Sunteți pe pagina 1din 21

Timelessness and Romanticism Author(s): Georges Poulet Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol.

15, No. 1 (Jan., 1954), pp. 3-22 Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2707647 . Accessed: 06/01/2012 10:04
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

University of Pennsylvania Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of the History of Ideas.

http://www.jstor.org

VOLUME XV

NUMBER 1

JANUARY, 1954

TIMELESSNESS AND ROMANTICISM


BY GEORGES POULET
I

Romanticism is first of all a rediscovery of the mysteries of the world, a more vivid sentiment of the wonders of nature, a more acute consciousness of the enigmas of the self. Now there is nothing so mysterious, so enigmatic, so wonderful as Time. It is not only that it is the most difficult of all problems; it is also the most urgent, the one which most frequently confronts us and reminds us of its actual importance, the one which is perpetually experienced not only as a thought, but as the very essence of our being. We are not only living in time; we are living time; we are time. In their efforts to express themselves it was therefore natural that the Romantic Poets should be especially attracted by the immense variety of distinct temporal experiences which they could feel and observe in themselves, and particularly by those which were more exceptional, which stood out more vividly in their consciousness. The first of these curious temporal experiences which we may consider is paramnesia. It is well defined by Coleridge in a letter to Thelwall (1796): " Ofttimes, for a second or two, it flashed upon my mind that the then company, conversation and everything had occurred before with all the precise circumstances; so as to make reality appear as a semblance and the present like a dream in a sleep." Coleridge described it also in the first lines of a sonnet: Oft o'er my brain does that strange raptureroll Which makes the present (while its brief fit last) 1 Seem a mere semblanceof some unknownpast ... One of the most impressive examples of paramnesia may be found in Shelley. In one of his prose writings, he relates that once walking with a friend in the neighbourhood of Oxford, he turned the corner of a lane. "The scene was," Shelley said, "a tame uninteresting The effect which it produced on me was assemblage of objects .... not such as could have been expected. I suddenly remembered to have seen that exact scene in some dream of long .... " And there he stops suddenly, adding in a footnote some time afterwards: "Here I was obliged to leave off, overcome by thrilling horror." "I remember well," adds Mary Shelley, " his coming to me from writing it, pale and agitated, to seek refuge in conversation from the fearful emotions it excited." 2 Paramnesia, therefore, is a very potent emotion which combines the conviction of having already seen some spectacle or event, with the certainty that we have never seen it before. Its origin
1 To John Thelwall, Dec. 17, 1796. Prose WorksII, 193.

2 Shelley, Speculationson Metaphysics, 3

is not clear and has been widely discussed by the psychologists; but what to our point of view is significant is its effect on the mind. As we have seen in Shelley, it produces an emotion sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant in the extreme, whose nature seems to be a feeling of sudden change in the relative positions of past and present, as if both, which are normally separated in our minds, suddenly, and yet without losing anything of their distinctness, were superposed or coalesced: "To find no contradiction in the union of the old and new, to contemplate the Ancient of Days with feelings as fresh as if they then sprang forth at His own Fiat, this characterizes the minds that feel the riddle of the world," Coleridge said.3 We may add, " that feel also the riddle of time." Ordinarily the past for us is past, i.e., perpetually pushed into unreality by an ever-new present which means for us the only reality. Paramnesia seems to bring forth before our eyes a past which is still real, still alive. It is as if, abruptly, we were projected into a timeless world or into a world where time does not flow but stands still. The incredible idea that all the past we thought we had left for ever, continues to stay here, at our very feet, invisible but intact, and in all its forgotten freshness, shoots forth in our minds. The time, indeed, is out of joint. We perceive, to use an expression of Hoffmann, who-like all the Germans of the Romantic Schoolexperienced and described frequently this sort of feeling-we perceive " a long removed self, which lay far back in time." Of course, paramnesia is merely an illusion. It does not bring back the past. It just makes a perception look like a recollection. Now as regards proper memory, we may find also in the Romantic poets numerous examples of a break in the dividing line between past and present. Generally our memory grows gradually fainter; it tends to disappear. But sometimes some association may revivify the past sufficiently to make it flash after a long oblivion into our consciousness; and if those associations are very potent, the flashing may be so intense that it has the vividness of the present. It occurs especially when we come back to a place we have left for a long time, whose aspect is bound in our mind with long-forgotten but at the time very familiar emotions. It is then not only as if the images of the past were suddenly brought to our inner eye with a singular force, but as if our own feelings, habits, ideas of long ago were instantaneously repossessing themselves of our soul, and substituting our past self for our present one. An earlier example of this phenomenon is in the Nouvelle Heloise: "En les revoyant moi-meme apres si longtemps, j'eprouvai combien la presence des objets peut ranimer puissamment les sentiments violents dont on fut agite pres d'eux." 4
3 The Friend,XV. 4 Nouvelle Heloise,IVe

part., 1. 17.

TIMELESSNESS

AND ROMANTICISM

But of all our senses, those of which the associative power is strongest seem to be taste, smell and, above all, hearing. In the Task Cowper remarks: There is in souls a sympathy with sounds; And, as the mind is pitch'd, the ear is pleased With melting airs, or martial, brisk or grave; Some chord in unison with what we hear Is touch'd within us, and the heart replies. How soft the music of those village bells Falling at intervalsupon the ear In cadencesweet, now dying all away, Now pealing loud again and louderstill, Clear and sonorous,as the gale comes on!
With easy force it opens all the cells Where mem'ry slept. Wherever I have heard A kindred melody, the scene recurs, And with it all its pleasures and its pains. Such COMPREHENSIVEVIEWS the spirit takes,

That in a few short momentsI retrace (As in a map the voyager his course) The windingsof my way throughmany years. Mme. de Stael, at very nearly the same time, made exactly similar observations: "L'aspect des lieux, des objets qui nous entouraient, aucune circonstance accessoire, ne se lie aux evenements de la vie comme la musique ... Elle rend un moment les plaisirs qu'elle retrace. C'est plutot ressentir que se rappeler." And, speaking about a famous episode in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions where Jean-Jacques at the sight of a modest periwinkle in a wood experienced an indescribable emotion, because many years before the smell of this flower had been associated with all the happy feelings of his youth, and of his love for Madame de Warens, Mme. de Stael adds: " Une seule circonstance semblable lui rendait presents tous ses souvenirs. Sa maitresse, sa patrie, sa jeunesse, ses amours, il retrouvait tout, il ressentait tout a la fois." Both these passages draw our attention to two very significant aspects of this phenomenon. First, as Mme. de Stael said, " tout est ressenti a la fois," or, as Cowper said, " it opens all the cells." All these recollections, therefore, are perceived by the mind in such a number and in such a short time that they appear quasi-simultaneous, in a sort of altogetherness, not one after the other with the ordinary successiveness of time, but as if forming a widely spread panorama: " I retrace," Cowper said, "the winding of my way through many years, as in a map the voyager his course."

GEORGES POULET

The other point is that the recollection does not appear to be "recollected ": " C'est plutot ressentir que se rappeler," it is a question of feeling again, of re-living the experience. The recurrence is so complete that the mind is, as it were, and to employ two Wordsworthian expressions, " for a brief moment caught from fleeting time " by a " spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." Once again and in a very different phenomenon from paramnesia, we discover this strange experience of timelessness, which so deeply impressed the poets of that period. The third and last of these experiences is of a slightly different nature. It is not provoked by an apparent or real recurrence of the past in the present, but, on the contrary, by a total exclusion of the past from the present, by a perfect absorption in the present. The present moment, then, is so intensely experienced that it seems as if its transience gives way to everlastingness, as if time stands still and becomes eternity. This feeling is quite current in all Romantic poetry, especially in Keats, who professed that " nothing startled him beyond the Moment." 5 Its fullest implications are expressed with great clarity by Rousseau in his famous Reverie on the Lac de Bienne: " II est un etat ou l'ame trouve une assiette assez solide pours s'y reposer tout entiere et rassembler la tout son etre, sans avoir besoin de rappeler le passe ni d'enjamber sur l'avenir; ou le temps ne soit rien pour elle, ou le present dure toujours, sans neanmoins marquer sa duree et sans aucune trace de succession." A present disconnected from the past, perpetually lasting, without any trace of succession! Here again we find the same feeling of living in another time-world, in which duration is not successive but permanent, and where our consciousness grasps at once in an all-inclusive glance an infinity of details which in normal circumstances it could only perceive one after the other in the process of change. Is it surprising therefore if the Romantics, at a time when the prevalent sensationalism insisted on the successive character of duration, were tempted to see in the weird feelings we have described a way of escape from a time consisting of what Coleridge called " an aggregate of successive single sensations "? 6 They turned naturally towards the doctrine most opposed to mere sensationalism, the doctrine which could best explain and admit those living experiences which were for them so precious. I mean the philosophy of eternity, as it had been stated from Parmenides to the Schoolmen by all religious thinkers. Eternity is not endlessness. It is " a simultaneous full and perfect possession of interminable life." It is simultaneously
5 To B. Bailey, Nov. 22, 1817. 6 Anima Poetce (London, 1895), 102.

TIMELESSNESS

AND ROMANTICISM

possessed,TOTA SIMUL. In it there is neither present, nor past, nor future. As Boethius expresses it: "Nunc fluens facit tempus,
nunc stans facit aeternitatem."

This famous theory, foreshadowed by Parmenidesand Plato, first stated by the Neoplatonists,christianised by St. Augustine,elaborated the the with every subtlety by Scholastics adorned of Middle by Ages, the philosophersof the Renaissance and particularlyby the divines of the CambridgeSchool, had also been throughoutthe ages adopted by the poets as the means for expressingtheir conceptionof God, or of the Future Life, or of the Ideal World. Jean de Meun, Dante, Petrarch, Chaucer,Spenser, Ronsard, Vaughan, Traherne, Crashaw, Drummond had in turn sung this "everlasting sabbath that shall run-Without successionand without a sun " (Vaughan), where " All ages and all worldstogether stand " (Traherne). But this poetry was not the poetry of the Romantics. They did not want to describein their poems an ideal world or the abstract existence of God. They wanted to expresstheir own concreteexperiences, their own immediaterealities, and to reflect in their poetry not the fixed splendorof God's eternity but their own personal confused apprehension,in the here and now, of a human timelessness. They took hold of the idea of eternity; but they removedit from its empyrean world into their own. In brief, paradoxically, they brought Eternity into Time.
II

This romantic paradoxappears strikingly expressedin Coleridge. All his life he was painfully aware that the continuousassociationof ideas in his mind perpetually threatened to become a mere chain of logically disconnected parts: "A streaming continuum of passive of little things,"9 are some of the expressionscharacterizing this state of mind that we may find scatteredin his writings. More strikingstill is the following passage: "What a swarm of thoughts and feelings, endlessly minute fragmentslie compact in any one moment! What if our existence was but that moment? What an unintelligible affrightful riddle, what a chaos of limbs and trunk, tailless, headless. nothing begun, nothing ended,would it not be! "10 No doubt, this feeling of anguish and fear when confrontedwith the disquietingidea that the worldis a shapelesscontinuumof dreams succeedingone anotherin an arbitraryfashion, or flowingtogether in
7 Note in Tenneman'sGeschichteder Philosophie. 9 To Thelwall,Autumn 1797. 10Anima Poetea,245.
8

association," 7

c"

an endless fleeting abstraction," 8 " an immense heap

Table Talk (Bell), 199.

GEORGES POULET

each moment of time in chaotic and multitudinous visions, was due in part to the opium which Coleridge started to use early in his life. But on the 16th of October, 1797, long before he became a drug-addict, he wrote to John Thelwall, "I can contemplate nothing but parts, and parts are all little! My mind feels as if it ached to behold and know something great, something one and indivisible." Therefore, by a natural revulsion from what he called a "scudding cloudage of shapes," 11he tried, first in his verse, later in his philosophy, to evolve the idea of a world conceived not as a plurality but as a totality: a world " one " and " indivisible," whose elements would be not merely added and following one another in the endless succession of time, but perceived altogether at once in a simultaneous whole. The very same day that he wrote to Thelwall the letter in which he complained of his inability to contemplate the outside world except as an immense heap of little things, he wrote also to another friend, Thomas Poole: "There are people who contemplate nothing but parts, and all parts are necessary little. And the universe to them is but a mass of little things." Here he is attributing to other people the very defect which, on the same day, in another letter, he was attributing to himself! This apparent contradiction is easily explained by the duality of his feelings and intellectual tendencies. Sometimes, when abandoned to the continuous process of his perceptions, he is dominated by them and passively submits to the discursiveness and succession of Time. Sometimes he has an inkling that it may be possible by his own action, that is, either by the imaginative flight of his poetical powers or by the intervention of speculative reasoning, to shape all those little things into a whole. We know that during the first period of his career Coleridge was much under the influence of Hartley's philosophy. Of course, Hartley was an associationist of Locke's school, and it has therefore been presumed that the young Coleridge's first system was pure associationism, that is, precisely the very system which considers the world and the representations we form of it as a train of ideas, as an aggregation of little things succeeding one another in time. But we must not forget that beside Hartley the associationist there is another Hartley who appears in a rather disconcerting fashion in the second part of his Observations on Man. "Since God," Hartley says, " is the cause of all things, infinitely many associations will unite in the idea of Him, and this idea will become so predominant that, in comparison with it, ideas of all else, even of ourselves, are as nothing." 12 In other words,
11

Aidsto Reflection(Bell), 346.

12 Observations on Man (London,1801), II, 330.

TIMELESSNESS

AND ROMANTICISM

all the infinite associated little things may become, as it were, absorbed in the total vision of the world, and the world itself disappear in the vision of God: "The love of the world and fear, being both annihilated, we shall receive pure happiness, of a finite degree, from We will be indefinitely happy in the love of the love of God .... God, by the previous annihilation of self and the world." 13 In this curious development of a system that begins as mere sensationalism and ends in pure mysticism, is it surprising that the young Coleridge paid more attention to the latter part, so different from the dry matter-of-factness of the dominant philosophy of the time, and so near, not only to the great idealist conceptions of Berkeley, Spinoza, Plotinus and Bruno which will be the favorite philosophies of Coleridge's later years, but also to the great Platonist tradition of the Cambridge School and the English divines which he was about to continue and prolong in the nineteenth century? One may perhaps tentatively suggest that it was the associationist Hartley who taught Coleridge that behind the reality of the many there is the reality of the one, behind the reality of successive time there exists, not only for God but even in exceptional moments for man himself, the privilege of living in a non-successive time. In his Religious Musings, written during this period, it was these mystical possibilities that Coleridge had in view: 'Tis the sublime of man, Our noontidemajesty to know ourselves Parts and proportionsof one wondrouswhole! And, more significantly, in another passage of the same poem: From hope and firmerfaith, to perfect love Attracted and absorb'd;and centredthere God only to beholdand know and feel, Till by exclusive consciousnessof God All self-annihilatedit shall make God its identity: God all in all! We and Our Father One! To these last lines Coleridge himself affixed the following footnote: "See this demonstrated by Hartley, vol. I, p. 114 and vol. V, p. 329." Hartley's passage referred to is in the Observations on Man: " Since God is the source of all good, and consequently must at last appear to be so, i.e. be associated with all our pleasures, it seems to follow ... that the idea of God, and of the ways by which his goodness and happiness are made manifest, must, at least, take place and absorb all
other ideas, and He himself become . . . all in all."

10

GEORGES POULET

This Scripturalexpressionemployedby Hartley, all in all, was to become for Coleridgenot an end as for Hartley but a starting-point. The infinite interdependenceof things, and still more, the intuitive faculty by which all those related but distinct things differentlysituat once, in ated along the infinite line of time may be comprehended a single moment, in the altogethernessof a whole, was to become for Coleridgethe cardinalprinciple of his philosophy. First, of his philosophy of life. " I should define life absolutely," I define Coleridgesaid, "as the principle of unity in multeity .... life as the principle of individuation, or the power which unites a given all into a whole .... " 14 His philosophy of art: "What is beauty? It is, in the abstract, the unity of the manifold,the coalescenceof the diverse,"15 and, more subjectively: "The Sense of Beauty subsists in simultaneous intuitions of the relation of parts each to each and of all to a whole."16 famous theory of literary criticismmust ConsequentlyColeridge's as a rigorousapplicationof this imaginativepowerof the creaappear tive artist to absorbthe parts into a whole: " The poet . . . diffuses a tone and spirit of unity that blends, and, as it were, fuses, each to each, by that synthetic and magical power,imagination."17 We may therefore understand very clearly the immense importance accordedin Coleridge'sthought to the imagination,and the full meaningof the epithets by which he carefullyand repeatedlyenlarges and definesthis quality in man, to his eyes directly and fully divine. Imaginationis for him creative,generating,modifying,shaping. But, above all, there are two epithets which Coleridgecoined himself and never tired of repeating, "esemplastic" or " esenoplastic,"which he got from the Germanof Schelling, In-eins-bildung,and coadunative, both of which mean the faculty that forms the many into one, and which he opposedto the mere aggregatingpower, an epithet reserved for the inferiorpower of " fancy." It seems clear that in Coleridge'sopinion this "coadunative" faculty of imaginationendowsthe artist, the poet, and man in general with the power of eluding some of the effects of time, and especially its patchiness and fleetingness. It enables man not only to reduce "multitude to unity" but also " successionto an instant," or, to use another Coleridgeanexpression, "It combines many circumstances into one moment of consciousness." The Coleridgeanimagination, therefore, by its creative activity, but above all by its faculty of combiningdifferentmoments of time
13 Ibid. 14 Theoryof Life, 385, 15Miscellanies,51. 16Ibid., 20.

17BiographiaLiteraria,ch. XIV.

TIMELESSNESS

AND ROMANTICISM

11

recalls irresistiblythe definitionof into one moment of consciousness, the Deity as formulatedby the Schoolmen. This resemblanceis not fortuitous. In a letter written to Thomas Clarksonon October 13, 1806, that is, in the more fruitful period of his maturity, after having definedEternity in the very terms of the Schoolmen,as " the incommunicable attribute, and may we not say, the Synonime of God, simultaneouspossessionof all equally,"Coleridgeproceedsto discern in the human soul a "reflex consciousness" which " seems the first approachto, and a shadowof, the divine Permanency"; and he adds: " The first effect of the divine workingin us [is] to find [bind?] the past and the future with the present, and thereby to let in upon us some faint glimmeringof the state in which past, present and future are coadunatedin the adorableI AM " of God. It seems therefore that for Coleridge there exists between the endless succession of moments, which is the ordinary lot of man, and the simultaneous apprehensionof those moments in the perpetuallypresent consciousness of God, an intermediarystate of consciousness,a quasi-simultaneity not unlike the concept of aevum in Aquinas's philosophy, in which by the powerof imaginationthe human mind is able to fuse at least part of its past and its present, with some premonition of its future, into a simultaneouswhole. Precisely in this mannerdoes the poetic faculty proceed. And it may even be possible that after our death this visionary activity would enlarge its scope to the point of embracingthe totality of existence: "The very idea of such a consciousness,"Coleridgewrote, " implies a recollectionafter the sleep of death of all material circumstancesthat were at least immediately previousto it." We come here to the essential belief of Coleridge,and moreoverof nearly all the Romanticists, the belief in the continued existence of the past, in the wonderfulpossibilitiesof its revival. Nothing is lost. All our life, and especially all our childhood,with all our perceptions, images and feelings, and whatever ideas we have had, persists in our mind; but as we are living in duration,it is not permitted to us to have anything but rare glimpses, disconnectedreminiscences,of this immense treasure stored in a remote place in our soul. Should our imaginationnow be confrontedat once with such an infinity of detail, it could not but perceive them as details, that is, one after another, without possibility of taking in the whole; or, stunned as it were by the vastness of this expanse,it would be unable to perceive the order which binds the differentaspects of our Past; it would be a chaos, a delirium. And delirium, for Coleridge,is nothing else than uncontrolled memoryand time gone mad.

The last passage of Coleridge I intend to consider comes from the Biographia Literaria. After having criticised in the first chapters the theory of association as set forth by Locke and Hartley, on the grounds that if it were true, the span of our lifetime would be divided in little bits by the despotic succession of our inward and outward impressions or recollections, he proceeds to retell the case of an illiterate young woman who, being seized with a nervous fever, recited during her fits full passages in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. After some investigation it was ascertained that many years before she had been kitchen-maid to an old Protestant pastor, and that it was the old man's custom to walk up and down a passage of his house into which the kitchen-door opened, and to read to himself with a loud voice out of his favourite books. " This fact," Coleridge said, " contributes to make it even probable, that all thoughts are in themselves imperishable; and that if the intelligent faculty should be rendered more comprehensive, it would require only a different and apportioned organization, the body celestial instead of the body terrestrial, to bring before every human soul the collective experience of its whole past existence. And this, perchance, is the Dread Book of Judgment, in whose mysterious hieroglyphics every idle word is recorded! Yea, in the very nature of a living spirit, it may be more possible that heaven and earth should pass away, than that a single act, a single thought, should be loosened or lost from that living chain of causes, to all whose links, conscious or unconscious, the free-will, our absolute self, is co-extensive and co-present." This passage is of some importance, first, because it gives a particularly complete statement of Coleridge's most profound beliefs, but also because it offers us an opportunity to trace the sources from which they are derived. Of course there is no doubt that they were based, first of all, on personal experience. For Coleridge, the Past was never dead. In his tragedy Remorse, he spoke of "the imperishable memory of the deed," and indeed the whole tragedy was nothing else but the development of that thought. The two poems that symbolically reflect his most intimate feelings express the same idea: in the Ancient Mariner we find: The pang, the curse,with which they died, Had never passed away, and in Christabel: But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder Shall wholly do away, I ween, The marks of that which once hath been.

TIMELESSNESS

AND ROMANTICISM

13

On the other hand, Coleridge considerably elaborated these personal certitudes by means of philosophical and mystical doctrines. He got the idea of the Totum Simul from the Cambridge philosophers or Bishop Berkeley. He found the idea of the ideality of time in Kant, and Schelling taught him that it is imagination which endows man with the power of escaping the limitations of time. But these were purely philosophical theories, and by their very nature quite different from the deep, spontaneous feelings he experienced in himself and put into his poetry. I think that the link between those philosophical convictions and these living experiences is to be found in the writings of Swedenborg. Coleridge was deeply impressed by the Swedish mystic, whom he declared to be "above praise " and "a man of philosophic genius, indicative and involvent," endowed with " a madness indeed celestial and flowing from a divine mind." 18 It will be remembered that in the passage from the Biographia Literaria just quoted, Coleridge suggests that it would require only a body celestial instead of a body terrestrial to bring before every human soul the collective experience, the totum simul, of its whole past existence. The distinction between body celestial and terrestrial, current among the mystics, is elaborated at great length by Swedenborg. But what is especially Swedenborgian is the idea of an "interior memory " specially allocated to celestial bodies. In Arcana Coelestia Swedenborg says: " The interior memory ... is such that there are inscribed in it all the particular things, yea, the most particular, which man hath at any time thought, spoken and done ... with the most minute circumstances, from his earliest infancy to extreme old age. Man hath with him the memory of all these things when he comes into another life." These are the very words employed by Coleridge in the passage quoted from the Biographia Literaria. But there is more. Immediately after the passage quoted Coleridge adds: " And this is perchance the Dread Book of Judgment, in whose mysterious hieroglyphics every idle word is recorded." In the similar passage from Swedenborg, writen half a century before, we find: " This is the Book of Life which is opened in another life, and according to which he is judged." 19 Obviously, Coleridge's Dread Book of Judgment is a direct reminiscence from Swedenborg's Book of Life.
18 Note in Swedenborg's De Cultu et Amore Dei.
19

Arcana Coelestia (London,

1803), 2474.

III Coleridge is not the only English poet in whom we can find this theory. It is very easy to trace it in all the Romanticists. Blake is an obvious starting-point. Not only was he a mystic, but, despite some late recantations, a follower of Swedenborg, haunted with the idea of evading the process of time, and possessing in the same manner as God in one's own consciousness the totality of the universe to its most "minute particular." "His unremitting effort," Middleton Murry says, was to see his own life as the revelation of Eternity." 20 And this Eternity again is no other than a Totum Simul: Hear the voice of the Bard Who Present, Past, and Future sees, we read in his Introduction to the Songs of Experience. And he conceives in his poem of Jerusalem an ethereal city, Golgonooza, where he viewed ... all that has existed in the space of six thousandyears Permanentand not lost, not lost nor vanish'd, and every little act, Word,work and wish that has existed, all remainingstill . . . For every thing exists and not one sigh, nor smile nor tear One hair nor particle of dust, not one can pass away. And in another poem, Milton: Not one moment Of Time is lost, nor one event of Space unpermanent, But all remain . . . They vanish not from me and mine, we guard them first and last. The generationsof men run on in the tide of Time But leave their destin'dlineamentspermanentfor ever and ever. It may seem a little singular to pass without transition from Blake to Byron. No two poets are so unlike. But if we open the latter's Hebrew Melodies, written not long after Blake's greatest poems, we find with some surprise a note not dissimilar. Speaking of the soul in the Hereafter, Byron says: Eternal, boundless,undecay'd, A thought unseen but seeing all, All, all in earth or skies display'd Shall it survey; shall it recall: Each fainter trace that memoryholds So darkly of departedyears, In one broad glance the soul beholds And all that was at once appears.
20

WilliamBlake (London, 1933), 107.

TIMELESSNESS

AND ROMANTICISM

15

In Byron, however, as one would expect, the note is defiant; it manifests a sort of nostalgic impatience: " Let me," says Cain to Lucifer, " let me, or happy or unhappy, learn / To anticipate my immortality." For him eternity is an "intoxication." Nevertheless the resemblances to some of Coleridge's and Blake's passages are so obvious that we may be tempted to say that Byron found his inspiration either in them or in their common source, Swedenborg. But the idea of Byron reading Swedenborg doesn't somehow appear very likely. On the other hand, he did not even know of the existence of Blake; and as for Coleridge, whom he admired as a poet, he prudently avoided studying him as a philosopher. But there is another channel through which the poetical possibilities of the Totum Simul may have been presented to Byron. In 1793 Samuel Rogers had published a poem entitled The Pleasures of Memory, which pleased Byron so much that he wrote expressly for Rogers a short piece "Written in a blank leaf of the Pleasures of Memory." There he played with the idea that Rogers was dead and that the Goddess of Memory repayed The homageoffer'dat her shrine, And blend, while ages roll away, Her name immortallywith [Rogers's!]. We may doubt that this highly fanciful but slightly funereal prospect appeared altogether satisfactory to his friend, but anyhow it proves that this particular poem of Rogers had arrested Byron's imagination. Now, in these Pleasures of Memory the central episode tells about the dead souls who in their new quality become angels and are able to recollect all their past life: 21 All that till now their rapt researchesknew, Not call'd in slow successionto review But, as a landscapemeets the eye of day, At once presentedto their glad survey. Compare this last line with Byron's " In one broad glance the soul beholds / And all that was at once appears;" and you will conclude that it is highly probable that Byron got his Totum Simul idea from Rogers. But from whom, in his turn, did Rogers get his? We might indulge in fanciful suppositions if Rogers had not been good enough to give us most clearly this source in a footnote. It is a quotation: " The several degrees of angels may probably have larger views [than ours] and some of them be endowed with capacities able to retain
21 The Pleasures

of Memory (1793), 62-64. See also note, p. 90.

together, and constantly set before them, as in one picture, all their past knowledge at once." And the author of this very Thomistic Totum Simul can hardly be called a Schoolman or a mystic, since he is no other than Locke himself in his Essay on the Human Understanding (b. 2, ch. 10). Neither did Shelley feel obliged, in order to provide himself with the same theme, to read the fearful folios of Arcana Coelestia. He borrowed it from the most obvious source of all Shelleyan thoughts, Godwin. In his quality of professed atheist Shelley evidently could not accept the idea of God and therefore of God's eternity. On the other hand he had a vivid apprehension of the deficiencies of time. " Time is evanescent, but poetry," Shelley says, " arrests the vanishing apparitions which haunt the interlunations of life." " A poet participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one; as far as relates to his conceptions, time and place and number are not." But of what kind is this poetical eternity if it is not akin to God-since God does not exist? The answer is rather obscure: " Poetry awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand It enlarges the cirunapprehended combinations of thought .... cumference of the imagination . . . ." Those are Shelley's words in his Defense of Poetry. At first, perhaps, we do not see very clearly the relation between eternity and the enlargement of the circumference of the mind. But if we put this passage, written in 1820, by the side of another from Queen Mab, written in 1813 (the seven years which separate them make up nearly all Shelley's adult life), we may be able to see what he is aiming at. The Queen Mab passage is unfortunately rather involved. Here it is: Him, still from hope to hope the bliss pursuing Which from the exhaustlesslore of humanweal Dawns on the virtuous mind, the thoughts that rise In time-destroyinginfiniteness,gift With self-enshrinedeternity, that mocks The unprevailinghoarinessof age, And man, once fleetingo'er the transient scene Swift as an unremembered vision, stands Immortalupon earth.22 Out of this rather intricate sentence, it is possible to extract some definite ideas: 1) Eternity may be apprehended in time by the " virtuous mind." 2) It will prevail over the transience of time, and in some way substitute for its fleetingness a sort of immobility: Man once fleeting over the transient scene, is now standing. To stand!
22

Queen Mab, 11.203-211.

TIMELESSNESS

AND ROMANTICISM

17

These very words remind us of one of the familiar expressions used by Boethius for the Totum Simul: " Nunc Stans," a standing now. It is the Totum Simul conceived not under its aspect of altogetherness, or union of past, present and future, but under the aspect of non-successive duration. The present moment may be, to a particularly quick consciousness (that is, to the virtuous mind of Shelley), so rich in particulars, so full in details ordinarily unperceived, that it may be equivalent to a far wider span of time in the common mind. Eternity, therefore, is merely an infinite intensity of attention concentrated on a single point of time; or, as Shelley puts it himself in a footnote to the lines quoted before: " If the human mind, by any future improvement of his sensibility, should become conscious of an infinite number of ideas in a minute, that minute would be eternity." And he adds: "See Godwin, Political Justice, vol. I, p. 411, and Condorcet, epoque IX." Following his directions, we find in Godwin this remark: "We have a multitude of different successive perceptions in every moment of our existence." No doubt Shelley got there the idea of an infinite number of ideas in one moment of consciousness, but, as we may perceive, for Godwin these perceptions are successive and therefore not in timelessness or eternity. So Shelley, in repeating Godwin, leaves out the essential idea of succession; more than that, he replaces it by the Nunc Stans, i.e., its very opposite. Besides, Godwin concerns himself only, as Locke did, with the fluctuations of ideas in the common mind, in common duration: Shelley dreams of a super-humanity, attaining in the future such a degree of super-awareness that the conditions of time would be changed altogether for each and every man. This implies the idea of progressive education of the mind, the source of which may be found in the second reference of the Queen Mab passage. In his Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progres de l'esprit humain, Condorcet foresees that man by the progress of scientific methods will be more and more able to combine in a very little space of time the proofs of a greater number of truths: " Ce qu'avec une meme force d'attention on peut apprendre dans le meme espace de temps, s'accroitra necessairement." It is a purely rational belief, associated with the pedagogical preoccupations familiar to the eighteenth century; just as Godwin's passage was a mere development of the eighteenth-century's no less familiar sensationalism. It is therefore significant that by the combination of two so unmystical systems Shelley evolved boldly a doctrine of earthly eternity very similar to those which Coleridge or Blake arrived at by an entirely different process.

18

GEORGES POULET

It would be also of great interest to study the different processes followed by the other great writers of the Romantic or Victorian eras, Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Carlyle, and, in America, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman. In all of them, the idea of Eternity possessed by man in time appears in one form or another again and again. But we must turn to the last writers we have selected as objects of our inquiries, De Quincey and Baudelaire. IV In De Quincey and Baudelaire this mysterious feeling of eternity in time receives its most modern expression. Without losing anything of its mysteriousness, it seems in these writers so intimately related to their dominant emotions and spiritual life, and on the other hand so aptly and spontaneously put into the medium of their own particular mode of expression, that it appears completely natural and as it were the very essence of their genius. As regards some of the poets we have just reviewed, Byron for instance, we cannot entirely get rid of the idea that this feeling was no more for them than a deep but accidental experience; in others-I mean Shelley especially-an experience that was indeed essential but perhaps realized only in part. In Coleridge, on the other hand, there is no doubt that the sentiment of eternity was not only felt but thought; but the two activities are not always fused into one. Blake, of course, is different; in him the fusion is complete; both the emotional experience and the rational idea manifest themselves at once; they are one. But Blake is very exceptional; he has the abnormality of the pure mystic. It is only in De Quincey or Baudelaire that this blending of feeling and thought appears as a natural achievement. This does not mean, however, that De Quincey or Baudelaire stands alone, independent of any intellectual influence. In both of them it is possible to discern the mark of their predecessors. But the Totum Simul was not for them a ready-made system which they blindly accepted or submissively repeated. First of all, it was a tremendous experience whose consequences they were ineluctably forced to accept on the sheer weight of an inner personal evidence. To understand this fully, we have to remember that both were opiumeaters. Now, one important effect of opium-eating is that which it has upon the senses of space and time: " The sense of space and, in the end, the sense of time," De Quincey said, "were powerfully affected .... Space swelled and was amplified to an extent of unutterable infinity. This, however, did not disturb me so much as the vast

TIMELESSNESS

AND ROMANTICISM

19

expansion of time! I sometimes seemed to have lived for seventy or a hundred years in one night." As Baudelaire will say in Les Fleurs du mal (Les Poisons): " L'opium agrandit ce qui n'a pas de bornes,Allonge l'illimite,-Approfondit le temps, creuse la volupte." If time therefore in these exceptional circumstances seems infinitely lengthened, it will appear intolerably shortened in ordinary life: " The narrow track of time," deplores DeQuincey, " How incalculably narrow is the true and actual present," and again: "All is finite in the present," "The time contracts into a mathematical point." And Baudelaire insists on the psychological contrast which exists between the two times, in a prose poem, La Chambre double: " II n'est plus de minutes, il n'est plus de secondes! Le temps a disparu: c'est l'eternite qui regne, une eternite de delices.-Mais un coup terrible, lourd, a retenti a la porte. ... Toute cette magie a disparu au coup brutal frappe par le Spectre." It was therefore natural that both De Quincey and Baudelaire were inclined to escape from the narrow track of ordinary time, and to try to create for themselves, and maintain as long as possible, the illusion of an artificial eternity. And they proceeded to realize this infinite amplification of time by swelling the " narrow track " with as many memories as they could. Time for them tended to approach eternity in so far as the present was more and more extended by the recollections of the past. This process of evocation became an art: "Je sais l'art d'evoquer les minutes heureuses,-Et revis mon passe blotti dans tes genoux." Compare with these disconnected notes jotted down by Baudelaire in his diary: "Un culte (magisme, sorcellerie evocatoire) . . . intensite, sonorite, limpidite, vibrativite, profondeur et retentissement dans l'espace et dans le temps. I1 y a des moments de l'existence ou le temps et l'etendue sont plus profonds et le sentiment de l'existence immensement augmente." An infinite increase of the sentiment of existence, is a very apt definition of the modern, preeminently psychological apprehension of the Totum Simul. We find, described at some length, in the Confessions of an OpiumEater, one of those culminating points of existence: " I was told once by a near relative of mine, that having in her childhood fallen into a river, and being on the very verge of death ... she saw in a moment her whole life, in its minutest incidents, arrayed before her simultaneously as in a mirror." This instance of inward illumination in case of approaching death is well-known; it has been many times discussed by the psychologists; but De Quincey was the first to give it its full emphasis; and what is even more important is the fact that De Quincey insists on the non-successiveness to be found in this phe-

20

GEORGES POULET

nomenon. In Suspiria de Profundis, written twenty-four years after the Confessions, he insists again on this point: " In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, every act, every design of her past life, lived again, arraying themselves not as a succession, but as parts of a coexistence." Why insist so much on this point if De Quincey's idea was not that it may be possible to evade the successiveness of time, and replace it by the simultaneity of another state, eternity? That he was aware of the metaphysical consequences implied by such a conviction is proved by the fact that to write these passages De Quincey made use of at least two authors in whom these metaphysical implications are clearly set forth. In the passage of the Confessions already quoted, after having stated the idea of simultaneity, he adds: " This, from some opium experience of mine, I can believe: I have indeed seen the same thing asserted twice in modern books, and accompanied by a remark which, I am convinced, is true, viz., that the dread book of account, which the Scriptures speak of, is, in fact, the There is no such thing as formind itself of each individual .... possible." getting This Book of account which is the mind itself, is already familiar to us. We have still in mind Coleridge's sentence in Biographia Literaria: " This is perchance the Dread book of Judgment in whose mysterious hieroglyphics every idle word is recorded," and Swedenborg's "This is the Book of Life . . . according to which he is judged." There seems to be no doubt that the two books in which De Quincey found asserted the double idea of the imperishability of the past and the simultaneity of all our recollections in a supreme moment of consciousness, were Biographia Literaria and Arcana Coelestia. We know that De Quincey's relations to Coleridge were those of a disciple to a master; and on the other hand we know also that De Quincey was initiated at a very early date into Swedenborgianism by a clergyman, Mr. Clowes. He tells us in his reminiscences that "more than once on casually turning over a volume of Swedenborg, he has certainly found most curious and felicitous passages." In 1824, less than three years after the publication of the Confessions of an Opium-Eater, De Quincey published in the London Magazine a partial translation of Kant's Dreams of a Ghost-Seer (1763), under the title of Abstract of Swedenborgianism by Immanuel Kant. Kant's essay was in fact an attack against Swedenborg, but it was also, as duly translated by De Quincey, a very adequate summary of the system of the spiritual world exhibited by Swedenborg, and we can find there in particular this passage: " [For Swedenborg] in the inner memory is retained whatsoever has vanished from the outer .... And, after death, the

remembrance of all which ever entered the soul of man and even all that had perished to himself, constitutes the entire book of his life." De Quincey, of course, published this translation three years after his Confessions, but in consideration of the identity of the two passages, we may fairly suppose that he knew Kant's essay before writing his Confessions, and made use of it in them. Just as De Quincey made use of Coleridge and Swedenborg, Baudelaire made use of De Quincey. De Quincey's Confessions had already been translated into French in 1828 by Musset, and this translation was not without influence on the development of French romanticism, as has been demonstrated in the Mercure de France in a very able essay.23 The author of this essay, Professor Randolph Hughes, failed however to see the importance of the factor of time in both De Quincey and his French followers, especially in Balzac, Gautier and Nerval: " Ces hommes," Balzac wrote in La Peau de Chagrin, " ont-ils le pouvoir de faire venir l'univers dans leur cerveau, ou leur cerveau est-il un talisman avec lequel ils abolissent les lois du temps et de l'espace? " And in the same book, again: " Vous etes-vous jamais lance dans l'immensite de l'espace et du temps? " Gautier also: "Rien ne meurt. Tout existe toujours," or "Les esprits pour qui le temps n'existe plus n'ont pas d'heure puisqu'ils plongent dans l'eternite." And Gerard de Nerval: "Rien ne meurt de ce qui a frappe l'intelligence. L'eternite conserve dans son sein une sorte d'histoire universelle visible par les yeux de l'ame, synchronisme divin qui nous ferait participer un jour a la science de Celui qui voit d'un seul coup d'oeil tout l'avenir et tout le passe." But among the followers of De Quincey Baudelaire stands first. He did not content himself with reading Musset's translation. He read De Quincey in the English text, and he endeavoured to give a French version of the Confessions. This version is the Paradis artificiels. It is not a mere translation. It is less and it is more. It is a continuous commentary, interpretation, development of the English text; and, above all, it is a personal appropriation of De Quincey's masterpiece, the substitution of Baudelaire's own experiences to those of his English master; so that, in what is apparently a free translation of a foreign author, Baudelaire betrays his innermost feelings. Now, in the Paradis artificiels we find the following passage directly inspired by De Quincey: "Souvent des etres, surpris par un accident
subit . . . ont vu s'allumer dans leur cerveau tout le theatre de leur Et ce qu'il y a de plus vie passee. Le temps a ete annihile ....

singulier dans cette experience ... ce n'est pas la simultaneite de tant


23 Merc. de France (ler aout 1939).

22

GEORGES POULET

d'elements qui furent successifs, c'est la reapparitionde tout ce que l'Strene connaissaitplus mais qu'il est cependantforce de reconnaitre comme lui etant propre. L'oubli n'est donc que momentane." This is pure De Quincey,of course,but immediatelyafter Baudelaireadds, speaking this time in his own name: " Si dans cette croyanceil y a quelque chose d'infinimentconsolant dans le cas ou notre esprit se tourne vers cette partie de nous-meme que nous pouvons considerer avec complaisance,n'y a-t-il pas aussi quelque chose d'infiniment terrible,dans le cas .. .ou notre esprit se tourneravers cette partie de
nous-meme que nous ne pouvons affronter qu'avec horreur. Dans le

spirituel aussi bien que dans le materielrien ne se perd." Here Baudelaire is speaking for himself and betraying his most secret fear. The promiseof integral resurrectionis not for him a matter of hope but of terror. Unlike De Quincey, he is not so much haunted by regretsas by remorse. He is the poet of irreparability. But, as we have seen, he is also of all poets the one who has given to the faculty of total resurrectionthe status of a conscious art. Thereforeit is not without reason that the greatest master of the art of reminiscencein our time, Marcel Proust, declaredthat Baudelaire was the most important of his predecessors. Indeed, in Proust we may find the culmination of those untiring efforts to bring eternity down to the level of man. His enormousnovel is literally an infinite quest to bringback the past into the present,the past not as past, not as a series of points of time, but as a simultaneouswhole possessedin its entirety. For, those resurrections, Proust said, " dans la seconde qu'elles durent, sont si totales qu'elles . . . forcent nos narines a respirer l'air de lieux pourtant si lointains." And elsewhere: " L'etre qui goutait en moi cette impression... (etait) un etre qui n'apparaissait que, quand par une de ces identites entre le passe et le present, il pouvait se trouver dans le seul milieu ou il put vivre ... en dehors du temps." The only mediumin which he could live, out of time! This timelessness, this mystical and yet real experienceof eternity, on which Proust gives the fullest and most elaborate testimony in our time, would it have been possible to experiencethis, as Proust did, and as indeed all our generationdoes still, had it not been for the long chain of philosophersand poets who expressedtheir thoughts or their feelings on this essential problemof humanity-and divinity-from Parmenides to Baudelaire? Each poet, each religion, each philosophy, in man's attempts to escape out of time. each time has collaborated Johns Hopkins University.