The Spiritualistic Cosmologies of Henry More and Anne Conway

  • Richard H. Popkin
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas/Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 127)


Henry More has been one of the hardest philosophers to classify. For want of a better term, he is ranked as leading ‘Cambridge Platonist’, a classification that itself is pretty vague. More, on the one hand, has been seen to have one of the most incisive critics of Descartes, Hobbes and Spinoza. He was also one of the sharpest opponents of various kinds of religious enthusiasm and unlike most of his religious contemporaries, found nothing of interest in the mystical writings of Jacob Boehme that were engulfing the English intellectual world of his time. On the other hand, More was one of the leading exponents of Cabbalism, and of research into witchcraft, spirits, ghosts, demons and angels. He developed a spiritualistic metaphysics out of Cabbalistic, Neoplatonic and other ingredients, a metaphysics that may have played an important role in the cosmology of Isaac Newton. More and Newton worked assiduously on trying to interpret the secrets and symbols in the books of Daniel and Revelation. The table of contents of almost any of the many works of More moves from the sublime to the ridiculous. As a result, More has usually been interpreted by taking some strands of his thought as central and dismissing the rest as the result of personal idiosyncracies. His critique of Descartes has received more interest recently, and this has been counterpoised with the apparently contradictory fact that he was the first and most enthusiastic English Cartesian.1


Title Page Mechanistic Thought Virtual Extension Bible Interpreter Spiritual Phenomenon 
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  1. 1.
    Rosalie L. Colie, Light and Enlightenment, esp. chap. 4; Alan Gabbey, “Philosophia cartesia-na triumphata.” For a somewhat different assessment of More’s view of Jacob Boehme, see Sarah Hutton’s article in this volume.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Richard H. Popkin, “The Third Force in Seventeenth-Century Thought.”Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On Anne Conway, see Marjorie J. Nicolson (ed.), Conway Letters; and Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature, 253–268.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For More and Newton, with some account of the debate over More’s possible influence on Newton, see Rupert Hall’s paper in this volume.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    On More’s view of Quakerism, see Nicolson, Conway Letters, chap. 7, which includes More’s reaction when Lady Conway became a Quaker.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    More, TW (1708). The second title page, p. 385, contains a motto from Sextus Empiricus, chap. 6, “Does Proof Exist?” The original title page of 1664 has a short motto from the same text of Sextus.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    For details on this see Popkin, “Third Force,” 24–5.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    More, CSPW, “The Preface General,” p. xii.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    More, AA, bk. 1, chap. 2, p. 3.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ibid, chap., ii, pp. 4–8.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    This is developed in Books 1 and 12 of AA and IS.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    More, CSPW, and Anne Conway, Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    The letters of More and Conway while More was writing these works show that Lady Conway was raising points that led to revisions by More. She may also have discussed what he was writing before composition as well. See Conway Letters, chap. 2.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    More, CSPW, Preface, pp. xviii–xxi.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Ibid., sect, xi, p. xi.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    More to Anne Conway, 4 July 1653, in Conway Letters, p. 82.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
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  18. 18.
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  19. 19.
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  21. 21.
    Glanvill, Essays (1676), Essay 6, “Against Modern Sadducism in the Matter of Witches and Apparitions,” esp. sects. 1 and 2.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Most of More’s philosophical works contain long sections about the activities of spirits. In Lux orientalis, More and Glanvill put together most of their data on this subject. See also Glanvill, Saducismus triumphatus.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    More, CSPW, AA, bk. 3, chap. 16, p. 17.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    On the malign spirits, see More MG, Book 3, esp. chaps. 10–19.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
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  26. 26.
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    More, AA, bk. 3 and Appendix.Google Scholar
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    On this see Joseph Mede’s letter to William Twisse, 23 March 1634/5, in The Works of the Pious and Profoundly Learned Joseph Mede (London, 1664), 980–81.Google Scholar
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    More, MG, Bk. 3, chaps. 3, 13 and 14. See Popkin, “The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Indian Theory,” Menasseh ben Israel and his World, forthcoming.Google Scholar
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    Jan van den Berg, “Menasseh ben Israel, Henry More and Johannes Hoornbeeck” (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    The Latin edition of her text appeared in Amsterdam in 1690. It was published in English in Amsterdam in 1690 and reprinted in London in 1692.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    More to Robert Boyle, in Boyle, Works, 6: 514.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    More’s two essays against Spinoza are printed in Opera, 1: 565–614, 615–635. On More and Spinoza, see Colie, Light, chap. 5.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
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  45. 46.
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  50. 51.
  51. 52.
    This work exists in a confused manuscript in volumes 12, 13 and 15 of Robert Boyle’s papers at the Royal Society. On this see Popkin, “Could Spinoza have known Bodin’s Colloquium Heptaplomeres?” Philosophia 16 (1986): 307–314.Google Scholar
  52. 53.
    Bodin’s dialogues circulated in mansucript in the second half of the 17th century. On the disperson of Bodin’s manuscript, see Popkin, “A Note on the Dispersion of Bodin’s Dialogues in England, Holland and Germany,” JHI, 49 (1988): 157–60.Google Scholar
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    For Boyle’s copy, see n. 52 above.Google Scholar
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  56. 57.
    More Brief Discourse, ibid., 768.Google Scholar
  57. 58.
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    Ibid., 768–9.Google Scholar
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    See n. 6 above.Google Scholar
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  61. 62.
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  63. 64.
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  64. 65.
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  65. 66.
    Ibid. “The Epilogue,” 249Google Scholar
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    Ibid. 251ffGoogle Scholar
  67. 68.
    See More’s preface to Paaralipomena prophetica and the preface to Exposition...of the Prophet Daniel Google Scholar
  68. 69.
    Nicolson, Conway Letters, Chap. 7Google Scholar
  69. 70.
    On More’s relations with the young Newton, see Richard S. Westfall,Never at Rest. A Biolgraphy of Isaac Newtion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 97 and notes.Google Scholar
  70. 71.
    More to John Sharp, 16 August 1680,Conway Letters, pp. 478—9Google Scholar
  71. 72.
    Newtion’s alchemical and theological papers were auctioned off at Sotheby’s in 1936. The bulk of the theological ones was purchased by A. S.Yahuda, who bequeathed his manuscript collections to the National Lobrary of Israel in Jerusalem. The only ppublisherd texts from Yahuda’s collection appear as an appendix in Frank E. Manuel,The Religion of Isaac Newton(Oxford: Clarendon Press,1974), 107–125 and 125–136. Richard S. Westfall, Betty Jo Dobbs and I are heading a roup to edit and publish these texts.Google Scholar
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  73. 74.
    Manuel, op.cit.n. 72 above, 37#x2019;4; Popkin, “Newton and the Rise of Fundamentalism” in Israel Colloquium on the History and Philosophy of Science (forthcoming)Google Scholar
  74. 75.
    For Leibniz7#x2019; views on Lady Conway, see Conway letters , 453’7, and Conway, Principles, ed. Loptson, 18’212. See also Stuart Brow’s article in this volumeGoogle Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht 1990

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  • Richard H. Popkin

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