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Coleridge’s Laws

Barry Hough
Howard Davis

Introduction. Coleridge and the Rule of Law

Michael John Kooy

Texte intégral

  • 1 CL 1, 131.
  • 2 CL 3, 470.
  • 3 CL 2, 703, 861.
  • 4 CL 1, 251.

1Coleridge 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 his own. There are references throughout his work to Manu, Montesquieu, Blackstone, among others, some as early as 1794,4 and he even had a copy of the Code Napoléon (which he annotated). Coleridge read law as an autodidact, and often in relation to his other interests such as theology, in the case of Warburton’s Divine Legation of Moses, or politics, in relation to the several versions of the French constitution he liked to comment on.

2What is consistently characteristic of Coleridge’s relation to law is his suspicion of the kind of people who write laws. A stout defender of the constitution and so far as we know a law-abiding subject, he nonetheless made it a point relentlessly to harangue British legislators, both during his radical years, when such actions risked indictment, and later, when his respectability allowed him to get away with it. Here he is in 1814, in a letter to his friend and Courier editor Daniel Stuart:

  • 5 CL 3, 497.

... our Parliament at home, or the faction of Landholders, are mad or idEOTic. The Corn Law Debates are more disgraceful than even the Bullion – I again affirm, what I have often affirmed, that take away from the Legislature the Merchants & Manufacturers, & I will stand on Blackfriars or Westminster Bridge, & take the first 800 decently drest men that pass over, & would pledge my life for more intellect, more real knowledge, than is congregated in the two Houses.5

3Like most of Coleridge’s jeux d’espirit, this comment carries with it a complex subtext not entirely denied by the irony of its tone: beneath the healthy intolerance of corruption and parliamentarians’ self-interest lies a cynicism about the whole process by which statute law comes into being. Part of Coleridge really does believe that a handful of arbitrarily chosen ordinary men would make better legislators than the ones currently in post.

4It’s one of the ironies of biography that this fanciful selection of legislators from among Westminster Bridge pedestrians describes, fairly nearly, what had happened to him ten years earlier in Malta. Landing at the port in Valletta on the morning of 18 May 1804, Coleridge, decently dressed and English, was picked up and introduced to the Civil Commissioner, Sir Alexander Ball. Hampered by a vacancy high in his administration, Ball promptly appointed him to his administration. Within a few months of his arrival on the Island Coleridge was drafting and then promulgating statute law for the native inhabitants. It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely candidate for the post, or one whose prejudices so clearly pointed against such a task. And yet he stuck with it for nine difficult months.

5How successfully he carried out that work is the subject of this remarkable book. Parts of the Malta story have been told before, notably by Donald Sultana in his detailed study Coleridge in Malta and Italy, but never quite like this. The story Hough and Davis tell makes for some disturbing reading. There is goodwill in the governor’s palace, but also political naiveté, administrative incompetence, and a fairly persistent disregard for the rule of law. Hough and Davis’s work will change how we understand Coleridge’s politics and how we read his oeuvre. It will also contribute to how historians understand the early period of British rule in Malta.

Readitng Coleridge’s Laws

6But first, why has it taken until now for this story to come to light? There are two reasons. One is that Coleridge’s work in Malta has never yet been analysed from the perspective of legal and constitutional history. No doubt such a perspective seemed to promise little: Coleridge became a law-maker by chance rather than choice, and anyway had many other things on his mind during his Malta years. The assumption has been that he carried out his duties with the moderate competency of any other well-meaning senior administrator in the colonial civil service, within the severe limitations such a post entailed. Yet, as Hough and Davis point out, he was no ordinary civil servant. He came to the job with an uncommon knowledge of British legal norms, picked up in his earlier work as a leader-writer for The Morning Post. Also, unusually for a man in his position, he enjoyed the full confidence of his superior. And, given the complexity of the political and constitutional situation in Malta in 1805, as well as its geographical distance from London, the path taken by the Ball administration was by no means a foregone conclusion. On the contrary, Ball and Coleridge enjoyed considerable room for exercising independent judgement. Taking a legal and constitutional interest in Coleridge’s work thus opens up new territory.

  • 6 CL 2, 159-60.

7The other reason for the originality of this research has to do with the nature of the archive. Hough and Davis base their work on six Bandi and fifteen Avvisi that were published, in Italian, under Coleridge’s signature as Public Secretary to the Royal Commission between 29 January 1805 and 2 September 1805 . Bandi were proclamations having the force of law (i.e. new statutes) while Avvisi were public notices that clarified or applied already existing laws or administrative arrangements. The existence of these public documents has been no secret. Their titles are listed as an appendix in the second volume of Coleridge’s Notebooks, edited by Kathleen Coburn and published in 1961, and are commented upon both there and, at somewhat greater length, by Donald Sultana in Coleridge in Malta and Italy. The documents have always been readily available in the National Library of Malta. That they are now published for the first time in translation – see Appendix 1 to this book – is a great boon for further researchers. What stood in the way of making any sense of these documents has been the presumed absence of an archival context, the supporting material necessary for scholars to place these documents in a political and socio-historical context. Famously, many of Coleridge’s own letters, notes and drafts never made it back to England: they were unluckily caught up in the plague-infested effects of his friend Major Adye, and destroyed.6 Some important policy papers written by Coleridge were preserved, such as the imperialistic Observations on Egypt (they are now in the British Library and the Victoria College Library, and are published in the Bollingen edition of Essays on his Times) but these do not touch upon Coleridge’s role in helping to govern Malta. Did any relevant papers remain on Malta? Perhaps, but parts of Valletta had been damaged during the Second World War and scholars working upon this material in the immediate post-war period tended to assume that nothing of significance remained. There was only the well-known official government correspondence, preserved at the National Archives at Kew. Without additional, detailed archival material, Coleridge’s Bandi and Avvisi remained stubbornly unrevealing at best, and at worst parochial. With their concerns about wine taxes, prize money, criminal convictions and cartwheels, the Bandi and Avvisi seemed, to most scholars, embarrassingly far beneath the attention of Coleridgean genius.

8The authors of Coleridge’s Laws demonstrate that this is not the case, and they do so with the help of an immense amount of new material that has been scrupulously sifted from the archives in Malta and London, much of it identified here for the first time. What they have discovered is that, contrary to scholarly consensus, the archival record does indeed contain essential material, enough, indeed, to reconstruct government activity, almost on a week by week basis, during the early years of British rule in Malta. Further, it allows one to pinpoint, with considerable accuracy, Coleridge’s hand in that activity. This is an extraordinary achievement. Coleridge’s Bandi and Avvisi here come to life, each proclamation and notice a calculated intervention in the daily lives of the Maltese people with, alarmingly, an often destabilising impact upon the precarious political and constitutional arrangements that characterised early British rule in Malta.

9Here we come to the sharp end of Coleridge’s Laws. Coleridge and Ball’s handling of a number of key domestic government issues was sometimes fair, far-sighted and in accordance with British legal norms. At other times, though, it was none of these. I won’t repeat the details of the argument here, but I will summarise Hough and Davis’s three main claims:

101805 was a year of crises. Hough and Davis show that the period in 1805 that Coleridge spent working with Ball coincided with a range of social, political and economic crises unanticipated by the administration, notably the severe strain upon the Island’s public finances, social unrest (against foreigners and the resident Jewish population), and an increasingly vocal group of nationalists critical of Ball.

11Poor administration. Tracing in minute detail the record of Ball’s administration, as found in contemporary witness accounts, in Ball’s own reports to Whitehall, and in the subsequent assessment by historians, Hough and Davis argue that a number of the most serious difficulties encountered by the administration arose from internal weaknesses. These include its own poor management structures, the problematic nature of its domestic policies and the absence of limitations on executive power. Specific shortcomings include the wilful disregard of the worsening public finances, wastage (through lack of accountability) in public projects, the use of patronage to curry favour with the local elite, and less than frank communication with Whitehall. In nearly all of these instances, Coleridge, as well as Ball, was implicated.

12Exploiting the law for political purposes. By the terms of the Royal Instructions for the civil administration of Malta of 1801, the Civil Commissioner acquired extraordinary powers, the implicit understanding being that these would only be used in exceptional circumstances and only in the interests of the Maltese. In what is the most important part of their study, Hough and Davis argue that Ball – with the active support of Coleridge – routinely took advantage of these powers in order to increase the civil commissioner’s own personal standing among the Maltese and to strengthen British strategic control of the Island (which, for Ball and Coleridge, amounted to the same thing). As evidence of this, Hough and Davis point to the promulgation of edicts that fail to uphold rule of law principles, notably the separation of executive and judicial powers and nulla poena sine lege (”no penalty without a law”). We learn that Ball interfered in court judgements, and that, through Coleridge, he issued edicts that lacked legal clarity and sometimes manipulated the law to favour British strategic interests. In other words, Ball’s governing of the Island, not just generally but also specifically during the period when Coleridge worked for him, was at times autocratic and arbitrary.

13While these three claims are interrelated, the last, regarding the disregard for rule of law principles, is most significant, and it is this point that will, accordingly, remain my focus in the rest of this Introduction.

Judging Coleridge

  • 7 Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, 6th ed. (London: Macmillan, 1902).

14What is the Rule of Law? Conventionally, the Rule of Law holds that legal judgements should be made according to known laws and principles rather than arbitrary ones. In his classic work on the subject, the English constitutional historian and theorist A. V. Dicey wrote that the Rule of Law consisted of three main principles: equality before the law; no punishment except in cases where the law is breached; no set of laws above the jurisdiction of the court.7 Though Dicey first wrote in 1885, the principles he described were certainly found in the previous century, notably the view that the executive is not above the law and should itself not interfere in judicial processes, and the legal maxim nulla poena sine lege. As Hough and Davis point out, even in pre-Reform Britain these fundamental aspects of the Rule of Law had the status of broadly recognised legal norms.

15The evidence that Ball’s administration, during Coleridge’s tenure of office, acted in ways that contravened these norms seems to me compelling: edicts were sometimes plainly used for political, rather than straightforwardly legal, purposes; Ball clearly interfered in the business of the courts; laws were promulgated in a haphazard fashion, sometimes with what can only be a deliberate attempt to create confusion, or to bolster the image of the Civil Commissioner. I find little to dispute in the evidence that Hough and Davis assemble. Yet one does feel, at times, that their standard is very high. If the Rule of Law was fragile in British-controlled Malta in 1805, how much more so in Napoleonic France, imperial Russia or even Great Britain itself. Accorded the level of scrutiny here given to Ball and Coleridge, few in office anywhere in Europe in 1805 would escape censure. But that is not quite the point. Ball’s administration is measured against the British legal norms of the day (not contemporary practice), and by this measure its actions were clearly found wanting. It also seems clear to me, from the evidence, that one cannot exempt Coleridge from implication in at least some of these actions, given the responsibilities of his post and his personal proximity to Ball. Indeed, perhaps even more so, as Coleridge came to the job with the instincts of a civilian intact, and fresh from front-line parliamentary reporting in London. Coleridge stands exposed to the judgement of history in a way he never had been until now.

16Defenders of Coleridge have a great deal of circumstantial material to draw upon, furnished by the research of Hough and Davis. I’ll mention what seem to me the most important points. Firstly, the British ”continuity” policy in Malta. According to this policy, the British administration in Malta would continue to observe the laws and customs of the Maltese as they had developed under the 250-year long rule of the Knights of St John. That sounds liberal and enlightened, and indeed Ball did not depart from this policy. But the policy had unintended consequences. The Knights of St John had reserved to themselves, and notably to the Grand Master, sweeping despotic powers. Ball, in agreeing to preserve local constitutional arrangements, found he had inherited the powers of a feudal lord. On a sympathetic reading, it looks like Ball, and Coleridge with him, was caught in a catch-22: observe the local laws and customs (as promised to the Maltese in 1801) at the cost of acquiring despotic powers, or renounce or simply suspend those powers at the cost of abandoning commitments to maintaining local constitutional arrangements. From this perspective, the weak Rule of Law in Malta under Ball’s administration seems to have systemic origins and was only secondarily affected by the personalities involved.

17Secondly, the absence of international recognition of British rule in Malta. The failure of Britain to secure international recognition of its occupation of Malta, even though it occurred with the consent of the Maltese, was deeply problematic not only internationally (it led, after all, to the breaking of the Peace of Amiens and ushered in 12 more years of war) but locally. Ball, though he ruled by royal proclamation in the name of George III (see Chapter 2), nonetheless felt the insecurity of his position. Never fully backed by Whitehall on the one hand, nor by the Maltese on the other, his administration not only lacked legitimacy, it lacked the means by which it might gain legitimacy. Attempts on his and Coleridge’s part to foster an image of benevolent paternalism, albeit by tampering with legal instruments, was the only way to maintain the appearance of legitimacy given the closure by war of all normal means. Without that appearance of legitimacy, the British hold upon Malta would weaken, and, with it, its strategic interests during wartime. It’s unlikely Ball or Coleridge could have come up with a better response in the circumstances.

  • 8 CL 2, 1178.

18Thirdly, Coleridge’s own unpreparedness for power. The argument here is that Coleridge, having left poetry and The Morning Post for the corridors of power, found himself confronted with tasks that were far beyond his level of competency and experience. He could not fully master technical matters and, more problematically, could not adjust appropriately to the real world of politics, where everyday one must trade off principles against real, if limited, material benefits. At the same time, he was under immense perceived pressure from his supervisors (both Ball and Whitehall) to keep the Maltese friendly, for British strategic reasons, during a period of rapid French imperial expansion. In his naiveté, and distracted by ill health, he abandoned too much for too little in return. Ultimately, his own latent respect for the Rule of Law resurfaced, and he managed to get himself released from a disagreeable post. Part of the disgust he later expressed, about the way British affairs were conducted abroad,8 might have been directed at himself, unwittingly caught up in a political snare not of his own making.

19These are important points. Indeed, the first two were implicitly made by the 1812 Royal Commission which, following Ball’s death in 1809, attempted to place the Island on a proper legal and commercial footing. (The Royal Commission praised Ball and his successor for making the best of a difficult constitutional situation.) But each point has its weakness. Detractors will point out, regarding the first, that if Ball inherited arbitrary power from the outgoing Knights of St John, he needn’t have exercised it – and yet, clearly, he did. Regarding the second point, it is true that the international situation was beyond anyone’s control. And yet establishing legitimacy while maintaining Rule of Law might still have been possible. A wiser governor than Ball might have attempted constitutional reform, for instance by establishing a form of national assembly (the Consiglio Popolare). Ball and Coleridge might also have communicated the problem about legitimacy more clearly to Whitehall, seeking guidance instead of taking the matter into their own hands.

20Finally, regarding Coleridge’s own unpreparedness for office. This is indisputable, and indeed one might say that it’s remarkable that he achieved so much considering how temperamentally unsuited he was to the job. But temperament and training don’t really weigh very much in what is, after all, an ethical issue. Coleridge was in a position to draft laws within the norms of the Rule of Law and it seems that he occasionally used that position to do the reverse. The claim that he didn’t know what he was doing doesn’t convince: if Coleridge could bend the law for political purposes, he was certainly capable of refusing to do so. The harder issue is that he felt compelled by the gravity of the circumstances to do so. Coleridge helped to manipulate Maltese law because Britain’s strategic war aims in the Mediterranean required stable government on the Island, at whatever short-term cost to the local constitution and the Rule of Law. This reasoning is based upon a distinction between the ethical and the political that is sanctioned by so-called ”realist” schools of political thought. It seems, however, out of keeping with the broadly Platonist orientation of Coleridge’s own political philosophy. Taken together with occasional expressions of jingoism and militant imperialism at this time, Coleridge’s willingness to assist in weakening the Rule of Law on Malta, for whatever perceived higher good, constitutes a disturbing departure from the liberal idealism he espoused both before and after.

Placing Malta in Coleridge’s Career

21But what kind of departure? This brings us to the question of how Hough and Davis’s findings impact upon our understanding of Coleridge’s career and, more broadly, early nineteenth-century British colonial policy and practice.

  • 9 The Friend, ed. Barbara Rooke, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 1, 533. Here (...)

22Regarding the former, the Malta period must, surely, now be taken much more seriously than hitherto. Coleridge called it one of the most instructive periods of his life,9 but commentators have tended to regard that as an overstatement. That, now, appears to have been a mistake. We may not share Coleridge’s assessment of this period (the sympathetic ”Life of Ball’ in The Friend appears to be even more of a projected fiction given Hough and Davis’s research) but we must share his sense of its significance.

23Part of that significance relates, straightforwardly, to political commitment. The new details offered to us by Coleridge’s Laws, in particular Coleridge’s willingness to subordinate Rule of Law to British strategic interests show that his conservatorism could and did take an authoritarian form. The gradualism and nationalism of the first edition of The Friend (1809-1810) and of the Courier journalism (1809-1817) have their roots not only in Coleridge’s liberal critique of revolution in the 1798-1799 Morning Post essays, as many commentators suggest, but also in the authoritarism that first expressed itself in Malta in 1805. This may also sharpen the charge of apostasy.

24Historically, questions about Coleridge’s integrity have focused upon his opium addiction, plagiarism and political apostasy. These debates have now largely played themselves out and moral opprobrium has diminished accordingly. Opium addition is now generally regarded as a medical rather than moral issue; plagiarism, now that originality is no longer regarded as a Romantic virtue, is no longer as ethically suspect as it once was; apostasy is less transparently disreputable. These debates reveal more about the culture that sponsored them than about Coleridge’s integrity per se. Does our early twenty–first-century disappointment in his poor handling of Maltese legal and constitutional issues reveal, in the end, more about our own democratic aspirations than about Coleridge’s personal integrity?

  • 10 ’Coleridge as Editor: The Watchman and The Friend’, The Oxford Handbook of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (...)

25Elsewhere I have critiqued the narrowness of reading Coleridge only in terms of the politics of left and right, as well as the commonplace insistence upon a narrative of political apostasy, which I have argued is both reductive and self-righteous.10 A richer understanding of Coleridge’s Malta experience requires a broader historical view. I’d like to suggest one such view regarding the Rule of Law.

  • 11 Paul Craig, ’Formal and Substantive Conceptions of the Rule of Law: An Ana-lytical Framework’, Pub (...)

26The Rule of Law is, conventionally, held up as a protection against arbitrary government. In a legal system where all citizens are equal before the law, and can be punished only when the law is broken, the scope for arbitrary rule is severely limited. Such a formalist conception of the Rule of Law says nothing, however, about the justice of the laws themselves. Strictly speaking, an unjust law protects against arbitrary government as well as a just one, the only requirement being that it be scrupulously administered by the authorities. The Rule of Law, thus formally conceived, is, in fact, compatible with the worst forms of state oppression, indeed, can be a necessary condition of that oppression, and an amplifier of it. For this reason, Rule of Law theorists have often referred to the supplementary need for institutions to review and, if necessary, modify laws, guided by constitutional tradition and natural justice.11 In cases where these institutions are absent, not functioning, or themselves suspect, the appeal to justice may take place explicitly outside the Rule of Law. Thus, both the secular radical tradition, from Marx to Mao, as well as religious traditions, such as Protestant antinomianism (drawing upon Calvin’s thoughts on rebellion against unjust rulers in his Institutes) and, more recently, Catholic political theology, reserve to themselves the right to reject the Rule of Law, in order to achieve justice where the Rule of Law denies it.

  • 12 See Timothy Webb, ’Coleridge and Robert Emmet: Reading the Text of Irish Revolution’, Irish Studie (...)
  • 13 CL 2, 1002-3.

27The severing of justice from the Rule of Law is something that worried Coleridge throughout his career. It emerges clearly in his work as a radical journalist and lecturer, when he complained in the Watchman that simply to speak on certain subjects, such as imagining the king’s death, was actionable under new treason laws. But also later, in his life-long cynicism regarding the self-interested workings of the British parliament, referred to at the start of this essay. Perhaps most characteristically, it comes out in his suspicion that the equitable application of statute law was no protection from injustice. The case of the young Irish nationalist and radical Robert Emmett, tried for treason and executed in September 1803, was particularly revealing for Coleridge in this regard. Emmett was, for Coleridge, an image of his younger radical self and hardly deserved to pay for his radicalism with his life.12 He wrote to his friends the Beaumonts in October 1803: ”poor young Emmett! O if our Ministers had saved him, had taken his Oath & word of honor, to have remained in America or some of our Colonies for the next 10 years of his Life, we might have had in him a sublimely great man”.13 In the case of Emmett, justice would have been served precisely by not applying equitably the full measure of the law. Sometimes the blind application of the law brings injustice.

  • 14 CL 4, 565.
  • 15 The pamphlets are reprinted in S. T. Coleridge, Shorter Works and Fragments, ed. H. J. Jackson and (...)

28Another example is Coleridge’s response to the Corn Laws of 1815, which aimed to protect domestic agricultural production in the face of cheaper grain imports. Coleridge suspected – rightly, as it turned out – that the underlying causes of the economic distress were deeper than a single statute law ever could amend, and disparaged the attempt as an ”elixir”.14 An example of legislation Coleridge supported suggests the same point. Robert Peel’s 1819 Act for the Regulation of Cotton Mills and Factories prohibited children under the age of nine years from work, and restricted those over that age to working 12 hours per day. Coleridge supported it on moral grounds, and because its modest economic and social goals were achievable by law.15 More ambitious improvements in social, political and economic conditions could only come about through gradual alterations in the vast terrain of collective ethical and religious life that statute law, because it is written by human beings touched by original sin (here is Coleridge’s Augustinianism), cannot, and, therefore, ought not, interfere with directly.

29To the extent that Coleridge had a philosophy of law, it lies here, in his minimalist conception of statute law as a necessary but blunt instrument to contain the worst of human behaviour rather than as a favoured means of engineering social or ethical improvement. An 1814 letter to Daniel Stuart, perhaps Coleridge’s clearest statement of his view on normative jurisprudence, is worth quoting at length:

  • 16 CL 3, 537-8.

The view, which our Laws take of robbery and even murder, not as Guilt of which God alone is presumed to be the Judge, but as Crimes, depriving the King of one of his Subjects, rendering dangerous and abating the value of the King’s High-ways, &c, may suggest some notion of my meaning. Jack, Tom, and Harry have no existence in the eye of Law, except as included in some form or other of the permanent Property of the Realm — just as on the other Hand Religion has nothing to do with ranks, estates, or offices; but exerts itself wholly on what is personal — viz. our Souls, Consciences, and the morality of our actions as opposed to mere Legality. ... Human Jurisprudence wisely aware of it’s own weakness & sensible how incommensurate it’s powers are with so vast an object, as the Well-being of Individuals as Individuals ... knows nothing of Persons other than as Proprietors, Officiaries, Subjects. ... Guided by this spirit our ancestors repealed the Puritan Law, by which Adultery was to be punished with Death, & brought it back to a civil Damage — So too, actions for Seduction. — Not that the Judge or Legislator did not feel the guilt of such crimes; but that the Law knows nothing about Guilt —. So in the Exchequer common Debts are sued for on the plea, that the Creditor is less able to pay our Lord the King — &c &c —. Now contrast with this the Preamble to the first French Constitution, and I think, my meaning will become more intelligible — that the pretence of considering Persons not States, Happiness not Property, always has ended & always will end in making a new State or Corporation infinitely more oppressive than the former — and in which the real freedom of Persons is as much less, as the things interfered with are more numerous & more minute.16

  • 17 CL 2, 806.

30This is a conservative position. But, complexly, it is a conservatism that retains an allegiance to early Christian anarchism. The law’s relation to society is to act upon its margins, leaving untouched, at the centre, a self-regulating collective. Coherent with this position is Coleridge’s defence of the Anglican settlement. The Church, in the widest sense of the term (lay members, clergy, tradition), was a institution expressive of that collective, a view Coleridge defended in a letter to his brother in 180217 and in remarkably similar terms in his 1829 On the Constitution of Church and State. The Church can have progressive social influence precisely because it is national by virtue of the constitution, and not by favour of the government.

31What happened in Malta was a betrayal of this concept of jurisprudence. Coleridge was probably right in thinking that the Rule of Law on the Island had already been deeply compromised by the legacy of the Knights of St John (as he implied in The Friend). But he was wrong to correct the situation by taking matters into his own hands. He helped extend the arbitrary powers of his patron and manipulated statute law to achieve desired political and social ends, in both cases anticipating Carl Schmitt’s grim aperçu that sovereignty in a state lies with the one who can suspend the normal functioning of law. But as my comments have tried to suggest, Coleridge’s Malta experience was a betrayal not so much of the formalist conception of the Rule of Law, but, more profoundly, of his own conservative conception of the power and self-regulating potential of people acting and living collectively. That Coleridge later in life became, in spite of his Malta experience, an influential articulator of the constitutional tradition is the longer-lasting mark of his genius and the better test of his moral integrity.

32There are other ways that this book will have an impact upon our conception of Coleridge’s work as well as topics wider afield. While constitutional and political matters are, probably, of the first significance, we will want to consider the relationship of his legal work to the writing of poetry, to the fluctuations in health (Hough and Davis make interesting forays into both these areas), and to the other, more widely recognised, aspect of the Malta period, Coleridge’s first-hand discovery of the art and literature of southern Europe.

33There is also the contribution to British colonial studies. The book’s analysis makes plain the fundamental antinomy of the colonial encounter. Colonisers occupy territory out of their own interests, and yet the appearance of a contiguity of interests must continually be maintained, such that both parties believe in it. This is no less the case in territories held by formal consent, such as Malta. Early Maltese history has, sometimes, been held back by the lack of detailed, archive-based studies. It is now enriched by this book’s lavish attention to detail, much of it seeing light for the first time.


1 CL 1, 131.

2 CL 3, 470.

3 CL 2, 703, 861.

4 CL 1, 251.

5 CL 3, 497.

6 CL 2, 159-60.

7 Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, 6th ed. (London: Macmillan, 1902).

8 CL 2, 1178.

9 The Friend, ed. Barbara Rooke, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 1, 533. Hereafter referred to as The Friend.

10 ’Coleridge as Editor: The Watchman and The Friend’, The Oxford Handbook of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Frederick Burwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 144-64. 11

11 Paul Craig, ’Formal and Substantive Conceptions of the Rule of Law: An Ana-lytical Framework’, Public Law, 33 (1997), 467–87.

12 See Timothy Webb, ’Coleridge and Robert Emmet: Reading the Text of Irish Revolution’, Irish Studies Review, 8: 3 (2000), 304-24.

13 CL 2, 1002-3.

14 CL 4, 565.

15 The pamphlets are reprinted in S. T. Coleridge, Shorter Works and Fragments, ed. H. J. Jackson and J. R. de J. Jackson, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).

16 CL 3, 537-8.

17 CL 2, 806.


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