr") to consciousness (Selected Poetry of William Wordsworth, ed. Mark Van Doren Mark Van Doren (June 13, 1894 – December 10, 1972) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and critic. He was born in the town of Hope in Vermilion County, Illinois. The son of the county's doctor, he was raised on his family's farm in eastern Illinois.  [New York: Random House, 2002], pp. 85-98, line 97). On representations of meter, see also Pinch's discussion of "Goody Blake and Harry Gill," where onomatopoeia onomatopoeia (ŏn'əmăt'əpē`ə) [Gr.,=word-making], in language, the representation of a sound by an imitation thereof; e.g., the cat mews. Poets often convey the meaning of a verse through its very sound.  "marks out the rude meter of the poem" (p. 842).

(68) Reiman, ed., p. 531.

(69) Scott, Lay, p. 33. See Nancy Moore Goslee. Scott the Rhymer (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1988), on how these lines resolve the Percy-Ritson debate over "whether minstrels were original composers or merely rote performers" (p. 24).

(70) Scott, Lay, p. 75.

(71) Scott, Lay, p. 18.

(72) Compare Sedgwick's account of knowing Louis Untermeyer's "Disenchanted," not by heart but by "pulse" (p. 113).

(73) Scott, Lay, p. 19. Coleridge notes that of the allegedly borrowed lines, many "consisted of Phrases, such as Jesu Marla! shield thee well, &c--which might have occurred to a score of Writers who had been previously familiar with Poems & Romances written before the Reformation" (CL 3:357). Byron, however, described the line in question as "word for word from 'Christabel,'" which he called "the origin of all Scott's metrical tales" (qtd. in CL 3:xlv).

(74) See Hertz, p. 102 and throughout, on the idea of figurative language as "coloring" for sheer repetition.

(75) Scott, Lay, canto 6, stanzas 16-20.

(76) Early Years, p. 633 (my emphasis).

(77) The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Kathleen Coburn (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959-), 2:2599.

(78) Early Years, p. 590.

(79) Reiman, ed., p. 471. Even hostile reviewers of Christabel were inclined to grant its originality, however ironically they meant the compliment; see, e.g., pp. 24, 239, 373, 891.

Margaret Russett is the author of De Quincey's Romanticism: Canonical Minority and the Forms of Transmission (1997) and articles on Romantic literature, contemporary fiction, and literary theory. Her current book project examines the relationship between Romantic authenticity and imposture im·pos·ture  
The act or instance of engaging in deception under an assumed name or identity.

[French, from Old French, from Late Latin impost
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Author:Russett, Margaret
Publication:Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900
Article Type:Critical Essay
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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