1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Henry More

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:452-53.



The last of the divines of the established church whom we shall mention at present is DR. HENRY MORE (1614-1687), a very learned cultivator of the Platonic philosophy. He devoted his life to study and religions meditation at Cambridge, and strenuously refused to accept preferment in the church, which would have rendered it necessary for him to leave what he called his paradise. The friends of this recluse philosopher once attempted to decoy him into a bishopric, and got him as far as Whitehall, that he might kiss the king's hand on the occasion; but when told for what purpose they had brought him thither, he refused to move a step farther. Dr. More published several works for the promotion of religion and virtue; his moral doctrines are admirable, but some of his views are strongly tinged with mysticism, and grounded on a philosophy which, though considerable attention was paid to it at the time when he lived, has now fallen into general neglect as visionary and absurd. He was one of those who held the opinion that the wisdom of the Hebrews had descended to Pythagoras, and from him to Plato, in the writings of whom and his followers ho believed that the true principles of divine philosophy were consequently to be found. For such a theory, it is hardly necessary to remark, there is no good foundation, the account given of Pythagoras's travels into the east being of uncertain authority, and there being no evidence that he had any communication with the Hebrew prophets. Dr More was an enthusiastic and disinterested inquirer after truth, and is celebrated by his contemporaries as a man of uncommon benevolence, purity, and devotion. He once observed to a friend, "that he was thought by some to have a soft head, but he thanked God he had a soft heart." Among his visionary notions was the idea that supernatural communications were made to him, under the direction of God, by a particular genius or demon like that of Socrates; that he was unusually gifted with the power of explaining the prophecies of Scripture; and that, when writing on that subject, he was under the guidance of a special providence. He was, moreover, credulous as to apparitions and witchcraft, but in this differed little from many intelligent and learned contemporaries. His works, though now little read, were extremely popular in the latter half of the seventeenth century. The principal of them are, The Mystery of Godliness, The Mystery of Iniquity, A Discourse on the Immortality of the Soul, Ethical and Metaphysical Manuals, several treatises against atheism and idolatry, and a dull and tedious poem, entitled A Platonic Sang of the Soul. The following two stanzas are a favourable specimen of the last-named work

[THE SOUL AND BODY.]
Like to a light fast lock'd in lanthorn dark,
Whereby by night our wary steps we guide
In slabby streets, and dirty channels mark,
Some weaker rays through the black top do glide,
And flusher streams perhaps from horny side.
But when we've pass'd the peril of the way,
Arriv'd at home, and laid that ease aside,
The naked light how clearly doth it ray,
And spread its joyful beams as bright as summer's day.

Even so the soul, in this contracted state,
Confin'd to these strait instruments of sense,
More dull and narrowly doth operate
At this hole hears, the sight must ray from thence,
Here tastes, there smells: but when she's gone from hence,
Like naked lamp she is one shining sphere,
And round about has perfect cognoscence
Whate'er in her horizon doth appear:
She is one orb of sense, all eye, all airy ear.

Of the prose composition of Dr. More, the subjoined extracts, the first from his "Mystery of Godliness," and the second from "An Antidote against Atheism," will serve as specimens.