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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Charles Lamb to Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Certain Theological Propositions (1798)


Файл:Seraph (Hagia Sophia).jpg

Seraph, Hagia Sofia, Istanbul: photo by Stanislav Kozlovskiy, 12 February 2011
....................Theses Quaedam Theologicae

1. Whether God loves a lying Angel better than a true Man?
2. Whether the Archangel Uriel could affirm an untruth? And if he could whether he would?
3. Whether Honesty be an angelic virtue? or not rather to be reckoned among those qualities which the Schoolmen term Virtutes minus splendidae, et terrae et hominis participes?
4. Whether the higher order of Seraphim Illuminati ever sneer?
5. Whether pure Intelligences can love?
6. Whether the Seraphim Ardentes do not manifest their virtues by the way of vision and theory? and whether practice be not a sub-celestial and merely human virtue?
7. Whether the Vision Beatific be anything more or less than a perpetual representment to each individual Angel of his own present attainments and future capabilities, somehow in the manner of mortal looking-glasses, reflecting a perpetual complacency & self-satisfaction?
8. And last. Whether an immortal and amenable soul may not come to be damned at last, and the man never suspect it beforehand?
Learned Sir, my Friend,
Presuming on our long habits of friendship, & emboldened further by your late liberal permission to avail myself of your correspondence, in case I want any knowledge, (which I intend to do when I have no Encyclopaedia or Lady's Magazine at hand to refer to in any matter of science,) I now submit to your enquiries the above Theological Propositions, to be by you defended, or oppugned, or both, in the Schools of Germany, whither I am told you are departing, to the utter dissatisfaction of your native Devonshire, and regret of universal England; but to my own individual consolation if thro' the channel of your wished return, Learned Sir, my Friend, may be transmitted to this our Island, from those famous Theological Wits of Leipsic and Gottingen, any rays of illumination, in vain to be derived from the home growth of our English Halls and Colleges. Finally, wishing, Learned Sir, that you may see Schiller, and swing in a wood (vide Poems), and sit upon a Tun, and eat fat hams of Westphalia,
I remain
Your friend and docile Pupil to instruct

Charles Lamb to Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Theses Quaedam Theologicae (Certain Theological Propositions), in a letter, c. 23 May-6 June 1798


Anonymous said...

I just read up on the history of these Certain Theological Propositions and, although context is of course essential to understanding the full meanings of things, I just found this very, very charming and amusing. I wish my own daily correspondence were all of this high level of excellence. (Actually, sometimes it's pretty satisfactory; I just ignore the things I know will annoy me until a later moment when I think I can face them.) The miniature is gorgeous.

TC said...


For anyone who has ever harboured suspicions concerning the experiential veracity of the propositions and speculations of theoretical authorities, this letter of Lamb's would do well as a classic model of the common-sense rebuttal. Considering the tendencies to the inflated and the pretentious in Coleridge's thought, no one could be more vulnerable to such a brilliantly sly satiric attack. One also admires Lamb's bravery in writing it. To read the letter now is to understand how much we need someone of equivalent brilliance, wit and courage to poke fun at the theoretical zeppelins of the present. Alas, however, literary criticism at this level of keenness and sheer fun no longer exists.