1647
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Psychathanasia or the second Part of the Song of the Soul.

Philosophical Poems comprising Psychozoia and Minor Poems.

Rev. Henry More


In the second installment of his long philosophical poem, Henry More gets down to serious metaphysical argument. The full title is "Psychathanasia or the second Part of the Song of the Soul, treating of the Immortality of Souls, especially Mans Soul."

Robert Southey: "Philosophy set to tune only serves to puzzle the composer, without assisting the student. There is only one way of adapting it to the nature of poetry, which is, by allegorizing it: Henry More attempted this in a small part of his song, and the success of this attempt is not such as to induce a wish that he had extended it. Mr. Todd's praise is ill founded. The allegory in Spenser is the worst part of his poem, but the worst allegory in Spenser is far better than the best in Henry More" Omniana (1812) 2:157.

Gentleman's Magazine: "More was amiable and learned, but his philosophy is obsolete, and his poems are forgotten. At once Platonic and Spenserian, he is far inferior to both his masters" 92 (November 1822) 435.

Geoffrey Bullough: "Here More uses the view of the Universe outlined in Psychozoia for controversy against the 'naturalist's' denial of immortality. Soul he defines as a 'self-moving substance' which vitalizes vegetable and animal nature and finds its higher embodiment, not in the reason — for that is shared by some animals (I, 2, 17) — but in the religious activity ('True Justice that keeps ever th' even trod, | True Piety that yields to man the sight | Of heavenly beauty ' (I, 2, 19) ). Spirit being the informing principle of all life, immortality may be possible for plants and animals, if for men, but he not unnaturally refuses to discuss the conditions of subhuman afterlife. By the symbolism of a vision in which a Nymph interprets a rainbow in terms of his philosophy he declares the eight Orbs of universal being. 'The first we name Nature Monadicall, | The second hight life Intellectual, | Third Psychicall; the fourth Imaginative, | fifth Sensitive, the sixth Spermaticall, | The seventh be fading forms Quantitative, | The eighth Hyle or Ananke perverse, coactive' (1, 3, 23) On this basis he builds his detailed argument. Matter is finite, extended; divisible; soul alone is eternal: the body exists by virtue of the soul's 'plastic might'. The incorporeal nature of the soul is shown introspectively by examining the functions of the mind. The senses, owing to their contact with matter, are fallible (2, 2, 3); but reason, 'that above the sense doth sit', is an incorporeal essence, as are memory, and the 'common sense'. These facts show 'that th' humane soul's essence | Is indivisible, yet everywhere | In this her body' (2, 2, 32).

"The independence of the soul is now to be proved. It is irrational to suppose that man's soul, which wills knowledge of and unity with God can ever die. The soul, already possessing some insight into God's being 'Though what God is we cannot yet so plainly tell' (2, 3, 10) grows in understanding. 'By curbing sense and the self-seeking life' (13); its food is not physical, but 'verity | Got and digest by Contemplation' (17); it has powers of abstraction, synthesis, generalization, of creating what God nere made, nor doth at all intend | To make, free phantasms' (28). All of which goes to suggest that the soul is unconfined to any one part of the body but is the free principle of the whole creature.

"Since 'our body is but the soul's instrument' (3, I, 6), 'Old age is but the wat'ry blouds disease | The soul from death and sickness standeth free | My hackney fails, not I; my pen, not sciencie'. More explains this by an analysis of three modes of the soul's operation in man. The first and lowest function is the 'plantall', that is, the energy set in motion by the act of procreation (9) whereby the World-Soul, working unconsciously, creates an organism which is at once within her, and a separate entity (15-16) of physical life. All physical activity is thus spiritual. 'We know this world because our soul hath made | Our bodie of this sensible worlds spright | And body' (18); 'so eyes and ears be not mere perforations | But a due temper of the Mundane spright | And ours together' (20). Sin arises, however, when men love only this manifestation of the soul; and the pangs of hell are the result of the soul's yearning for physical joys no longer possible. The second or centrall essence of the soul is the life of imagination, whereby 'with slight phantasms of her own fond making | She's clad (so is her life dry and jejune)' (29). But the highest life of the human spirit is the 'deiform', the consciousness of Union with God, transcending the lower activities, and symbolized by the union of Christ and the worshipper in the Eucharist (30-3). To perpetuate this unity is the object of existence. More next considers the existence of the human soul before physical conception; but after stating four theories on this problem, he denies that any of them implies the extinction of the soul at death. Her aspiration to God shows her origin in him; for 'can she higher rise than her own head ? | Therefore her spring is God' (3, 2, 12). Being from God soul is indestructible. It is like sunlight, which may be withdrawn or obstructed, but never extinguished. The death of the body is simply the withdrawal from matter of the three centres of spiritual energy. All the higher operations of the mind bear out the assertion that soul is independent of body. Since 'that thing is individuous | Whatever can into it self reflect (3, 2, 25) the soul is indivisible and therefore independent. Intellect ('Wherewith she drives into her nature deep, | And finds it out') and Will ('this doth affect | Herself found out') are both alien to the body (25). Prophetic visions occur when the body is least active (29); the mystical trance is 'a riddle to the outward sense' (36); philosophy and religion are pursued at the expense of the body; men die willingly for patriotic and other ideals (39). Obviously the mind can ignore the body. Fancy, sense, and memory, are shown to be dependent, not on physical contacts, but upon innate ideas of the soul. ('Of old Gods hand did all forms write | In humane souls, which waken at the knock | Of Mundane shapes (45).) Their variability, their failure in age, are due to their participation in material life as well. 'The common life sucks back the common spright, | The body backward falls into the dust, | It doth it by degrees (48). But the Intellect, the light of 'Everlive-Idees', is eternal is constant. Fancy, like a spider in the web of sensuous impressions, is shaken by 'low tumults'; only the soul, with its Intellect, is unmoved.

"Hence there is a distinction between the 'under-spright' of the body-limit, and the higher soul 'joyn'd with the Eternal Idees' (58). Recognition of this fact enables us to confute such a pregnant falsity as the Ptolemaic theory of the earth's stability, which, though supported by the senses, is opposed to reason. Now follow proofs of the Copernican system based on metaphysics and astronomy. The macro-microcosm parallelism is used to show that just as God is the centre of the spiritual universe, so the sun must be the centre of the physical order. This pseudo-scientific reasoning is not convincing and the reader feels relief when the excursus ends with the reflection: 'Many other reasons from those heavenly motions | Might well be drawn, but with exility | Of subtile Mathematicks obscure notions, | A Poets pen so fitly no'te agree, | And curious men Will judge's a vagrancy | To start thus from my scope' (73). The whole Canto is an irrelevance, despite his claim that it was necessary to show 'that stout resistance | Of the pure soul against the Mundane spright | And body that's the lower mans consistence' (74). In the final section of the poem, dealing with the goodness of Providence, he reverts (3, 4) to the religious problems consequent on the new astronomical theory. If the earth be not the centre of the universe men may say, 'God's love to us then not so plain appears; | For then the starres he mutually made | One for another' (5). But More replies that a truly benevolent heart will rejoice to share God's love with His other creatures: 'My felicity | Is multipy'd when others I like happy see' (6). Faith in God's Goodness is indeed the only stay in mental misfortunes, which reveal the inadequacy of reason, 'the emptiness of vain Philosophy'. More therefore examines the 'Faith in the First God' inculcated by Platonism. That God can will nothing but Good is for him a sufficient refutation of the doctrines of predestination and determinism (17-22). Questions arise as to the time and nature of Creation, the damnation of the wicked, original sin; but that which exercises him most concerns the world's duration. Was it eternal with God, or created in time? If the latter, why did God delay before achieving a beneficent act? He answers that the world is not ab eterno since 'Extension | That's infinite implies a contradiction', but is an effect of the will of God, acting in obstructive matter. God's Goodness being everywhere upheld, the aspiring soul of man must be immortal" Philosophical Poems (1931) 244-46.

In 1822 an excerpt from More's poem was reprinted in the New England Galaxy under the title "Good old Poetry."



BOOK I. CANTO I.
Struck with strong sense of Gods good will
The immortality
Of Souls I sing; Praise with my quill
Plato's Philosophy.

Whatever man he be that dares to deem
True Poets skill to spring of earthly race,
I must him tell, that he doth misesteem
Their strange estate, and eke himselfe disgrace
By his rude ignorance. For there's no place
For forced labour, or slow industry
Of flagging wits, in that high fiery chace:
So soon as of the Muse they quickned be,
At once they rise, and lively sing like Lark in skie.

Like to a Meteor, whose materiall
Is low unwieldy earth, base unctuous slime,
Whose inward hidden parts ethereall
Ly close upwrapt in that dull sluggish sime,
Ly fast asleep, till at some fatall time
Great Phoebus lamp has fir'd its inward spright,
And then even of it self on high doth climb;
That earst was dark becomes all eye, all sight,
Bright starre, that to the wise of future things gives light.

Even so the weaker mind, that languid lies
Knit up in rags of dirt, dark, cold, and blind,
So soon that purer flame of Love unties
Her clogging chains, and doth her spright unbind,
Shee sores aloft: for shee her self doth find
Well plum'd; so rais'd upon her spreader wing,
She softly playes, and warbles in the wind,
And carols out her inward life and spring
Of overflowing joy, and of pure love doth sing.

She sings of purest love, not that base passion
That fouls the soul with filth of lawlesse lust,
And Circe-like her shape doth all misfashion;
But that bright flame that's proper to the just,
And eats away all drosse and cankred rust
With its refining heat, unites the mind
With Gods own spright, who raiseth from the dust
The slumbring soul, and with his usage kind
Makes t' breath after that life that time hath not defin'd.

So hath he rais'd my soul, and so possest
My inward spright, with that unfained will
He bears to Psyche's brood, that I nere rest
But ruth or ragefull indignation fill
My troubled veins, that I my life near spill
With sorrow and disdain, for that foul lore
That crept from dismall shades of Night, and quill
Steep'd in sad Styx, and fed with stinking gore
Suckt from corrupted corse, that God and men abhorre.

Such is thy putid muse, Lucretius,
That fain would teach that souls all mortall be:
The dusty Atoms of Democritus
Certes have fall'n into thy feeble eye,
And thee bereft of perspicacity,
Others through the strong steem of their dull bloud,
Without the help of that Philosophy,
Have with more ease the truth not understood,
And the same thing conclude in some sad drooping mood.

But most of all my soul doth them refuse
That have extinguish'd natures awfull light
By evil custome, and unkind abuse
Of Gods young tender work, that in their spright
He first gins frame. But they with heddy might
Of over-whelming liquour that life drownd,
And reasons eye swell up or put out quite.
Hence horrid darknesse doth their souls confound;
And foul blasphemous belch from their furd mouth resounds.

Thus while false way they take to large their spirit
By vaster cups of Bacchus, they get fire
Without true light, and 'cording to demerit
Infernall blasts blind confidence inspire:
Bold heat to uncouth thoughts is their bad hire.
Which they then dearly hug, and ween their feet
Have clombe, whither vulgar men dare not aspire.
But its the fruit of their burnt sootie spright:
Thus dream they of drad death, and an eternall night.

Now in the covert of dame Natures cell
They think they'r shrowded, and the mystery
Of her deep secrets they can wisely spell;
And 'pprove that art above true piety;
Laugh at religion as a mockery,
A thing found out to aw the simpler sort:
But they, brave sparks, have broke from this dark tie:
The light of nature yields more sure comfort.
Alas! too many souls in this fond thought consort.

Like men new made contriv'd into a cave
That ne're saw light, but in that shadowing pit,
Some uncouth might them hoodwink hither crave,
Now with their backs to the dens mouth they sit,
Yet shoulder not all light from the dern pit:
So much gets in as Optick art counts meet
To shew the forms that hard without do flit.
With learned quaere each other here they greet:
True moving substances they deem each shadow slight:

When fowls flie by, and with their swapping wings
Beat the inconstant air, and mournfull noise
Stirre up with their continuall chastisings
In the soft yielding penitent; the voice
These solemn Sages nought at all accoyes.
'Tis common; onely they philosophize,
Busying their brains in the mysterious toyes
Of flittie motion, warie well advize
On'ts inward principles the hid Entelechies:

And whereabout that inward life is seated,
That moves the living creature, they espie
Passing in their dim world. So they'r defeated,
Calling thin shadows true realitie,
And deeply doubt if corporalitie,
(For so they term those visibles) were stroy'd
Whether that inward first vitalitie
Could then subsist. But they are ill accloy'd
With cloddie earth, and with blind duskishnesse annoy'd.

If roaring Lion or the neighing Horse,
With frisking tail to brush off busie flies,
Approch their den, then haply they discourse
From what part of these creatures may arise
Those greater sounds. Together they advise,
And gravely do conclude that from the thing
That we would term the tail, those thund'ring neyes
Do issue forth: tail of that shadowing
They see then moved most, while he is whinneying.

And so the Lions huge and hideous roar
They think proceeds from his rugg'd flowing mane,
Which the fierce winds do tosse and tousell sore;
Unlesse perhaps he stirre his bushie train;
For then the tail will carrie it again.
Thus upon each occasion their frail wit
Bestirres itself to find out errours vain
And uselesse theories in this dark pit:
Fond reasoning they have, seldome or never hit.

So soon new shadows enter in the cave,
New entelechias they then conceive
Brought forth of nature: when they passed have
Their gloomy orb (false shades eas'ly deceive)
Not onely they that visible bereave
Of life and being, but the hidden might
And moving root, unliv'd, unbeen'd they leave
In their vain thoughts: for they those shadows slight
Do deem sole prop and stay of th' hidden motive spright.

This is that awfull cell where Naturalists
Brood deep opinion, as themselves conceit;
This Errours den wherein a magick mist
Men hatch their own delusion and deceit,
And grasp vain shows. Here their bold brains they beat,
And dig full deep, as deep as Hyle's hell,
Unbare the root of life (O searching wit!)
But root of life in Hyles shade no'te dwell.
For God's the root of all, as I elsewhere shall tell.

This is the stupid state of drooping soul,
That loves the body and false forms admires;
Slave to base sense, fierce 'gainst reasons controul,
That still itself with lower lust bemires;
That nought believeth and much lesse desires
Things of that unseen world and inward life,
Nor unto height of purer truth aspires:
But cowardly declines the noble strife
'Gainst vice and ignorance; so gets it no relief.

From this default, the lustfull Epicure
Democrite, or th' unthankfull Stagarite,
Most men preferre 'fore holy Pythagore,
Divinest Plato, and grave Epictete:
But I am so inflam'd with the sweet sight
And goodly beauty seen on Eloim-hill,
That maugre all mens clamours in despight
I'll praise my Platonissa with loud quill;
My strong intended voice all the wide world shall fill.

O sacred Nymph begot of highest Jove!
Queen of Philosophie and virtuous lear!
That firest the nobler heart with spotlesse love,
And sadder minds with Nectar drops dost chear,
That oft bedrencht with sorrows while we're here
Exil'd from our dear home, that heavenly soil.
Through wandring wayes thou safely dost us bear
Into the land of truth, from dirtie soil
Thou keepst our slipping feet oft wearied with long toil

When I with other beauties thine compare,
O lovely maid, all others I must scorn.
For why? they all rude and deform'd appear:
Certes they be ill shew'd and baser born:
Yet thou, alas! of men art more forlorn.
For like will to its like: but few can see
Thy worth; so night-birds flie the glorious morn
Thou art a beam shot from the Deitie,
And nearest art ally'd to Christianitie.

But they be sprung of sturdie Giants race,
Ally'd to Night and the foul Earthy clay,
Love of the carcase, Envie, Spight, Disgrace,
Contention, Pride, that unto th' highest doth bray,
Rash labour, a Titanicall assay
To pluck down wisdome from her radiant seat,
With mirie arms to bear her quite away
But thy dear mother Thorough-cleansing virtue hight:
Here will true wisdome lodge, here will she deigne to light.

Come, Gentle Virgin, take me by the hand,
To yonder grove with speedie pace we'll hie:
(Its not farre off from Alethea land)
Swift as the levin from the sneezing skie,
So swift we'll go, before an envious eye
Can reach us. There I'll purge out the strong steem
Of prepossessing prejudice, that I
Perhaps may have contract in common stream;
And warie well wash out my old conceived dream.

And when I've breath'd awhile in that free air,
And clear'd my self from tinctures took before,
Then deigne thou to thy novice to declare
Thy secret skill, and hid mysterious lore,
And I due thanks shall plenteously down poure.
But well I wote thou'lt not envassall me:
That law were rudenesse. I may not adore
Ought but the lasting spotlesse veritie.
Well thewed minds the mind do alwayes setten free.

Free to that inward awfull Majestie
Hight Logos, whom they term great sonne of God,
Who fram'd the world by his deep sciency,
The greater world. Als' makes his near abode
In the lesse world: so he can trace the trod
Of that hid ancient path, whenas he made
This stately Fabrick of the world so broad.
He plainly doth unfold his skilfull trade,
When he doth harmlesse hearts by his good spright invade.

O thou eternall Spright, cleave ope the skie,
And take thy flight into my feeble breast,
Enlarge my thoughts, enlight my dimmer eye,
That wisely of that burthen closely prest
In my strait mind, I may be dispossess:
My Muse must sing of things of mickle weight;
The souls eternity is my great quest:
Do thou me guide, that art the souls sure light,
Grant that I never erre, but ever wend aright.

[Grosart (1878) 43-45]

[Continue]