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Coleridge’s Laws

Barry Hough
Howard Davis


Barry Hough et Howard Davis

Texte intégral

  • 1 D. Sultana, Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Malta and Italy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1969).

1In 1804-1805 the English poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge stayed in Malta. He had travelled to Malta in pursuit of a cure for his drug addiction. He might have hoped for a petty colonial sinecure to defray the expenses of his travels. When, in January 1805, he became the acting Public Secretary under the Civil Commissioner, Sir Alexander Ball, he found himself burdened with a significant public role at the heart of government. Donald Sultana, in his major work Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Malta and Italy,1 has written the fullest and most detailed general account of Coleridge’s life on the Island. This book, though indebted to Sultana’s study, has a more modest focus. It is a study of the Malta period predominantly from a legal and constitutional perspective. Its concern and focus is upon the ”laws”, the legal instruments (Bandi and Avvisi), that were drafted and promulgated by Coleridge in his official capacity. Sultana deals with a selection of these, but this book aims to be a comprehensive study. These instruments (”Coleridge’s Laws”) are given full descriptions and analyses, both critical and contextual. Their content is considered in the context of Maltese politics, economy and society and also of the British imperial ambition for the Island. This is done against the background of the Maltese constitution and the expectations of the rule of law that British rule might have brought.

2The approach has been to go to the original sources relating to these laws, both in Malta (at the National Library, Valletta and the National Archive, Rabat) and in Britain (at the National Archive). Assistance for the Malta part of the enquiry was given by grants from the British Academy, which the authors are pleased to acknowledge. Similarly, the assistance of the staff at the National Library and National Archive in Malta was of very great help, not only in identifying the texts of Coleridge’s laws but, also, in bringing to the authors’ attention material from the relevant period from which some extremely interesting evidence was obtained (see, in particular, Chapter 5: public order and crime theme).

3As we shall see, the British centralised model for the government in Malta vested supreme legislative, executive and judicial powers in the Civil Commissioner. The Public Secretary, whose role Coleridge assumed, served as the head of the Executive, and implemented the Civil Commissioner’s policies. The Public Secretary represented the authority of the Civil Commissioner in the day to day administration. The office (which had formally been merged with that of Treasurer in 1803) had burdensome and wide ranging responsibilities involving such matters as the supervision and direction of policy in a dozen government departments (which the Public Secretary also had to audit), the administration of oaths, the arbitration of disputes, the issue of passports, some advocacy in the Court of Vice-Admiralty, as well as drafting the complex laws and public information notices which are the concern of this book. As we shall see, these instruments were not only used to create new law or bring some matter of importance to public attention but as a wider political engagement with the Maltese people, intended to manipulate and alter public opinion and behaviour.

4Coleridge found himself in office at a critical time for the British, whose popularity underwent a decline as public expectations were disappointed, and poorly conceived policies failed. Sir Alexander Ball’s government had to arrest this decline or risk not achieving its primary objective – securing the ”attachment” of the Maltese to British rule. Government information – propaganda – became critical to the public standing of the British administration and, ultimately, to the future British presence on the Island. How government information was communicated by Coleridge and how he used it to serve the dominant strategic goals of British imperial policy is an important matter which this book considers. As a corollary, we shall also explore the limited freedom Coleridge had to pursue the constitutional and rule of law values he had advocated in his journalism. We shall also see how his conceptions of political morality subordinated to British policies for securing Malta as a politically stable military base. Falling outside the compass of this book is the fundamental question: how did Coleridge’s troubled experiences of government inform and enrich his later literary and philosophical work? It is, however, hoped that this book together with the first comprehensive translations into English of the Bandi and Avvisi will be of value to scholars in this respect.

5January 2010


1 D. Sultana, Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Malta and Italy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1969).