Sunday, November 7, 2021

The Sublimation of Great Oxford

 The Sublimation of Sublime Oxford


*Then when this body falls in funeral fire,

My name shall live and my best part aspire. * Ovid


... in that which becks

Our ready minds to fellowship divine,

A fellowship with essence, till we shine

Fully alchemized, and free of space.

(Keats, Endymion I) 


Sublimity is the echo of a noble mind – Longinus


Of the many qualities Castiglione's characters attribute to their perfect courtier, oratory and the manner in which the courtier presents himself while speaking is amongst the most highly discussed. Wayne Rebhorn, a Castiglione scholar, states that the courtier's speech and behavior in general is “designed to make people marvel at him, to transform himself into a beautiful spectacle for others to contemplate. -- Wikipedia, Book of the Courtier


James I appropriated sublime/admirable style to himself.


Jonson, Poetaster

Envy the living not the dead doth bite,

For after death all men receive their right.

*Then when this body falls in funeral fire,

My name shall live and my best part aspire. *

[after Ovid, Amores 1:15] 


Milton, Areopagitica

We have it not, that can be heard of, from any ancient State, or politie, or Church, nor by any Statute left us by our Ancestors elder or later; nor from the moderne custom of any refor∣med Citty, or Church abroad; but from the most Antichristian Coun∣cel, and the most tyrannous Inquisition that ever inquir'd. Till then Books were ever as freely admitted into the World as any other birth: the issue of the brain was no more stifl'd then the issue of the womb: no envious Juno sate cros-leg'd over the nativity of any mans intellectuall off spring; *but if it prov'd a Monster, who denies, but that it was justly burnt, or sunk into the Sea*. 


Shakespeare, The Tempest


Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,

And ye that on the sands with printless foot

Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him

When he comes back; you demi-puppets that

By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,

Whereof the ewe not bites, and you whose pastime

Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice

To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid,

Weak masters though ye be, I have bedimm'd

The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds,

And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault

Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder

Have I given fire and rifted Jove's stout oak

With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory

Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck'd up

The pine and cedar: graves at my command

Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth

By my so potent art. But this rough magic

I here abjure, and, when I have required

Some heavenly music, which even now I do,

To work mine end upon their senses that

This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,

Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,

*And deeper than did ever plummet sound

I'll drown my book.*


William Shakespeare – Anagram – Is Like A Sperm Whale


Melville, Billy in the Darbies

Ay, Ay, Ay, all is up; and I must up to

Early in the morning, aloft from alow.

On an empty stomach, now, never it would do.

They'll give me a nibble--bit o' biscuit ere I go.

Sure, a messmate will reach me the last parting cup;

But, turning heads away from the hoist and the belay,

Heaven knows who will have the running of me up!

No pipe to those halyards.--But aren't it all sham?

A blur's in my eyes; it is dreaming that I am.

A hatchet to my hawser? all adrift to go?

The drum roll to grog, and Billy never know?

But Donald he has promised to stand by the plank;

So I'll shake a friendly hand ere I sink.

But--no! It is dead then I'll be, come to think.

I remember Taff the Welshman when he sank.

And his cheek it was like the budding pink.

But me they'll lash me in hammock, drop me deep.

Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I'll dream fast asleep.

I feel it stealing now. Sentry, are you there?

Just ease this darbies at the wrist, and roll me over fair,

I am sleepy, and the oozy weeds about me twist. 


“Champollion deciphered the wrinkled granite hieroglyphics. But there is no Champollion to decipher the Egypt of every man's and every being's face. Physiognomy, like every other human science, is but a passing fable. If then, Sir William Jones, who read in thirty languages, could not read the simplest peasant's face in its profounder and more subtle meanings, how may unlettered Ishmael hope to read the awful Chaldee of the Sperm Whale's brow? I but put that brow before you. Read it if you can.”

― Herman Melville , Moby-Dick or, the Whale 


Patrick Cheney

English Authorship and the Early Modern Sublime

 ...Sources of the sublime identified by Longinus appear in Hotspur’s speeches : ‘great thoughts’; inspired emotion’; heightened figuration; ‘noble diction’; and elevated word-arrangement’ (Longinus, On Sublimity 8.1: 149). Naturally, the actor of Shakespeare’s lines would perform the noble diction and elevated word-arrangement with inspired emotion, taking the character’s – the author’s – own cue: ‘Oh, the blood more stirs.’ Hotspur’s ‘elevated…figures of speech’, too, represent great thoughts, for, in his defence of ‘honor’, he imagines himself TRANSPORTED: his imagination travels across the horizontal coordinates of ‘east unto the west’, ‘north to south’, and up the vertical coordinate of the moon and down to the ocean-bottom – the ocean being, for Longinus, one of the principal images of the sublime. Such transport is the premier trajectory that the sublime tracks. In his 1589 Art of English Poetry, George Puttenham calls ‘Metaphora’ the ‘figure of transport’, because the word ‘metaphor’ means to carry across, ‘a kind of wresting of a single word from his own right signification, to another not of natural. But yet of some affinity or convenience with it’ (Vickers). Sublime transport is the ultimate figuration, and Hotspur speaks it.

‘Imagination’ is the word Shakespeare uses in line 198, when the father says of the son, ‘Imagination of some great exploit/Drives him beyond the bounds of patience’. Unlike Guiderius in Cymbeline, the idea of a ‘great exploit’ does not lead Hotspur into action but, like Arviragus – yet dangerously – into ‘imagination’, which Northumberland contrasts with the rational principle of ‘patience’. ‘Beyond the bounds’ is as succinct a definition of the sublime as we might wish to find.


Milton, Areopagitica

I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how Bookes demeane themselves as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors: For Books are not absolute∣ly dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as a∣ctive as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously produ∣ctive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand un∣lesse warinesse be us'd, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbal∣m'd and treasur'd up on purpose to a life beyond life. 'Tis true, no age can restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great losse; and re∣volutions of ages doe not oft recover the losse of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole Nations fare the worse. We should be wary therefore what persecution we raise against the living la∣bours of publick men, how we spill that season'd life of man preser∣v'd and stor'd up in Books; since we see a kinde of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdome, and if it extend to the whole impression, a kinde of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elementall life, but strikes at that ethereall and and fist essence, the breath of reason it selfe, slaics an immortality rather then a life. But lest I should be condemn'd of introducing licence, while I oppose Licencing, I refuse not the paines to be so much Hi∣storicall, as will serve to shew what hath been done by ancient and famous Commonwealths, against this disorder, till the very time that this project of licencing crept out of the Inquisition, was catcht up 


Catherine Maxwell, Female Sublime.

What this poem [Milton's sonnet on Shakespeare] seems to be rehearsing is the sublime. Shakespeare’s admirers, stupefied by the effect of his language to ‘wonder and astonishment’, are like those wrought upon by a sublime spectacle. Astonishment says Burke is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree. Shakespeare’s verse is a pleasurable petrification, a stimulating paralysis. Readers, the poem suggests, remain arrested at that stage of the sublime in which they are exhilarated – dizzy and reeling under the bombardment of its mixed images and multiple dislocations. However, Milton’s poem reproduces this scene of petrification in order to break out of it. The mental spin induced by lines 13-14 mimes the dizzying effect produced by Shakespeare’s verse, but the cool control and detachment with which Milton describes the Shakespearian sublime suggests assimilation – the poet has absorbed it and has moved beyond it to a new creativity. Moreover, the poem is itself monumentalising and thus substitutive – it saves the potentially stricken Milton from the paralysis of perpetual witness by offering itself as epitaph. Yet this is no simple act of submission. An example itself of highly ingenious ‘conceiving’, the poem not only reproduces the effect of Shakespeare’s language but it rivals it. By writing in a sublime manner about the way the sublime arrests writing, and by appropriating the precursor as ‘my Shakespeare’, the poem masters the experience that might otherwise leave the imagination subject. p.50


The key figures and ideas which Milton uses in this poem to express the power of a sublime precursor and the effects of his legacy are ones which will recur in different form in Shelley’s poetry. Paralysis, petrification, impress or inscription are some of the means by which we will recognize the *disfigurative mark of the sublime*, while defensive evasion through forms of proxy or shielding shows us ways of protecting oneself against total constriction. 


Milton, the sublime and dramas of choice: Figures of Heroic and Literary Virtue

By Irene Montori 

...For Milton, Shakespeare’s imagination holds a paralysing, a sort of “marmorialising” effect on the reader, which anticipates Comus’s paralysis of the Lady. Her stasis is also an evident allusion to Hermione’s statue in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. The statue of Hermione, a great example of Renaissance art, is a perfect imitation of the original, “a piece many years in doing and now newly performed by the rare Italian master, Julio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom, so perfectly he is her ape”. But, like the Lady of A Maske, she does not have the ability to speak (snip)

...Th(e) sublime moment of reunion between the earthly and the heavenly emerges from a momentary state of wonder, which is also one of the distinguishing features of the romance genre. Through the association of the passions and astonishment and wonder with the marvellous and the Christian supernatural, an early modern poetics of the sublime developed in the context of Shakespeare’s late romances and Spenser’s chivalric poem.

     The Lady’s release from the marble seat in Milton’s masque evokes a similar attempt to collapse the distance between the material and the divine worlds, through the mediation of Sabrina. However, in creating his sublime fiction of transport, Milton distances himself from Shakespeare and Spenser. The Lady’s salvation does not originate from a seductive, excessive, and over-spontaneous rhetoric, like in Shakespeare, nor does it emerge as a momentary experience of rapturous wonder, like in Spenser. Milton’s model of sublime poetry eventually results from the combination of imagination and wonder with the assistance of divine grace. Poetic creation, in other words, hinges on the same dialectic that drives the individual’s self-making between active virtue and divine providence. In the very last words of the Attendant Spirit’s epilogue, Milton recalls the dichotomy between virtuous and providential action:

Love Virtue, she alone is free,

She can teach ye how to climb

Higher than the sphery chime;

Or if Virtue feeble were,

Heaven itself would stoop to her. (1118-1122)



Sonnet 72

O! lest the world should task you to recite

What merit lived in me, that you should love

After my death,--dear love, forget me quite,

For you in me can nothing worthy prove.

Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,

To do more for me than mine own desert,

And hang more praise upon deceased I

Than niggard truth would willingly impart:

O! lest your true love may seem false in this

That you for love speak well of me untrue,

My name be buried where my body is,

And live no more to shame nor me nor you.

   For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,

   And so should you, to love things nothing worth. 


Billy Budd/Beauty - noble foundling

'Yes, Billy Budd was a foundling, a presumable by-blow, and, evidently, no ignoble one. Noble descent was as evident in him as in a blood horse.' (Melville, _Billy Budd_)

(note – Billy Budd name of contemporary racehorse)


Melvillian Sublime:

1850: "Hawthorne and His Mosses" by Herman Melville

"Would that all excellent BOOKS were FOUNDLINGS, without father or

mother, that so it might be we could glorify them, without including

their ostensible authors."

“I know not what would be the right name to put on the title-page

of an excellent book, but this I feel, that the names of all fine

authors are fictitious ones, far more than that of Junius,-- simply

standing, as they do, for the mystical, ever-eluding SPIRIT of all

BEAUTY, which ubiquitously possesses men of genius. Purely imaginative

as this fancy may appear, it nevertheless seems to receive some

warranty from the fact, that on a personal interview no great author

has ever come up to the idea of his reader. But that dust of which our

bodies are composed, how can it fitly express the nobler intelligences

among us?”


Billy Budd/Vere’s Bastard Book

Milton, Areopagitica

We have it not, that can be heard of, from any ancient State, or politie, or Church, nor by any Statute left us by our Ancestors elder or later; nor from the moderne custom of any refor∣med Citty, or Church abroad; but from the most Antichristian Coun∣cel, and the most tyrannous Inquisition that ever inquir'd. Till then Books were ever as freely admitted into the World as any other birth: the issue of the brain was no more stifl'd then the issue of the womb: no envious Juno sate cros-leg'd over the nativity of any mans intellectuall off spring; *but if it prov'd a Monster, who denies, but that it was justly burnt, or sunk into the Sea*. 


Sacrificial Sublime:

Billy Budd, Melville

Without volition as it were, as if indeed the ship's populace were but the vehicles of some vocal current electric, with one voice from alow and aloft came a resonant sympathetic echo--"God bless Captain Vere!" And yet at that instant Billy alone must have been in their hearts, even as he was in their eyes.

At the pronounced words and the spontaneous echo that voluminously rebounded them, Captain Vere, either thro' stoic self-control or a sort of momentary paralysis induced by emotional shock, stood erectly rigid as a musket in the ship-armorer's rack.

The hull deliberately recovering from the periodic roll to leeward was just regaining an even keel, when the last signal, a preconcerted dumb one, was given. At the same moment it chanced that the vapory fleece hanging low in the East, was shot thro' with a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God seen in mystical vision, and simultaneously therewith, watched by the wedged mass of upturned faces, Billy ascended; and, ascending, took the full rose of the dawn.

In the pinioned figure, arrived at the yard-end , to the wonder of all no motion was apparent, none save that created by the ship's motion, in moderate weather so majestic in a great ship ponderously cannoned.


Beli Budd:

The name ‘Billy Budd’ has been analysed by scholars to have its history and references in the tradition of the British Druids, whereby, “the god known as Hu, Beli, and Budd was seen ‘as the greatest God, ad viewed as riding on the sunbeams.” (quoted in H. Bruce Franklin, The Wake of the Gods). Katea Duff


Holding/Restraining/Ruling Shakespeare's Quill (Darbies):

From To the Deceased Author of these Poems (William Cartwright)

by Jasper Mayne

...And as thy Wit was like a Spring, so all

The soft streams of it we may Chrystall call:

No cloud of Fancie, no mysterious stroke,

No Verse like those which antient Sybils spoke;

No Oracle of Language, to amaze

The Reader with a dark, or Midnight Phrase,

Stands in thy Writings, which are all pure Day,

A cleer, bright Sunchine, and the mist away.

That which Thou wrot'st was sense, and that sense good,

Things not first written, and then understood:

Or if sometimes thy Fancy soar'd so high

As to seem lost to the unlearned Eye,

'Twas but like generous Falcons, when high flown,

Which mount to make the Quarrey more their own.

For thou to Nature had'st joyn'd Art, and skill.

In Thee Ben Johnson still HELD SHAKESPEARE'S QUILL:

A QUILL, RUL'D by sharp Judgement, and such Laws,

As a well studied Mind, and Reason draws.

Thy Lamp was cherish'd with suppolied of Oyle,

Fetch'd from the Romane and the Graecian soyle. (snip)


Jonson, Alchemist

FACE. You might talk softlier, rascal.

  SUB. No, you scarab,

  I’ll thunder you in pieces: I will teach you

  How to beware to tempt a Fury again,

  That carries tempest in his hand and voice.

  FACE. The place has made you valiant.

  SUB. No, your clothes.—

  Thou vermin, have I ta’en thee out of dung,

  So poor, so wretched, when no living thing

  Would keep thee company, but a spider, or worse?

  Rais’d thee from brooms, and dust, and watering-pots,

  Sublimed thee, and exalted thee, and fix’d thee

  In the third region, call’d our state of grace?

  Wrought thee to spirit, to quintessence, with pains

  Would twice have won me the philosopher’s work?

Put thee in words and fashion, made thee fit

  For more than ordinary fellowships?

  Giv’n thee thy oaths, thy quarrelling dimensions,

  Thy rules to cheat at horse-race, cock-pit, cards,

  Dice, or whatever gallant tincture else?

  Made thee a second in mine own great art?

  And have I this for thanks! Do you rebel,

  Do you fly out in the projection?

  Would you be gone now? 


Jonson, Cynthia's Revels

You, Mercury, we must entreat to stay,

And hear what we determine of the rest;

For in this Plot we well perceive your Hand.

But (for we mean not a Censorian Task,

And yet to lance these Ulcers grown so ripe)

Dear Arete, and Crites, to you two

We give the Charge; impose what Pains you please:

Th' incurable CUT OFF, the rest reform,

Remembring ever what we first decreed,

Since Revels were proclaim'd, let now none bleed.

   Are. How well Diana can distinguish Times,

And sort her Censures, keeping to her self

The Doom of Gods, leaving the rest to us?

Come, cite them, Crites, first, and then proceed.

   Cri. First, Philautia, (for she was the first)

Then light Gelaia, in Aglaias Name;

Thirdly, Phantaste, and Moria next,

Main Follies all, and of the Female Crew:

Amorphus, or Eucosmos Counterfeit,

Voluptuous Hedon, ta'ne for Eupathes,

Brazen Anaides, and Asotus last,

With his two Pages, Morus and Prosaites;

And thou, the Traveller's Evil, Cos, approach,

Impostors all, and Male Deformities ——

   Are. Nay, forward, for I delegate my Power,

And will that at thy Mercy they do stand,

Whom they so oft, so plainly scorn'd before.

"'Tis Vertue which they want, and wanting it,

"Honour no Garment to their Backs can fit.

Then, Crites, practise thy DISCRETION.

Jonson, Timber

Decipimur specie. - There is a greater reverence had of things remote or strange to us than of much better if they be nearer and fall under our sense. Men, and almost all sorts of creatures, have their reputation by distance. Rivers, the farther they run, and more from their spring, the broader they are, and greater. And where our original is known, we are less the confident; among strangers we trust fortune. Yet a man may live as renowned at home, in his own country, or a private village, as in the whole world. For it is VIRTUE that gives glory; that will endenizen a man everywhere. It is only that can naturalise him. A NATIVE, if he be vicious, deserves to be a stranger, and cast out of the commonwealth as an alien. 


Longinus’ Great Thoughts – Melville’s ‘Antlered’ Sublime:

Melville, Moby Dick

In thought, a fine human brow is like the East when troubled with the morning. In the repose of the pasture, the curled brow of the bull has a touch of the grand in it. Pushing heavy cannon up mountain defiles, the elephant's brow is majestic. Human or animal, the mystical brow is as that great golden seal affixed by the German Emperors to their decrees. It signifies--"God: done this day by my hand." But in most creatures, nay in man himself, very often the brow is but a mere strip of alpine land lying along the snow line. Few are the foreheads which like Shakespeare's or Melancthon's rise so high, and descend so low, that the eyes themselves seem clear, eternal, tideless mountain lakes; and all above them in the forehead's wrinkles, you seem to track the antlered thoughts descending there to drink, as the Highland hunters track the snow prints of the deer. But in the great Sperm Whale, this high and mighty god-like dignity inherent in the brow is so immensely amplified, that gazing on it, in that full front view, you feel the Deity and the dread powers more forcibly than in beholding any other object in living nature. For you see no one point precisely; not one distinct feature is revealed; no nose, eyes, ears, or mouth; no face; he has none, proper; nothing but that one broad firmament of a forehead, pleated with riddles; dumbly lowering with the doom of boats, and ships, and men. Nor, in profile, does this wondrous brow diminish; though that way viewed its grandeur does not domineer upon you so. In profile, you plainly perceive that horizontal, semi-crescentic depression in the forehead's middle, which, in man, is Lavater's mark of genius.

But how? Genius in the Sperm Whale? Has the Sperm Whale ever written a book, spoken a speech? No, his great genius is declared in his doing nothing particular to prove it. It is moreover declared in his pyramidical silence. And this reminds me that had the great Sperm Whale been known to the young Orient World, he would have been deified by their child-magian thoughts. They deified the crocodile of the Nile, because the crocodile is tongueless; and the Sperm Whale has no tongue, or at least it is so exceedingly small, as to be incapable of protrusion. If hereafter any highly cultured, poetical nation shall lure back to their birth-right, the merry May-day gods of old; and livingly enthrone them again in the now egotistical sky; in the now unhaunted hill; then be sure, exalted to Jove's high seat, the great Sperm Whale shall lord it.