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Coleridge's Laws

Coleridge's Laws: A Study of Coleridge in Malta

Barry Hough
Howard Davis
With an Introduction by Michael John Kooy
Translations by Lydia Davis
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Open Book Publishers
Pages: 403
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  • Book Info
    Coleridge's Laws
    Book Description:

    Samuel Taylor Coleridge is best known as a great poet and literary theorist, but for one, quite short, period of his life he held real political power — acting as Public Secretary to the British Civil Commissioner in Malta in 1805. This was a formative experience for Coleridge which he later identified as being one of the most instructive in his entire life. In this book, Barry Hough and Howard Davis show how Coleridge's actions whilst in a position of power differ markedly from the idealism he had advocated before taking office — shedding new light on Coleridge's sense of political and legal morality. Meticulously researched and including newly discovered archival materials, Coleridge's Laws provides detailed analysis of the laws and public notices drafted by Coleridge, together with the first published translations of them. Drawing from a wealth of primary sources, Hough and Davis identify the political challenges facing Coleridge and reveal that, in attempting to win over the Maltese public to support Britain's strategic interests, Coleridge was complicit in acts of government which were both inconsistent with the rule of law and contrary to his professed beliefs. Coleridge's willingness to overlook accepted legal processes and personal misgivings for political expediency is disturbing and, as explained by Michael John Kooy in his extensive introduction, necessarily alters our understanding of the author and his writing. Coleridge's Laws contributes in new ways to the current debates about Coleridge's achievements, British colonialism and its engagement with the rule of law, nationhood and the effectiveness of the British administration of Malta. It provides essential reading for anybody interested in Coleridge specifically and the Romantics more generally, for political and legal historians and for students of colonial government.

    eISBN: 978-1-906924-14-0
    Subjects: History, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
    (pp. xii-xiii)

    Coleridge’s Bandi (Proclamations) and Avvisi (Public Notices)² appear to be of a minor, regulatory character dealing with such matters as licensing, cartwheels, mooring ropes, foreigners and excise duties. In fact, these legal and administrative texts reveal how Coleridge used and controlled government information to advance the dominant strategic purpose of British rule. They were intended not only to alter behaviour, but also to influence public opinion and secure the legitimacy of British rule.

    As we shall discover, the British in Malta were explicitly directed by the British imperial government to achieve popularity with the Maltese and to ensure the stability...

  2. Preface
    (pp. xiv-xv)
    Barry Hough and Howard Davis
  3. Introduction Coleridge and the Rule of Law
    (pp. xvi-xxviii)
    Michael John Kooy

    Coleridge and law? Of all the professions Coleridge had dealings with during the course of his life – poetry, divinity, journalism, education, medicine – he had least patience with law. Though, as a young man, he once contemplated taking up law,¹ and later regretted not having done so,² he tended to regard law as a profession driven by an anti-metaphysical bias,³ a prejudice that acquaintances like the jurists James Mackintosh and John Stoddart probably did little to dispel (Henry Crabb Robinson, friend of the German Romantics and later a lawyer, was a notable exception). Coleridge did of course study law, but on...

  4. 1. The Battle of Self
    (pp. 1-49)

    In 1809, when Coleridge was prompted to write about Malta, by the death of Sir Alexander Ball, the Civil Commissioner whom he so much admired, he concluded that he regarded his stay on the Island “in many respects, the most memorable and instructive period of [his] life”.² This assessment, no doubt, justified the hazards that he had ventured in making this difficult expedition, especially when its primary purpose – the pursuit of a cure for his addiction – seemed publicly to have failed. Sultana, who regarded Coleridge as distracted in public office and overly introspective, articulated the kind of criticism that perhaps...

  5. 2. Coleridge’s Malta
    (pp. 50-106)

    When Coleridge assumed the role of Public Secretary he was, as we have seen, acting as head of the Executive. He exercised a role that required him to implement the policies of the Civil Commissioner, Sir Alexander Ball, who had the ultimate administrative, legislative and judicial authority. Coleridge was required to understand the nature and function of the Maltese institutions, the legal system, and to assimilate the detail of the political, economic, social and legal policies that Ball was either required or authorised to implement by the British Secretary of State. As we shall describe, the British decided to continue...

  6. 3. The Constitutional Position of the Civil Commissioner
    (pp. 107-142)

    Coleridge occupied the office of Public Secretary, “Segretario Publico dell’Isole di Malta, Gozo e delle loro dipendenze”. This office was the channel through which all the civil administration of the islands and all the policies of the British Civil Commissioners were put into effect.¹ His legal authority to act in that office came from the authority of the Civil Commissioner, Sir Alexander Ball. Ball was a British official exercising, indirectly, upon authority from London, powers recognised under English law as flowing from the Royal Prerogative. Ball’s authority also came from the considerable prerogatives of the Grandmaster whose powers the British...

  7. 4. Coleridge’s Proclamations and Public Notices
    (pp. 143-163)

    Whilst he was Public Secretary, a number of instruments published in Italian, were promulgated under Coleridge’s name. In some, but not all, of these, Dr. Guiseppe N. Zammit’s name was also subscribed in his capacity as “Prosegretario” or Maltese Secretary.

    The exact nature of Coleridge’s responsibility for the instruments is not clear. There are numerous references, in his letters home, to his onerous responsibilities in writing official documents. Coleridge did not refer to the Bandi and Avvisi as such; nor did, he explicitly refer to the equivalent English terms, “Proclamations” and “Public Notices”. The allusions in his letters reveal, however,...

  8. 5. Thematic Analysis of the Proclamations and Public Notices
    (pp. 164-287)

    In this chapter each of the twenty-one Proclamations (Bandi) and Public Notices (Avvisi) under Coleridge’s signature will be contextualised and evaluated. For convenience, they are grouped into themes according to their ostensible subject matter, and these themes are set out in Table 1 below. This classification is not definitive in so far as the stated purpose of the measure may sometimes be different from its true motivation. Equally, some measures have more than one purpose. An example is the Bando of 22 March 1805,¹ which might, fairly, be seen as a measure concerned with the prevention of crime, or military...

  9. 6. An Assessment of the Proclamations and Public Notices
    (pp. 288-324)

    The purpose of this chapter is to examine Coleridge’s achievements in the Proclamations (Bandi) and Public Notices (Avvisi). Firstly, we shall consider Coleridge’s manipulative use of government information. Secondly, we shall consider the consonance of these instruments with his earlier journalism and with the requirements of the rule of law, such as publicity, comprehensibility and the use of discretion. We shall also examine some of their common features, such as the use of informants, and the criminal penalties imposed. The chapter concludes with an assessment of the extent to which Coleridge’s laws were influenced by wartime conditions.

    Coleridge held office...

  10. Appendix 1. Translations of the Proclamations and Public Notices
    (pp. 325-352)
    Lydia Davis
  11. Appendix 2. The British Occupation of Malta
    (pp. 353-361)