Mysticism and Enthusiasm in Henry More

  • Robert Crocker
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas/Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 127)


The seventeenth reaction against enthusiasm has excited considerable interest amongst scholars in recent years. Perceived as a more visible aspect of the elite’s gradual disenchantment with the world of the supernatural, the reaction against enthusiasm has been approached in a variety of ways.1 While social and political historians have generally perceived the phenomenon in terms of the enthusiasts’ challenge to theological and social orthodoxy,2 literary historians have concentrated on its more notable literary and cultural effects, particularly on the appearance of a plainer style of English, and the emergence of the social comedies and satire characteristic of the post-Restoration period.3


Animal Spirit False Light Enthusiast Opponent Demonic Possession Discriminative Faculty 
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  1. 1.
    The literature on enthusiasm, both as a term and as a phenomenon, is vast. For a summary, see M. Heyd, “The Reaction to Enthusiasm in the Seventeenth Century.”Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See for instance K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978), 156–78.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See G. Williamson, “The Restoration Revolt against Enthusiasm;” C.M. Williamson, “The Satiric Background of the Attack on the Puritans in Swift’s Tale of a Tub.” Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See for example B. J. Shapiro, Probability and Certainty in Seventeenth Century England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 82–3.Google Scholar
  5. 5a.
    The brother of the poet, Henry Vaughan. See F.E. Hutchinson, Henry Vaughan (Oxford, 1947), 144–55, andGoogle Scholar
  6. 5b.
    A. Rudrum (ed.), Works of Thomas Vaughan (Oxford, 1984), 7–12. For discussions of More’s debate with Vaughan, see the articles by A. Miller Guinsburg, F.L. Burn-ham, N. L. Brann, and L. Mulligan, cited in the bibliography.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    See C. Webster, From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
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    See M. H. Nicolson, Conway Letters, p. 379, Miller Guinsberg, “Henry More, Thomas Vaughan,” and Mulligan, “‘Reason’, ‘Right Reason’, and ‘Revelation’.”Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    On the history of the term, see Heyd, “Reaction to Enthusiasm.” The origin of most contemporary theories appears to have been pseudo-Aristotle, Problemata, xxx, 1 ff. See for example, Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (Oxford, 1621), part I, I, iii, 1–4; and More, ET, 11 and 17.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    More, ibid., p.2.Google Scholar
  11. 10a.
    Meric Casaubon, “On Learning,” in M. R. G. Spiller, Meric Casaubon and the Royal Society (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1980), 70–2.Google Scholar
  12. 10b.
    Meric Casaubon, and A Treatise concerning Enthusiasme (London, 1655), 130. See also his attack on Plato and the Neoplatonists and their ‘mystical theology’ as an important historical source of enthusiasm and its pretensions, ibid., 52–4, 110–119 and 125–130.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    More, ET, 48–9, and Observations on Anthroposophia Theomagica and Anima Magica Abscondita, 7–8.Google Scholar
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    More, Quaestiones et Considerationes, in Opera, 2:448–9. See also More’s ‘Pythagorean’ sephirothic tree in Trium Tablarum Cabbalisticarum, in Opera, 2:440.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    Casaubon, Treatise, 110–2 and 118.Google Scholar
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    More, Ward, Life, 39–40.Google Scholar
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    More, ET, 1–2. See also his Observations, 71–7.Google Scholar
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    See for example Joseph Sedgwick, An Essay to the Discovery of the Spirit of Enthusiasme and Pretended Inspiration (London, 1653), sig. A2v.: T seemed to apprehend a great nearness between the False-Teachers of old and this Spirit that now comes forth with the highest and most raised Pretences.’ Sedgwick was a fellow of Christ’s and might have been influenced by More. See also Casaubon, Treatise, 125.Google Scholar
  19. 17.
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    More, MG, bk.4, chaps. 9–12; bk. 5, chaps. 7–10; bk.6, chaps. 12–18. and ET, 22 ff. See also Heyd, “The Reaction to Enthusiasm,” 261–5.Google Scholar
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    See pseudo-Aristotle, Problemata, xxx, 1 ff. Burton, Anatomy, part 1, I,iii,l-4; Casaubon, Treatise, 39 (citing Aristotle), and 95–7; More, The Second Lash of Alazonomastix, in ET, 283–4 (on Vaughan as a melancholist). See also S.W. Jackson, “Melancholia and the Waning of the Humoral Theory” Journal of the History of Medicine 33 (1978): 367–76.Google Scholar
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    Ward, quoting one of More’s letters, Life, 39–40. See also More, DD, 293–5; and EE, bk. 3, chap. 5, sect. 10.Google Scholar
  26. 23.
    See for example More, IS and the lengthy discussions of levels of spirit and their connection to the body in Psychathanasia, for example, bk.2, cantol, stanzal4 ff., and the discussion of the spiritual ‘Ogdoas’ in the notes to Psychozoia, Poems, 345 ff.Google Scholar
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    D.P. Walker, “Medical Spirits, God and the Soul,” 225 and 237–9. Also More, IS bk.3, 15, sect. 7 ff.Google Scholar
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    On Hales, see DNB and J.H. Elson, John Hales (New York: Kings Crown Press, 1948); on Harrison, .Google Scholar
  29. 25b.
    see R. Birley, “Robert Boyle’s Headmaster at Eton”, N &R,U (1958): 104–14, which also lists Harrison’s books in Eton College Library. For a fuller account of More’s life see my Biographical Essay in this volume, and the references cited there.Google Scholar
  30. 26.
    Notably the influence of his tutor, Robert Gell (see below) and that of Joseph Mede, the most outstanding of the fellows at this time.Google Scholar
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    More, Opera, Praefatio Generalissima, sect. 12 (omitted in Ward’s account).Google Scholar
  32. 28.
    More in Ward, Life, 12, translated from the Praefatio Generalissima, sect. 9.Google Scholar
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    In Ward’s Life, 8–9.Google Scholar
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    John Evelyn to Jeremy Taylor, April, 1659, in Taylor, (ed. R. Heber), The Whole Works, 15 vols. (London, 1828), I: lxxxv and lxxxviii. Baxter’s corroboration of Gell’s supposed heterodoxy, one of three important ‘sectmakers’, can be found in Reliquae Baxterianae, 1: 78. The Calvinist, John Etherington, attacked Gell as a ‘Familiste’, a common derogatory name for proponents of a spiritualistic theology. See Etherington, A Brief Discovery of the Blasphemous Doctrine of Familisme (London, 1645), 10; Etherington’s other targets here were John Everard and ‘John Randoll’ — perhaps Giles Randall. On Castellio, see F. Buisson, Sebastien Castellion, 2 vols. (Paris, 1892).Google Scholar
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    Castellio, Concerning Heretics (‘De Haereticiis’), ed. R. Bainton, (New York: Octagon, 1935), p. 10 ff., andGoogle Scholar
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  41. 35.
    Using the nom de plume ‘Joannes Theophilus’, Theologia Mystica (Basle?, 1580). More probably used the popular English translation by Giles Randall in 1648 (see below, note 37), Theologia Germanica. Libellus aureus hoc est, brevis et praegnans (Basle?, 1632).Google Scholar
  42. 36.
    More, in Ward, Life, 13, summarizes the message of this book thus: ‘That we should throughly put off, and extinguish our own Proper Will; that being thus dead to our selves, we may live alone unto God, and do all things by his Instinct, or plenary Permission.’ On the history of the work, see R. M. Jones, Spiritual Reformers (London: MacMillan, 1928), xxvi and 4; and also M. Windstosser, Études sur la Théologie Germanique (Paris: Alcan, 1911). The edition used here is S. Winkworth’s translation of F. Pfeiffer’s edition, Theologia Germanica: Which setteth forth many fair lineaments of divine Truth, and saith very lofty and lovely things touching a perfect Life (1854).Google Scholar
  43. 37.
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  44. 38.
    See C. C. Brown, “Henry More’s ‘Deep Retirement’.”Google Scholar
  45. 39.
    More, in Ward, Life, 13–5.Google Scholar
  46. 40.
    Ibid., 15, translated from Opera, Praefatio Generalissima, sect. 10.Google Scholar
  47. 41.
    Unless otherwise indicated, references to the Poems that follow are from the 1647 edition.Google Scholar
  48. 42.
    See G. Bullough, ed., Philosophical Poems of Henry More (hereafter cited as Bullough) and C. C. Brown, “The Early Works of Henry More.”Google Scholar
  49. 43.
    See the notes More added to the 1647 edition, e.g. p. 336. See also CA. Patrides, Cambridge Platonists, 17–8 on the importance of Plotinus to the Cambridge Platonists, and especially to More and Smith.Google Scholar
  50. 44.
    Psychozoia, canto 1, stanzas 5–20.Google Scholar
  51. 45.
    “To the Reader upon the first Canto of Psychozoia”, before Psychozoia. Google Scholar
  52. 46.
    Ibid., and see also CC, Preface.Google Scholar
  53. 47.
    More, Poems, 371. See also More’s Discourses on Several Texts of Scripture, 19.Google Scholar
  54. 48.
    See Bullough, and lvi.Google Scholar
  55. 49.
    Psychozoia, canto 2, 126–134.Google Scholar
  56. 50.
    Ibid., 141–148.Google Scholar
  57. 51.
    Ibid., canto 3, stanzas 38–42.Google Scholar
  58. 52.
    Poems, 368, and see Psychozoia, canto 3, stanzas 38–42.Google Scholar
  59. 53.
    Psychozoia, canto 3, stanzas 12–22.Google Scholar
  60. 54.
    Ibid., 56–61.Google Scholar
  61. 55.
    Ibid., 67–69.Google Scholar
  62. 56.
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    Ward, Life, 39–42; More, Cupids Conflict, in Poems, 302–5, Psychozoia, canto 2, stanzas 147, and DD (1713), 304–7.Google Scholar
  64. 58.
    See especially More in Ward, Life, 39–40: ‘That there is a holy Art of Living, or certain sacred Method of attaining unto great and Experimental Praegustations of the Highest Happiness that our Nature is capable of...’Google Scholar
  65. 59.
    See for example Psychozoia, canto 3, stanza 39. The nearest contemporary continental parallels to this theology exist in the Dutch Remonstrants and in Collegiants like Adam Boreel. See R. L. Colie, Light and Enlightenment. Google Scholar
  66. 60.
    See Castellio, A Conference of Faith (1679), 46–9, and Of Obedience (1679), 82; and Gell, Remains, 1: 147–8. See also More, DD (1713), 306–7.Google Scholar
  67. 61.
    See More, Disourses (1692), 66; Cupids Conflict, in Poems, 302–5; and Theologia Germanica (London, 1854), chaps, xxxix–xl.Google Scholar
  68. 62.
    See for instance The Easie, True and Genuine Notion and Explication of a Spirit in Glanvill, Saducismus Triumphatus a translation of chapters 27 and 28 of the EM; and the early discussion of the relationship between Christianity and Platonism in To the Reader, upon the first Canto of Psychozoia’, in Psychodia Platonica. See also CC, The Moral Cabbala, bk.l, sect.l.Google Scholar
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    Antipsychopannychia, canto 3, stanzas 23–5. See also the dualism of the early poem, Cupids Conflict, in Poems, especially pp. 302–3.Google Scholar
  70. 64.
    Psychozoia, canto 3, stanzas 57–125.Google Scholar
  71. 65.
    Ibid., 58. See also Bullough, pp.liv-lv; and M. H. Nicolson, “More’s Psychozoia.” Google Scholar
  72. 66.
    This is a common theme in Puritan literature — the unregenerate, because ignorant of the truth, are inevitably hypocritical. Bunyan’s Atheist, for example, reads the world as reality rather than emblem. Bunyan, ed. R. Sharrock, Pilgrim’s Progress (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965), 174.Google Scholar
  73. 67.
    Psychozoia, canto 2, stanzas 77–80. See also Bullough, p.lviii.Google Scholar
  74. 68.
    Psychozoia, canto 2, stanzas 89–92 and 99. Compare John Smith, Select Discourses (London, 1660), 426–7.Google Scholar
  75. 69.
    Psychozoia, canto 2, stanza 90: Corvino straight foam’d like his champing jade And said I was a very silly wight, And how through melancholy I was mad And unto private spirits all holy truth betray’d.Google Scholar
  76. 70.
    Ibid., 107–120.Google Scholar
  77. 71.
    Ibid., 112.Google Scholar
  78. 72.
    Ibid., 113.Google Scholar
  79. 73.
    Ibid., 116.Google Scholar
  80. 74.
    Ibid., 114.Google Scholar
  81. 75.
    Theologia Germanica (1854), chap, xl, and see Psychozoia, canto 2, stanzas 112–116 and ET, sig. A5.Google Scholar
  82. 76.
    The two tracts by Vaughan are Anthroposophia Theomagica, and Anima Magica Abscondita. See n. 5 above.Google Scholar
  83. 77.
    On More’s debate with Vaughan, see articles by Miller Guinsburg, Burnham, Brann and Mulligan cited in note 5 above.Google Scholar
  84. 78.
    More, Second Lash, in ET 174–5. More in this passage is referring to his Poems. Google Scholar
  85. 79.
    As D. P. Walker points out, Spiritual and Demonic Magic, 52 and 75 ff., there were significant tensions within Renaissance Platonism between a fascination for theurgy and magical practices, whether for specific cures or for illumination, and a denial of the necessity or legality of such practices. In Agrippa, Vaughan’s avowed master, this tension can be clearly seen (ibid., 54–5, and 90–1). While More is unequivocally anti-magical, Vaughan follows his master a little later by apologizing for his earlier magical concerns, in Euphrates or the Waters of the East (London, 1655), “To the Reader”.Google Scholar
  86. 80.
    More, CSPW, Preface, and Vaughan, Euphrates, “To the Reader”.Google Scholar
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    More Poems, 302, and see also ET, bk. 2, chaps. 3,sect. 3; 4, sect. 6; 5, sects. 4–7; and 9, sects. 14–16.Google Scholar
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    See Vaughan, Second Wash, 10; and also C. H. Josten, “A Translation of John Dee’s Monas Heiroglyphica (Antwerp, 1564), with an Introduction and Annotations,” Ambix 12 (1964): 100–4; and Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 225–7.Google Scholar
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    More, ET, 48–51.Google Scholar
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    More, Psychozoia, canto 2, stanzas 9–12, and the “Interpretation Generali” in Poems under ‘Hyle’; and see Plotinus, Enneads 4, 2,9, which More interprets, Poems, 353–4.Google Scholar
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    [Vaughan], Lumen de Lumine, 21 and 68 ff.; and Eliade, Forge, 154.Google Scholar
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    More, Second Lash, in ET, 218. More explicitly rejects a real primal Matter, but it is clear that he accepted the idea of an abstract principle representing the potentiality of material existence, which pre-existed the real ‘atomic’ matter from which bodies were formed (by the ‘Spirit of Nature’). See More, Psychozoia, canto 2, stanza 9; Psychathanasia, bk. 1, canto 2, stanza 54; Democritus Platonissans, 12–16; and The Philosophick Cabbala, bk.l, sects. 1–3, in CC. Google Scholar
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    See More, Psychozoia, canto 2, stanzas 7–9, Philosophick Cabbala, bk. 1, chaps. 11–12; IS bk. 3, chap. 12, sects. 1–6. See also Poems, 345–6; and compare Plotinus Enneads 3, 2, 2.Google Scholar
  96. 90.
    [Vaughan], Man-Mouse, 104–6; Second Wash, 180–2; and Euphrates, 18, 67–8 and 93.Google Scholar
  97. 91.
    [Vaughan], Man-Mouse, 16–1 and Lumen de Lumine, 251–3. See also ibid., the engraved plate facing p.22.Google Scholar
  98. 92.
    More, ET, 54–5.Google Scholar
  99. 93.
    More is never very consistent with his use of the term ‘reason’. For he considers it to be the expression of a ‘middle life’ in the soul, which must choose between becoming ‘immersed’ in the ‘animal’ or ‘divine Life’. It appears from this that he means two things by the word, depending on its context — a divine intellectual principle in man, and a discursive faculty, which he places with the imagination in the ‘middle part’ of the soul. Compare for example the definition in MG, bk. 2, chap.l 1, sect. 1 with the treatment of ‘Right Reason’ (as a successive copy of the Logos) in EE, bk. 2, chaps. 3, sect. 3; 4, sect. 6; 5, sects. 4–7; and 9, sects. 14–6.Google Scholar
  100. 94.
    More, Mastix his Letter, in ET 313, and 54–5. See also IS, bk. 2, chap.15.Google Scholar
  101. 95.
    See More’s defence of Descartes in his Second Lash in ET 178–9.Google Scholar
  102. 96.
    More, ibid., 177–9.Google Scholar
  103. 97.
    [Vaughan], Second Wash, dedicatory poem ‘by H. M., Oxon.,’ and “To the Reader” by Vaughan, and p. 10.Google Scholar
  104. 98.
    See More, AA, “To the Reader”, sig.A4. and especially Mastix his Letter, in ET, 296–7.Google Scholar
  105. 99.
    By M. H. Nicolson, “Early Stages of Cartesianism in England” and A. Lichtenstein, More, 34; J. Hoyles, Waning of the Renaissance, 50.Google Scholar
  106. 100.
    Gabbey, “Philosophia Cartesiana Triumphata,” 188, 201–6.Google Scholar
  107. 101.
    More, ET, 5–8, and Mastix his Letter, ibid., 294.Google Scholar
  108. 102.
    Ibid., 310; and see also Psychozoia, canto 1, stanzas 57–60.Google Scholar
  109. 103.
    More, ET, 5 ff.Google Scholar
  110. 104.
    Ibid., On the ‘middle’ role of the imagination, see Psychozoia, canto 1, stanzas 57–60.Google Scholar
  111. 105.
    More, Philosophiae Teutonicae Censura. On its date of publication, see the Bibliography and the article by Sarah Hutton in this volume.Google Scholar
  112. 106.
    Ibid., Preface, sect. 22, in Opera, 2: 535. See also DD, (1713), 465–470. The quote is from Mastix his Letter in ET, 275.Google Scholar
  113. 107.
    Boehme, Censura, Quaestio 1, especially sects. 13–15, Opera, 2:538–40; and ET, 42–3 and 48. See also More on Boehme’s claim to understand the language of Nature, DD, (1713), 461–3.Google Scholar
  114. 108.
    Boehme, Censura, especially Qaestio 2, sect. 4–5; Quaestio 3, sect.2 ff. in Opera, 2: 541–3.Google Scholar
  115. 109.
    See More, MG, bk. 8, chap. 12, sects. 1–2. This passage could serve as a commentary on More’s description of Glaucis in Psychozoia, (1647), II, 87 ff. See also MG, bk. 6, chaps. 12–13.Google Scholar
  116. 110.
    See Hamilton, Family of Love. The works of Niclaes were all translated into English, though by the time More was writing the sect had practically disappeared in England, the name ‘Familist’ being then mainly applied to the Quakers. See for example, More’s disciple, Henry Hallywell, An Account of Familism as it is Revived and Propagated by the Quakers (London, 1673). After 1668 More was particularly concerned with denouncing Niclaes because of his apparent popularity with Anne Conway and her companion, Elizabeth Foxcroft. See More in, Conway Letters, p. 304.Google Scholar
  117. 111.
  118. 112.
    More to Elizabeth Foxcroft, 10th June 1669, in Conway Letters, p. 297; and MG, bk. 5,chap. 7, sect. 6; and bk. 6, chap. 12, sects. 1–3.Google Scholar
  119. 113.
    Conway Letters, p. 297.Google Scholar
  120. 114.
    More, MG, bk. 6, chaps. 14–17; and DD (1713), 565 ff.Google Scholar
  121. 115.
    Conway Letters, pp. 378 ff.Google Scholar
  122. 116.
    Mastix his Letter, in ET, 307.Google Scholar
  123. 117.
    M.H. Nicolson, “George Keith and the Cambridge Platonists,” 49–55; and A. Coudert Gottesman, “F.M. Van Helmont,” 582 ff.Google Scholar
  124. 118.
    Keith, Immediate Revelation, 233.Google Scholar
  125. 119.
    Ibid., 248.Google Scholar
  126. 120.
    Ibid., 258.Google Scholar
  127. 121.
    Keith’s place in the Ragley circle is traced by Allison Coudert in “F.M. van Helmont,”587–602, and in “A Quaker-Kabbalist Controversy,”and is outlined in Conway Letters. For More on Keith, ibid., 415–6.Google Scholar
  128. 122.
    More, Observations, “To Eugenius Philalethes”, 1; ET, “To the Reader”, sig. A5v.; and Vaughan’s mocking reply to More’s pretensions, Man-Mouse, 7:’you have observed an Epidemicall Disease, and you will be an Epidemicall Physician; you will cure a nation by Indignation.’Google Scholar
  129. 123.
    See for example [Vaughan], Second Wash, 85; and the more serious charges made by Joseph Beaumont after the Restoration, to which More replied in his Apology. Google Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht 1990

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  • Robert Crocker

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