1660
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Explanation of the Grand Mystery of Godliness.

An Explanation of the Grand Mystery of Godliness; or, a true and faithfull Representation of the everlasting Gospel.... By H. More, D.D.

Rev. Henry More


Henry More, who by this point in his career had given over poetry for prose, makes one of relatively few seventeenth-century comments on Spenser's allegory: "Methinks Spencer's description of Una's Entertainment by Satyrs in the Desart, does lively set out the condition of Christianity since the time that the Church of a Garden became a Wilderness."

In another passage More comments that "Duessa until unstripped will compare with Una; you know the story in Spenser: and the bold ignorance of some does ordinarily make others take a great deal of pains to explain and evince that which to any indifferent man is usually true at first sight" pp. 152-53.

George Gilfillan: "More's prose writings give us, on the whole, a higher idea of his powers than his poem. This is not exactly, as a recent critic calls it 'dull and tedious,' but it is in some parts prosaic, and in others obscure. The gleams of fancy in it are genuine, but few and far between. But his prose works constitute, like those of Cudworth, Charnock, Jeremy Taylor, and John Scott, a vast old quarry, abounding both in blocks and in gems — blocks of granite solidity, and gems of starry lustre. The peculiarity of More is in that poetico-philosophic mist which, like the autumnal gossamer, hangs in light and beautiful festoons over his thoughts, and which suggests pleasing memories of Plato and the Alexandrian school" Specimens with Memoirs of the less-known British Poets (1860) 2:221.

J. Bass Mullinger: "In 1660 appeared his Grand Mystery of Godliness, which [Joseph] Beaumont was imprudent enough to criticize. The prosaic poet was incapable of appreciating the poetic philosopher, and blundered sadly. The underlying design of More's treatise would appear, indeed, to have been unintelligible to him, and his attack recoiled disastrously on himself" Cambridge History of English Literature (1912) 8:325.




4. Hitherto therefore the Pagan World since they became Christians have been very religiously complemental according to the ancient guize of Paganism, devoutly cringing and courting with many sacred Rites and Ceremonies not only Christ, but the blessed Virgin and all the holy Martyrs and Confessours, very freely and forwardly bestowing upon them all external Reverence, consecrating Chappels and Daies to their honour and memories: So that the personal worship of the Divine Life as it is seated in Christ, in the blessed Virgin, in this or in that Saint or Martyr, is as puctually performed, as the worship of those excellent dowries of the Animal Life in ancient Paganism, which they honoured in Belus, Bacchus, Ceres, Apollo, Venus and other Eminent persons amongst the Heathens, who were great gratifiers of the natural life of man.

5. Methinks Spencer's description of Una's Entertainment by Satyrs in the Desart, does lively set out the condition of Christianity since the time that the Church of a Garden became a Wilderness. They danc'd and frisk'd and play'd about her, abounding with externall homages and observances; but she could not inculcate any thing of that Divine law of life that she was to impart to them. The Representation is so lively, and the Verses so musical, that it will not be tedious to recite some of the chief of them; as Stanza 11, where he makes the Satyrs to lay aside their rudeness and roughness as much as they could to revive the dismayed Virgin after her great Distress.

Their frowning foreheads with rough horns yclad,
And rustick horrour all aside they lay,
And gently grenning, shew a semblance glad
To comfort her, and fear to put away,
Their backward bent knees teach her humbly to obay.

And then again in the following Stanza,

They in compassion to her tender youth,
And wonder to her beauty soverain,
Are won with pitty and unwonted ruth,
And all prostrate upon the lowly Plain
Do kis her feet, and fawn on her with count'nance fain.

13.
Their hearts she guesseth by †heir humble guise,
And yields her to extremity of time;
So from the ground she fearless doth arise,
And walketh forth without suspect of crime.
They all, as glad as Birds of joyous Prime,
Thence lead her forth, about her dancing round,
Shouting, and singing all a Shepheards rime,
And with green branches strowing all the ground,
Do worship her, as Queen with Olive girlond crown'd.

14.
And all the way their merry pipes they sound,
That all the woods with double Echo ring,
And with their horned feet do wear the ground,
Leaping like wanton kids in pleasant Spring, &c.

But in all this alacritie and activity in their Ceremonies and complemental observances, Una could beat nothing of the inward law of life into them, but all was spent in an outward Idolatrous flattery, as the Poet complains Stanza 19.

Glad of such luck, the luckless lucky maid
Did her content to please their feeble eyes,
And long time with that salvage people stai'd,
To gether breath in many miseries:
During which time, her gentle wit she plies
To teach them Truth which worship her in vain,
And made her th' Image of Idolatries.
But when their bootless zeal she did restrain
From her own worship, they her Ass would worship fain.

6. But though it has been thus so long, yet it seems incredible it should be always so; and while it is as it is, yet the Divine life is in its personal Triumph. And now the enemies of Christ even while they are such, (and such are all unregenerate men, let them be called Christians never so loudly) do lick the very dust of his feet, and they lout and ly prostrate to the names of those men whose lives, if they were on the Earth again (they are so contrary to theirs) they would unreconcilably hate, and scorn their persons for their meanness, and tread them under feet; nay it may be with more shame and cruelty then ever, make them suffer once again those bloudy Martyrdomes.


[pp. 169-71]