[Page 3] THE attempt to reconcile the doctrines of the Christian religion with the philosophy of Plato and of the Stoics dates from the earliest centuries of our era. It is a distinctive feature of the Fourth Gospel, the opening paragraph of which is pure Platonism, and to be rightly understood only by those who have some acquaintance with the teachings of the Platonic school. It was continued by the most profound thinkers among the Christian Fathers: by Origen, and Clement, and Augustine. To the mediaeval church the Platonic tradition was handed down in the writings which passed under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite. It coloured the theology of the Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas; and blossomed afresh in the teachings of Master Eckhart, and the German Mystics of the fourteenth century. It received a new and powerful impulse during the Italian Renaissance, from the labours of Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. Even at this day Platonic Christianity is not wholly extinct, nor, perhaps, is it destined to extinction so long as Christianity itself endures; but its last prominent appearance in the history of literature was in the seventeenth century, in the writings of a group of English scholars and theologians, collectively known as the Cambridge Platonists.
Every religion which the world has known may be regarded under two
aspects. There is the esoteric, or inward, religion, which is in essence everywhere one and the same; and there
is the exoteric, or outward, religion, the garb wherewith the inward truth is clothed, and too often disguised,
which varies with the differing manners of men, and the changeful course of the ages. Behind both Platonism
and Christianity abides the one Truth, which each is striving to express, which each expresses in more or less
imperfect fashion. Each springs from the same source, each tends towards the same goal; their difference lies
in the mode, and perhaps also in the degree, of expression. But among the Platonists there has always been
one insuperable point of dissension between Christians and non-Christians: the Christians identified the Logos
or Word of God with the personality of Jesus of Nazareth; the non-Christians refused to restrict the corporeal
manifestation of the Logos to any human personality whatsoever. To both Christians and non-Christians the Logos
originally meant the same thing: it was the second principle of the Platonic Triad, the second person of the
Christian Trinity: the mind or consciousness of the Deity. [Page 4]
It will not, I think, be irrelevant to our subject if we attempt here to investigate, though very briefly, the nature of this Triad or Trinity, in accordance with the teachings of Plato and Plotinus. The first hypostasis, or principle, of the Triad is denominated by them the One, and the Good. It is that Unity from whence all things proceed, in which all things have their being, and towards which all things ultimately tend. From this One, which is beyond attributes and beyond essence, emanates the second principle, Nous — that is, Intellect or Consciousness — which is called also Logos, or the Word. In this principle all being is comprised, all life, and all power; and it has three aspects, Being, Life, and Intellect. In its third aspect it is the Creator, in its second aspect the creative energy, in its first aspect the essence of all that is. And again, in its first aspect this principle is the Intelligible World of Plato, the World of Ideas — of the realities, namely, whereof all things in this visible universe are but the shadows, or imperfect expressions. To this Intelligible World, the home of eternal Being, the Creator is said to look, fashioning the sensible world therefrom as from a pattern or paradigm. And similarly, a Christian Platonist would speak of " the Father thinking Himself," meaning the same thing with Plato; since Being, Life, and Intellect are not three distinct substances, but three aspects of one and the same principle — the Nous or Logos.
From Nous emanates the third principle of the Triad — Psyche, the Soul. And as Nous is the Logos, or expressed thought, of the One, so also may Psyche be called the Logos of Nous. Soul, then, is the medium through which the Intellect creates. Its essence is eternally established in the Father, Intellect; and from thence it extends itself downward through the changeful realms of Time and Space, expressing in mutation the Immutable, receding from the Father and again returning thither. The whole phenomenal universe is the soul's attempt to realise by the senses, under conditions of time and space, the eternal facts of the World of Ideas.
I am well aware how impossible it is to convey to you, in so few words, any clear conception of what the Platonic philosophers understood by this Triad of hypostases. But I think you will perceive that their Triad and the Christian Trinity, although in some respects analogous, are by no means identical; and you may easily imagine how a non-Christian Platonist would have recoiled with horror from the impiety, as it would seem to him, of identifying the all-comprehending Logos with the personality of one mortal man. To the Christian Platonist this identification became possible. Man was admittedly the microcosm of the macrocosm: in the wide universe nothing existed which was without its correspondence in the soul of man. Might not then the perfect Man be regarded as a [Page 5] manifestation of the Logos in all the plenitude of its power ? On the other hand, the true successors of Plato held that the Logos was perpetually manifesting itself in the entire world of phenomena. Man is indeed the microcosm of the macrocosm, but, in the words of Proclus, "all such things subsist in him partially, as the world contains divinely and totally". Or, if we may use again the oft-employed and beautiful metaphor, the Logos is as the Sun, of which every soul is a ray — inseparable from its source, and one in essence with it; yet distinct. A non-Christian philosopher would find the same incongruity in restricting the power of the Logos to one human personality, as in restricting the power of the sun to one of its innumerable rays.
Thus you see that the point of divergence was not the recognition of the Logos in Jesus, but its restriction to the person of Jesus. It is possible, indeed, that some of the early philosophic Christians accepted this identification in a sense not utterly irreconcilable with Platonic conceptions of the Logos; holding that the divine essence, everywhere present and the same, was but more fully manifested in Jesus of Nazareth than in any other person. Moreover, the pseudo-Dionysius, whose writings were held in such high esteem by the mediaeval Church, boldly affirms "That Christ before his resurrection was simply a mortal man, even inferior, as it were, to the angels, and that only after the resurrection did he become at once immortal man and God of all."[Max Müller’s Theosophy or Psychological Religion, page 468] But such views as these are not, and perhaps never were, regarded as orthodox, in distinguishing between the divinity in Jesus, and the divinity which is manifest throughout the universe, the Christian writers forfeited their claim to be reckoned among the genuine disciples of Plato.
Nevertheless, the light is the same, although it is variously refracted, and there are different degrees of illumination. And in all ages this has been recognised by Christian thinkers, who have felt the strong attraction of Plato's philosophy, and have owned him, despite their differences, as a master of wisdom and a fellow-servant of the Truth. In our own country, the most remarkable instance of Christian Platonism is to be found in the writings of those seventeenth century scholars who are known as the Cambridge Platonists. These men were both students of philosophy and divines of the Church of England, and their true mission was to prove a fact so constantly in practice, and so often, even in theory, denied — the essential unity of religion and philosophy. "For my part", says one of them, Dr. Henry More, "I look upon the Christian religion, rightly understood, to be the deepest and the choicest piece of philosophy that is". And indeed, I think it may be said that true religion and true philosophy are not only inseparable, but that in their essence they are really' the same. It is [Page 6] certain, at least, that without philosophy religion is very apt to become superstition, and that without religion philosophy will inevitably degenerate into materialism.
This outburst of Christian Platonism in England was not confined to Cambridge: two of its prominent supporters, John Norris and Joseph Glanvill, were educated at Oxford. Cambridge University, however, was its headquarters; and I purpose this evening to offer you some remarks upon the writings of two Cambridge scholars, the leaders of the movement: Dr. Ralph Cudworth, who is, I suppose, the best known of the group, and Dr. Henry More, who deserves to be the best known. On the principle of reserving the best to the last, I shall begin with Dr. Cudworth.
Ralph Cudworth was born in Somersetshire in the year 1617. In May, 1632, he was admitted to Emmanuel College, Cambridge: he took his degree in 1635, and in 1639 became Master of Arts and Fellow of his college. Six years later he was chosen Regius Professor of Hebrew to the University of Cambridge, which position he held during the remainder of his life. In 1654 he was appointed Master of Christ's College — the college at which Milton had studied, and of which Cudworth's friend and brother-Platonist, Henry More, was at this time the most distinguished ornament; and (to finish at once with these dates) in June, 1688, he died, and his body was interred in the chapel of Christ's College.
Cudworth's first published work, a Discourse Concerning the Lord's Supper, appeared in the year 1642; but the great work of his life, the work on which his reputation almost entirely rests, was not published until 1678, when he was above sixty years of age. This work is entitled The True Intellectual System of the Universe, wherein all the Reason and Philosophy of Atheism is Confuted, and its Impossibility Demonstrated. It is a book replete with learning, and — a circumstance in the highest degree creditable to Cudworth — the arguments in behalf of the various atheistic systems are stated with such fulness and candour, as to have given rise to the suspicion, in prejudiced or superficial minds, that the author was himself little better than an atheist in disguise. To this circumstance Dryden alludes, in the dedication of his version of the Aeneid, observing that Dr. Cudworth "has" raised such strong objections against the being of a God, and Providence, that many think he has not answered them". The suspicion, nevertheless, was wholly unwarranted: if the atheistic arguments are fairly stated, they are as fairly controverted; and it is impossible for anyone, who has read the book carefully through, honestly to believe the author guilty of insincerity or lukewarmness in the cause of religion.
Extensively and intimately acquainted with the writings of the ancient philosophers, admiring and frequently upholding the teachings of [Page 7] Plato, Cudworth was nevertheless by no means so profound a Platonist as his friend, Henry More. Thus we find in him a strong advocate of the atomic theory, maintaining, and indeed with perfect reason, that this theory is not of necessity atheistic: the atomists before Democritus, says he, were asserters of a Deity and substance incorporeal. If body consists, as Plato and Plotinus held, of matter which is incorporeal, and form which is likewise incorporeal, then body, too, must be incorporeal! " But," continues Cudworth, " the ancient Atomic philosophy, settling a distinct notion of body, that it is διάστατον ἀντίτυπον (extended resistance), a thing impenetrably extended — which hath nothing belonging to it but magnitude, figure, site, rest, and motion, without any self-moving power — takes away all confusion; shows clearly how far body can go, where incorporeal substance begins; as also, that there must of necessity be such a thing in the world".
Yet Cudworth's intended reduction to an absurdity of the Platonic theory of matter and body, is altogether superficial. He maintains that as souls unquestionably derive their whole being from the Deity, so matter or body (for he does not sufficiently distinguish between these terms) "was created likewise out of nothing, or caused by the Deity". He postulates two distinct substances, one incorporeal, the other corporeal, both generated in time, and from nothing; or rather, for this is what it really amounts to, from the substance of the Creator. Now according to the Platonists, there is but one real substance, and that is intelligible essence. Matter has no objective existence, and body represents, in fact, a mode of the soul's perception. But let us accept for a moment the hypothesis that body is true material substance, actually, and not merely apparently, existent. How then can this corporeal substance be created out of nothing, or rather, out of the substance of the Creator ? Since the substance of the Creator is certainly incorporeal and intellectual. How then, upon this hypothesis, can one substance proceed, wholly and immediately, from another substance totally distinct from it in essence ? And Cudworth himself employs a similar argument in order to prove the impossibility of the production of soul from matter.
The Platonic theory, however, which Cudworth rejects, is briefly this: The Creator is an intellectual and eternal being, who creates therefore essentially, and not deliberatively. That is to say, he creates by his very nature or essence, as fire by its nature produces heat; and not by a process of deliberation, since deliberation implies time, and cannot therefore be attributed to that which is eternal. Thus the creation, being an expression of the very nature of the Creator, partakes of that nature, and is said to be of the same kind secondarily as its cause is primarily. The universe, then, so far as it participates of intellectual order and perpetuity, [Page 8] is the work of the Demiurgic Intellect, but so far as it is sensible and mutable it is produced through soul as a medium. And body represents the attempt of the soul to realise to itself the eternal Ideas by means of sense; but as sense is incapable of apprehending essences, but apprehends only appearances, so the objects of perception to sense are not real beings, but the shadows or transitory images of beings.
A very large portion of Cudworth's book is occupied with his attempt to show that the ancient Pagans in reality believed in one Supreme Being; that their seeming polytheism was but the polyonymy (as he calls it) of the one God; that their real polytheism was the worship of generated, not of self-existent, Gods. This argument he illustrates with great learning and countless instances, and his contention is doubtless to some extent justified. Like all Christian Platonists, he makes much of the analogy between the Platonic Triad and the Christian Trinity, although he allows that the resemblance is not complete, inasmuch as the Platonic theory "supposes the three hypostases not to have one and the same singular essence, not yet an absolute co-equality, but a gradual subordination and essential dependence. He rebukes Plotinus for his assertion that our soul is of the same species with the mundane or universal soul; which doctrine Cudworth terms, "a monstrous degradation of that third hypostasis of their Trinity". " a thing liable to be much abused to creature-worship and idolatry, when the distances are made so wide, and the lowest of the Deity is supposed to differ but gradually from the highest of created beings". This disagreement as to the nature of the third person of the Trinity is in fact an inevitable consequence of the disagreement which we have already noted between Christian and non-Christian Platonists with respect to the second person, the Logos. There is no more essential feature in Platonic theology than the belief that all things, from Absolute Being down to matter (which in a certain sense is non-being), are conjoined in an unbroken chain of causes and effects. To cut off the Creator from the Creation, as Cudworth and many others think proper to do, would be, in the mind of a true Platonist, to render creation itself impossible, to destroy that unity which is the sustaining power of the universe, to establish chaos in the place of order.
There is one thing more in Cudworth's book upon which I should like to say a few words; his very ingenious attempt to reconcile the Christian dogma of the resurrection of the body with the teaching of Platonists on this matter. According, then, to the Platonists, the soul possesses three vehicles, or bodies. Of these, the first is called the ethereal vehicle, or body of light; it is the first vehicle assumed by the soul proceeding from its parent, Intellect, and becoming established in the world of time and space. This vehicle, however, being pure light (as most nearly allied to [Page 9] the light of Intellect); is hardly to be termed a material body; but the Second vehicle properly marks the descent of the soul into material conditions, and is denominated the aerial or spiritual body (τὸ πνευματικὸν σϖμα ); and it is formed of the elements, and very pure, but yet in the course of long time corruptible. The third vehicle, which betokens the lowest descent of the soul into matter, is this gross, terrestrial body which we now inhabit. Possessing, then, these three vehicles, the soul, upon the death of this body, retires into its aerial body, and so abides until the period of its re-incarnation has arrived. But when, by purification, it has passed beyond the necessity of re-birth, it discards its aerial body likewise, and employs the ethereal vehicle alone, returning, as Plato says, to its kindred star: that is, to the ethereal vehicle of the star to which it is related — in our case, the earth. And there is a higher-state even yet, as Plato and Plotinus and Proclus all assert; for the soul which has attained the summit of philosophy, shall be freed utterly from body, and shall pass into eternity and that Intelligible World from whence it first descended.
Cudworth, then, maintains that the resurrection body is no other than .this ethereal, or luciform, vehicle of the soul; but he holds also that the gross body which is laid in the earth, does itself at the resurrection become converted, by some wondrous alchemy, into this ethereal body. This view is, of course, entirely opposed to that of the Platonists, who held that the earthly body, the controlling life being removed, was resolved again into its kindred elements. Moreover, Cudworth denies the possibility of the soul's perfection apart from body — a theory which he regards with some scorn, as a conceit of such high-flown and unsafe philosophers as Plotinus. Life in conjunction with an ethereal body he deems the summit of its attainment. The Platonic doctrines of pre-existence and re-incarnation are dismissed by him as "offensive absurdities".
But enough of Cudworth: let us turn now to a far more interesting man; a truer Platonist, and a profounder philosopher. For Dr. Henry More was a poet and a visionary; not in the vulgar acceptation of the term "visionary", as of one who lives in the fantastic and the unreal; but as one who had true glimpses of the inward light, visions of that selfless ecstasy of which Plotinus speaks — the summit of right philosophy. I shall presently endeavour to give you some account of More's great poem, his "Platonic Song of the Soul"; but before we enter upon the poem, I think it will be well to consider a little the life and character of its author, that we may understand what manner of man this was, who in England, in the seventeenth century, amid the tumult of warring sects, when all men around him were fighting, as it were, about shadows, lived a life of peace and retirement, thinking deep thoughts, and conversing with God as a friend. He was born at Grantham, in October, 1614; and seems to have [Page 10] been happy in his parents, although they were earnest Calvinists. The letter in which he dedicates his " Song of the Soul", "to his dear Father, Alexander More, Esq.", is filled with expressions of love and respect: "I could wish myself", he writes, "a stranger to your blood, that I might with the better decorum set out the nobleness of your spirit. But to speak modestly; you deserve the patronage of better poems than these, though you may lay a more proper claim to these than to any: you having from my childhood tuned mine ears to Spenser's rhymes, entertaining us on winter nights with that incomparable piece of his, 'The Fairy Queen', a poem as richly fraught with divine morality as fancy".
In 1631 More entered as a student at Christ's College, Cambridge. At this time, he tells us, "A mighty and almost immoderate thirst after knowledge possessed me throughout; especially for that which was natural; and above all others, that which was said to dive into the deepest cause of things, and Aristotle calls the first and highest Philosophy, or Wisdom. . . Thus then persuaded, and esteeming it what was highly fit, I immerse myself over head and ears in the study of philosophy, promising a most wonderful happiness to myself in it. Aristotle, therefore, Cardan, Julius Scaliger, and other philosophers of the greatest note, I very diligently peruse. In which, the truth is, though I met here and there with some things wittily and acutely, and sometimes also solidly spoken, yet the most seemed to me either so false or uncertain, or else so obvious and trivial, that I looked upon myself as having plainly lost my time in the reading of such authors".
Four years spent in such studies ended in something approaching to scepticism. More had begun at the wrong end: he had yet to learn that the science of universals can alone unfold the true nature of particulars. After taking his degree, he entered upon a more hopeful course of study, reading now "the Platonic writers, Marsilius Ficinus, Plotinus himself, Mercurius Trismegistus, and the mystical divines; among whom there was frequent mention made of the purification of the soul, and of the purgative course that is previous to the illuminative; as if the person that expected to have his mind illuminated of God was to endeavour after the highest purity". One book he mentions which then beyond all others pierced and affected him; "that golden little book" (he calls it), entitled Theologia Germanica, a treatise which has been ascribed, though doubtfully, to the famous German Theosophist, Master Eckhart. Herein he found it mightily inculcated "That we should thoroughly put off and extinguish our own proper will: that being thus dead to ourselves, we may live alone unto God, and do all things whatsoever by His instinct or plenary permission; "which doctrine”, says he, "was so connatural', as it were, and agreeable to my most intimate reason and conscience, that I could not of anything [Page 11] whatsoever be more clearly or certainly convinced". " But after that the sense and consciousness of this great and plainly divine duty was thus awakened in me; good God ! what strugglings and conflicts followed presently between this divine principle and the animal nature ! For since I was most firmly persuaded, not only concerning the existence of God, but also of His absolute both goodness and power, and of His most real will that we should be perfect, even as our Father which is in Heaven is perfect; there was no room left for any tergiversation; but a necessity of immediately entering the lists, and of using all possible endeavours that our own will, by which we relish ourselves and what belongs to us, in things of the soul as of the body, might be opposed, destroyed, annihilated; that so the Divine Will alone, with the New Birth, may revive and grow up in us. And", he adds, "if I may here freely speak my mind, before this conflict between the Divine Will and our proper will or self-love, there can no certain signs appear to us of this New Birth at all".
He had set his, feet upon the path; and mark what followed. "All my other studies, in comparison of this, became vile and of no account: and that insatiable desire and thirst of mine after the knowledge of things was wholly almost extinguished in me; as being solicitous now about nothing so much as a more full union with this divine and celestial principle, the inward flowing well-spring of life eternal: with the most fervent prayers breathing often unto God, that he would be pleased thoroughly to set me free from the dark chains, and this so sordid captivity of my own will. But here openly to declare the thing as it was. When this inordinate desire after the knowledge of things was thus allayed in me, and I aspired after nothing but this sole purity and simplicity of mind, there shone in upon me daily a greater assurance than ever I could have expected, even of those things which before I had the greatest desire to know: insomuch that within a few years I was got into a most joyous and lucid state of mind; and such plainly as is ineffable".
Men live to themselves, apostatizing from the divine harmony in which the universe is established; and on this account, says Proclus, "there is much among them of mine and not mine: but they abandon the union and communion of life". Henry More had explored the knowledge of things, and his learning had been futile: he had now discovered that truer life which is not in separateness, but in union, a life as of the Gods, having all-things in common; not losing the individuality, but blending it, as the musician in an orchestra blends his own part, in the harmony of the whole. And lo ! now that he could see them in their right relations, all those things that he had longed for, not yet understanding, were added unto him. The soul which knows itself, says Proclus again, sees in all things, yea, in the smallest, symbols of the Gods. [Page 12]
Here is one more quotation from our Cambridge Platonist: “I say that a free, divine, universalized spirit is worth all. How lovely, how magnificent a state is the soul of man in, when the life of God, inactuating her, shoots her along with Himself through Heaven and Earth; makes her unite with, and after a sort feel herself animate the whole world. This is to become deiform, to be thus suspended (not by imagination, but by union of life; Κέντρον κέντρῳ συνάψαντα, joining centres with God), and by a sensible touch to be held up from the clotty dark personality of this compacted body. Here is Love, here is Freedom, here is Justice and Equity, in the super-essential Cause of them. He that is here looks upon all things as One; and on himself, if he can then mind himself, as a part of the Whole". Well might he call himself Incola Coeli in Terrâ, an Inhabitant of Heaven upon Earth!
The serene beauty of Henry More's mind is reflected in his literary productions, both in prose and verse. He was perhaps riot less intimate with the works of the ancient philosophers than his friend Dr. Cudworth but with a truer sense of their inward meaning. Cudworth, indeed, although a man of deep thought and learning, seems almost superficial by the side of this visionary poet. He was more mixed up with the outer world, preaching on one occasion before the House of Commons. But Henry More was always the secluded scholar, content with his fellowship of Christ's College, with his books and his studies. It was no selfish seclusion which he sought; his chamber-door, it is said, was as a hospital to the needy. But such honours as the world could bestow, the preferments which from time to time were offered him, he constantly rejected. A little story is told of him which I will repeat to you, as it is very characteristic of the man. He was a royalist by conviction, and, after the Restoration, his friends prevailed upon him to undertake the journey to London, in order to pay his respects to the King. On the way he was informed that his visit would be the prelude to a bishopric, which the King would certainly bestow upon him; whereupon he instantly returned to Cambridge.
There is one thing which seems to me to illustrate very clearly the difference between More and Cudworth. Of all the great philosophers of the Platonic school, Plotinus is at once the most mystical and the most profound; of him it has been said that he worked out the mystical element in the teachings of his master, Plato, to the utmost limit of vision and ecstasy. [ Walter Pater: The Renaissance, 2nd ed., p.40] Now Cudworth quotes Plotinus, but, I venture to think, without rightly appreciating him; on some occasions, as we have seen, he dissents rather strongly from the position of Plotinus, and this on very important [Page 13] points. With Henry More, on the other hand, Plotinus was a first favourite: he is never tired of quoting and praising him. "O more than man!" he exclaims in one of his poems: —
"But Thou, O more than man!
Aread, thou sacred Soul of Plotin dear,
Tell what we mortals are, tell what of old we were."
I am afraid Henry More's poems are somewhat deficient in the qualities which make for popularity. They are offered to those who "are at leisure a while to lay aside the pleasure or trouble of the world, and entertain their minds with thoughts of a greater compass than the fetching in of a little wealth or honour". Such, indeed, will find them well worthy of perusal; perhaps others will hardly be induced to read them. His great poem, the'' Platonic Song of the Soul", first published in 1642, is divided into four parts, to which were afterwards added two considerable poems, on different aspects of the same subject, by way of appendices. It is written in the Spenserian stanza — you have not forgotten those winter evenings with the "Faërie Queene" — and with a plentiful use of Spenserian archaisms, rather agreeable than otherwise, but still such as would assuredly have subjected any other poet of More's time to a charge of affectation; though More himself lived so wholly apart from the world, with his books and his thoughts, that I suspect he was hardly conscious of the archaisms as he penned them.
The first part of the poem is entitled " Psychozoia", or the "Life of the Soul": it is an allegory in three cantos, whereof the first is concerned with the Triad or Trinity, under the names of "Ahad", "Aeon," and "Psyche". "Ahad" is that which Platonists call the "One"; "Aeon" (Eternity) is the Nous or Logos; Psyche, whom our poet names also Uranore (celestial), is, of course, the soul. The canto opens thus bravely:—
"Nor Ladies' loves, nor Knights' brave martial deeds,
Ywrapt in rolls of hid antiquity;
But th' inward fountain, and the unseen seeds,
From whence are these and whatso under eye
Doth fall, or is record in memory,
Psyche, I'll sing. Psyche ! from thee they sprung,
"O life of Time and all alterity!
The life of lives instill his nectar strong,
My soul t'inebriate, while I sing Psyche's song."
In this canto the poet records the mystic marriage of Aeon and Psyche, and describes the fourfold vesture of the soul. Her outermost garment is this visible universe; the next in order is that which we call Nature; the third is the garb of Sense; while the fourth, or inmost covering of the soul, is Semele, the Imagination — "Prophets and Poets have their life from [Page 14] hence".Like Plato and Plotinus, Henry More is by no means heedless of the beauty of this outer world, of the sweetness of this "gladsome life of sense"; yet like them also, he earnestly recognises its transitory and unreal nature. For beauty subsists in the idea alone, and that which we term the beautiful in material objects is in truth a certain reminiscence of the idea which these shadows awaken in us. Yet it is sweet to live, and sweet to see the sun: —
" But O ! what joy it is to see the Sun
Of Aeon's kingdoms, and th' eternal Day
That never night o'ertakes ! "
In another stanza he develops the thoroughly Platonic notion that love of the beautiful in externals may assist the soul to rise to the perception of the inward and true beauty —
"And this I wot is the Soul's excellence,
That from the hint of every painted glance
Of shadows sensible, she doth from hence
Her radiant life and lovely hue advance
To higher pitch, and by good governance
May weaned be from love of fading light
In outward forms, having true cognisance
That those vain shows are not the beauty bright
That takes men so, but what they cause in human spright."
There are many noble passages in this first canto of "Psychozoia", which I must deny myself the pleasure of quoting, that I may tell you somewhat of the pilgrimage of Mnemon (the mindful), which is the principal subject of the second and third cantos. Psychany, or the region of the soul, is divided into two mighty kingdoms; whereof one is called Autaesthesia, the land of self-sense (or self-sensedness, to use More's own word); the other Theoprepia, the land of the likeness of God. And Authaesthesia is again divided into two provinces: Beirah, which signifies the brutish, or animal life; and Dizoia, the double life, a condition "betwixt man and beast, light and darkness, God and the devil". From Beirah, therefore, the pilgrim's path lies through Dizoia, until, the love of self being wholly lost or transmuted into the love of God, his journey ends in " blest Theoprepy." But first of Beirah Mnemon has much to tell, and of its inhabitants, those in whom the spiritual sense is as yet unawakened. For even in Beirah there is much talk of religion, and loud contention and intolerance; though of true inward religion nothing is found there. All this the poet recounts with much picturesque circumstance and keen-edged satire. To Henry More, Faith has but one foundation — the Spirit of God in the soul, the divine light which is known of itself alone. Of authority other than this he is impatient; yet his satire is without uncharitableness: [Page 15] all false seeming, all imperious pretensions arising from love of self, excite his scorn, but not the errors, whatsoever they be, of any honest seeker after truth. " I would be very loath", he writes, in the preface to the second edition of his poem, "to be so far mistaken as to be thought a censurer or contemner of other men's religions or opinions, if they serve God in them in the simplicity and sincerity of their hearts, and have some more precious substratum within, than inveterate custom or natural complexion. All that I mean is this: that neither eager promoting of opinion or ceremony, nor the earnest opposing of the same; no, not the acuteness of reason, nor yet a strong, if naked, conceit that we have the Spirit of God, can excuse a man from being in any better condition than in the Land of Brutes, or in the mere animal nature".
On the border of Beirah, where the country verges upon Dizoia, the pilgrim's way is obstructed by the wall of Self-conceit. This he passes by the door of Humility, and enters into the land of double life, the state of conflict between the higher and lower nature in man. Mnemon's first impression of the unrestful land is finely depicted.
"When we that stately wall had undercrept,
We straightway found ourselves in Dizoie:
The melting clouds chill drizzling tears then wept;
The misty air sweat for deep agony,
Sweat a cold sweat, and loose frigidity
Fill'd all with a white smoke; pale Cynthia
Did foul her silver limbs with filthy dye,
Whiles wading on she measured out her way,
And cut the muddy heavens defil'd with whitish clay.
"No light to guide but the Moon's pallid ray,
And that even lost in misty troubled air:
No tract to take, there was no beaten way;
No cheering strength, but that which might appear
From Dian's face; her face then shin'd not clear,
And when it shineth clearest, little might
She yieldeth, yet the goddess is severe.
Hence wrathful dogs do bark at her dead light:
Christ help the man thus clos'd and prison'd in dread Night."
By the dim light of the Moon, the poet here signifies the first troubled awakening to a sense of the divine law. This is the country of the Apterites, the Wingless Folk, who are yet “fain to flag among the dirty desires of the world, though sometimes full of sorrow and vexation for their gross vices". You will doubtless remember what Plato says in the Phaedrus concerning the wings of the soul. Here Mnemon passes through the Valley of Weeping, and is deceived awhile by the false dawn which lightens upon Ida Hill. For thereon stands the castle of Pantheothen (All [Page 16] of God), as it is named of those that built it; though indeed it were better named Pandaemoniothen, All of the Devil. For they that dwell therein are Ireful Ignorance, and Unseemly Zeal, and Self-conceit, and Rash Censure, and Spiritual Pride, and all such evils as beset the soul that is awakening to the spiritual life. And the Keeper of the Castle is Unfelt Hypocrisy, that most dangerous kind, namely, which does not know itself to be hypocrisy.
With the morning Mnemon comes to the land of Pteroessa, whose inhabitants have wings "whereby they raise themselves above the mire and dirt of the corrupt body". And these wings are called Faith and the Love of God. There, upon a hill of steep ascent, he beholds three sisters, clad in robes of snowy whiteness. And here it seems to him that the end of his pilgrimage is attained, for by these sisters are represented the ancient philosophies of Pythagoras, and Plato, and the Stoics. But the end is not yet. I will quote a sentence or two from the poet's own comments on this remarkable episode, wherein, however, I am inclined to believe that his Christianity has for once led him to be a little less than just to those great teachers of whom he was so worthy a disciple. "A noble spirit", he writes, "moves in those philosophers' veins, and so near Christianism, if a man will look on them favourably, that one would think they are baptized already, not only with water, but the Holy Ghost. But I, not seeing humility and self-denial and acknowledgment of their own unworthiness of such things as they aimed at, nor mortification, not of the body (for that's sufficiently insisted upon), but of the more spiritual arrogative life of the soul, that subtle ascribing that to ourselves that is God's, for all is God's: I say, I not seeing those things so frequently and of purpose inculcated in their writings, thought I might fitly make their philosophy, or rather the life that it doth point at (for that's the subject of this poem) a type of that life which is very near to perfection, but as yet imperfect, having still a smack of arrogation and self-seeking".
Upon this I will only observe that the merging of the self in God is the great end of Platonic philosophy, and that our author's phrase "acknowledgment of their own unworthiness of such things as they aimed at” points to a state by no means so near to perfection as he imagined it. For the acknowledgment must be either sincere or insincere. If it be sincere, that is, an acknowledgment of real unworthiness, then we answer that no amount of imputed virtue will enable the soul to attain those things at which it aims, before it is indeed worthy to receive them. But if the unworthiness be feigned, and the acknowledgment insincere, the false humility which dictates it is in itself a kind of unworthiness.
Beyond the hill of the three sisters lies the Valley of Ain, or Self nothingness. Into this dark valley the pilgrim descends, and, having passed [Page 17] through it, he arrives at the sun-bright kingdom of Theoprepia. And with this Mnemon ends his discourse. Of Theoprepia he will not trust himself to speak:
"Too hard it is, said he, that kingdom's glee
To show; who list to know himself must come and see."
We have no time this evening to examine the remaining parts of this great "Song of the Soul". I should like, however, to say yet a word or two upon one of the poems which it includes — a singularly profound and beautiful piece upon the Pre-existency of the Soul; a doctrine, be it said, which to Henry More was by no means the "offensive absurdity" that it seemed to Cudworth, In this poem he tells of the soul's descent into matter, and of its vehicles — the ethereal, aerial, and terrestrial bodies of which I spoke a while ago. There is much here, also, of apparitions, "of ghosts, of goblins, and dread sorcery", of souls which leave the body in trance, and other such matters, with which the poet deals as with well ascertained facts. It is easy to charge him with ignorance and credulity; not easy to establish the justice of such a charge, or to evince that More's attitude on these questions is indeed inconsistent with either reason or experience. That part of the poem which treats of the descent of souls is largely derived from Plotinus, to whom the poet here addresses that brief, but glowing, apostrophe which I have already quoted. He calls upon Plotinus to "tell what we mortals are, tell what of old we were"; and the answer comes almost in a paraphrase of the very words of the master: —
"A spark or ray of the Divinity,
Clouded in earthy fogs, yclad in clay,
A precious drop sunk from Eternity,
Spilt on the ground, or rather slunk away:
For then we fell when we 'gan first t' assay,
By stealth, of our own selves something to been,
Uncentering ourselves from our great stay,
Which fondly we new liberty did ween,
And from that prank right jolly wights ourselves did deem."
One more quotation by way of farewell. With these lines the " Song of the Soul " concludes :—
" What now remains, but since we are so sure
Of endless life, that to true piety
We bend our minds, and make our conscience pure,
Lest living Night in bitter darkness us immure."
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