1653
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Conjectura Cabbalistica.

Conjectura Cabbalistica. Or, a conjectural Essay of interpreting the Minde of Moses, according to a Threefold Cabbala: Viz. Literal, Philosophical, Mystical, or, Divinely Moral. By Henry More Fellow of Christs College in Cambridge.

Rev. Henry More


Explicating the symbolic significance of the Serpent in the third chapter of Genesis, Henry More calls in Guyon to illustrate the virtue of Temperance.

Henry Headley: "His poetry is very moderate; but his prose works highly deserve republication for their acuteness, imagination, and style" Specimens of Ancient English Poetry (1787; 1810) 1:xxvi n.

E. K. Chambers: "He writes excellent English, easy, leisurely, scholarly, with an abundance of learning, which is yet not ponderous, and occasionally gleams of humour. He is no pedant; good racy, homespun, coarse words diversify pleasantly his philosophic terminology. Yet in the selection of his language he has the nicety of the exact refined man of letters. Pedantry, indeed, would have been impossible to him, for, in spite of his airy mysticisms, he is, like Plato himself, well in touch with earth. His love of nature, of outdoor life, is intense, and colours many a passage of his prose. His chief defect as a writer is a tendency to long-windedness in his periods: none the less he rarely fails to be lucid, often succeeds in being vivid, in the expression of his thought" English Prose, ed. Craik (1893) 2:554.




Verse I. Inordinate desire of pleasure. It is Philo's [Greek characters], That the Serpent is a Symbole or representation of Pleasure; which he compares to that Creature for three reasons.

First, because a Serpent is an Animal without feet, and crawls along on the Earth upon his belly.

Secondly, because it is said to feed upon the dust of the Earth.

Thirdly, because it has poisonous teeth that kill those that it bites. And so he assimilates Pleasure to it, being a base affection, and bearing it self upon the belly, the seat of lust and intemperance, feedling on earthly things, [Greek characters], but never nourishing her self with that heavenly food which Wisdome offers to the Contemplative by her precepts and discourses.

It is much that Philo should take no notice of that which is so particularly set down in the Text, the subtilty of the Serpent, which methinks is notorious in Pleasure, it looking so smoothly and innocently on't, and insinuating it self very easily into the minds of men upon that consideration, and so deceiving them; whenas other Passions cannot so slily surprise us, they bidding more open warre to the quiet and happiness of mans life, as that judicious Poet Spencer has well observed in his Legend of Sir Guyon or Temperance.

A harder lesson to learn continence
In joyous pleasure doth allure the weaker sense
So strongly, that uneathes it can refrain
From that which feeble Nature covets fain;
But grief and wrath that be our enemies,
And foes of life, she better can restrain:
Yet Vertue vaunts in both her Victories,
And Guyon in them all shews goodly Masteries.

[p. 226; Philosophical Works (1662) Sig. Ttt2; p. 169]