Coleridge’s laws: a study of Coleridge in Malta

Barry Hough, H. Davis, M. Kooy

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“I have the public Memorials to write & worse than all constant matters of Arbitration” Coleridge’s Bandi (Proclamations) and Avvisi (Public Notices)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 of the islands as a British possession. A series of policies and decisions, whether ill-advised in conception or operation,some resulting from the incompetence of administrators, or the deliberate hoodwinking of the British by the Maltese, led to a temporary, but profound,decline in British popularity. Confidence in the British and, in particular, in the Civil Commissioner, Sir Alexander Ball, whose autocratic constitutional authority made him the embodiment of British purposes and values, was at a dangerously low ebb by the spring of 1805. Coleridge was compelled, not least in the laws and public notices, to mount a propaganda offensive to “re-engage” with the Maltese public. He had to portray a selfless, benign administration that, according to Coleridge’s narrative, prioritised Maltese interests, and acted merely to ensure the well-being of the local population.In fact, Malta, at that time, exposed the difficulties administrators faced when confronted with the inherent conflict of interest in the colonial project. In many instances, British imperial goals were not invariably congruent with Maltese interests. The de-stabilising tensions, springing from this divided colonial relationship, had to be managed because, as the British knew, a disaffected Maltese population could be capable of violent insurrection. They had responded to a call to arms as recently as 1798 to evict the unpopular French occupiers from their islands. A decline in popular support threatened continued British possession. In securing the long-term strategic goals of British rule, Coleridge was required to assume a weighty burden of responsibility. The evidence of depression, stress, overwork and addiction shown in his Notebooks attest to his struggle to fulfil the demanding expectations of him in his public office as well as overcoming the well-known problems in his private life.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherOpen Book Publishers
Number of pages365
ISBN (Print)9781906924126
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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