1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Henry More

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 297.



Dr. Henry More was the son of a respectable gentleman of Grantham, in Lincolnshire. He spent the better part of a long and intensely studious life at Cambridge, refusing even the mastership of his college, and several offers of preferment in the church, for the sake of unbroken leisure and retirement. In 1640 he composed his Psychozoia, or Life of the Soul, which he afterwards republished with other pieces, in a volume entitled Philosophical Poems. Before the appearance of the former work he had studied the Platonic writers and mystic divines, till his frame had become emaciated, and his faculties had been strained to such enthusiasm, that he began to talk of holding supernatural communications, and imagined that his body exhaled the perfume of violets. With the exception of these innocent reveries, his life and literary character were highly respectable. He corresponded with Des Cartes, was the friend of Cudworth, and as a divine and moralist was not only popular in his own time, but has been mentioned with admiration both by Addison and Blair. In the heat of rebellion he was spared even by the fanatics, who, though he refused to take the covenant, left him to dream with Plato in his academic bower. As a poet he has woven together a singular texture of Gothic fancy and Greek philosophy, and made the Christian-Platonic system of metaphysics a ground-work for the fables of the nursery. His versification, though he tells us that he was won to the Muses in his childhood by the melody of Spenser, is but a faint echo of the Spenserian tune. In fancy he is dark and lethargic. Yet his Psychozoia is not a common-place production: a certain solemnity and earnestness in his tone leaves the impression that he "believed the magic wonders which he sung" [William Collins]. His poetry is not, indeed, like a beautiful landscape on which the eye can repose, but may be compared to some curious grotto, whose gloomy labyrinths we might be curious to explore for the strange and mystic associations they excite.