1902 Encyclopedia > Henry More

Henry More
English philosopher
(1614-87)




HENRY MORE, (1614-1687), one of the most remarkable and interesting of the " Cambridge Platonists," was born at Grantham in Lincolnshire in the year 1614. His father was "Alexander More, Esq., a gentleman of fair estate and fortune," highly spoken of by his son, who attributes to his father his own poetical tastes and generous love of learning from his early youth. Both his father and mother, he further tells us, were " earnest followers of Calvin," but he himself "could never swallow that hard doctrine." As soon as he went to Eton he gave himself up to what he considered a more genial and encouraging train of religious thought. From his boyhood in the Eton playing-fields he was a philosophical and religious dreamer, and he describes his moods of religious reverie in a very interesting manner. His communings and ecstasies have no morbid taint; they are the natural carriage of a strangely gifted spirit. " From the beginning all things in a manner came flowing to him," and his mind, according to his own saying, "was enlightened with a sense of the noblest theories in the morning of his days." In 1631 he went to Cambridge, and was admitted at Christ's College about the time Milton was leaving it. He immersed himself " over head and ears in the study of philosophy," and fell for a time into a sort of scepticism, from which, however, he was delivered by a study of the "Platonic writers." He was fascinated especially by Neo-Platonism, and this fascination never left him. The Theologia Germanica also exerted a great and permanent influence over him. He entered upon a course of spiritual self-discipline which made all his previous studies seem of comparatively no value ; and gradually light as well as peace came to him. He got "into a most joyous and lucid state of mind," which he described in a Greek epigram, as he had formerly described his state of mental and spiritual darkness in the same manner. He took his bachelor's degree in 1635, his master's degree in 1639, and immediately afterwards was chosen fellow of his college. In this position he may be said to have remained all his life. Many offers of preferment were made to hiin, but he refused them all, with one exception. Fifteen years after the Restoration, he accepted a prebend in Gloucester cathedral, but only to resign it in favour of his friend Dr. Edward Fowler, afterwards the well-known bishop of Gloucester. He had no ambition, and steadily declined all attempts to draw him towards public life. He would not even accept the mastership of his college, to which, it is understood, he would have been preferred in 1654, when Cudworth was appointed. He drew many young men of a refined and thoughtful turn of mind around him, but among all his pupils the most interesting was a young lady of noble family, a " heroine pupil," as his biographer (Ward) says, "of an extraordinary nature." This lady is supposed to have been a sister of Lord Finch, afterwards earl of Nottingham, a well-known statesman of the Eestoration. She afterwards became Lady Conway, and at her country seat at Ragley in Warwickshire More continued at intervals to spend " a considerable part of his time." She and her husband both greatly appreciated him, and amidst the woods of this pleasant retreat he composed several of his books. There is reason to think that the spiritual enthusiasm of Lady Conway was a considerable factor in some of More's speculations, none the less that she at length passed from his religious pupilage into the ranks of the Quakers. Susceptible to all the excited impulses of her time, this lady became the friend not only of More and Penn but of Baron van Helmont and Valentine Greatrakes, mystical thaumaturgists who played a considerable part amid the teeming enthusiasms of the 17th century. Kagley became a centre not only of devotion but of wonder-working spiritualism. " Many happy days," More says, he spent in this " paradise," and its fantastic mysticism had more allurements for him than he himself realized. His genius suffered in consequence, and the play of rationality which distinguishes his earlier is much less conspicuous in his later works. He was a voluminous writer both in verse and prose, and the mere list of his works would occupy more space than we can give to it. Many of his productions are now unreadable ; but the Divine Dialogues, published in 1668, may be still read with pleasure. It is animated and sometimes even brilliant, with less prolixity and digression than his other productions, while it has also the advantage for modern readers that it condenses his general view of philosophy and religion. Most of his characteristic principles may in fact be gathered from it.

The year in which he composed the Divine Dialogues may be said to mark the highest point of his intellectual activity. His Manual of Metaphysics and elaborate treat-ises on Jacob Boehme and Spinoza were subsequent to this; but the elasticity and freshness of his philosophical genius are less buoyant in these efforts, and the prophetico-mystical elements which were a weakness in his mental constitution from the first grew as his years advanced. He represents more than any other member of the school the mystical and theosophic side of the Cambridge mover ment. Its lofty rationality, the rationality of which he himself had spoken earlier in noble language, at length evaporates in him in intellectual reverie and dreams. The Neo-Platonic extravagances which lay hidden in the school from the first came in his writings to a head, and merged in pure phantasy,—a set of favourite ideas which not merely guided but dominated the reason. Withal Henry More can never be spoken of save <is & spiritual genius and significant figure in the history of British philosophy, less robust and manly and in some respects less learned than Cudworth but more interesting and fertile in thought, and more sweet, singular, and genial in character. From youth to age he describes himself as gifted with a most happy and buoyant temper. The presence of nature filled him with rapture ; he wished he could be always sub dio. " Walk-ing abroad after his studies his sallies towards nature would be often inexpressibly ravishing, beyond what he could convey to others." His own thoughts were to him a never-ending source of pleasurable excitement. His mind moved with great rapidity and at a lofty elevation, so that, as he says, he seemed " all the while to be in the air." This mystical glow and elevation were the chief features of his mind and character, a certain transport and radiancy of thought which carried him beyond the common life without raising him to any false or artificial height, for his humility and charity were not less conspicuous than his piety. The last ten years of his life are without any special record, and he died on the morning of 1 st September 1687, and was buried in the chapel of the college he loved so well, where within less than a year his friend Cudworth was laid beside him.

Before his death More issued complete editions of his works, his Opera Theologica in 1675, and his Opera Philosophica in 1678. The chief authorities for his life are Ward's Life, 1710 ; the "Prefatio Generalissima " prefixed to his Opera Omnia, 1679 ; and also a general account of the manner and scope of his writings in an Apology published in 1664. The collection of his Philosophical Poems, 1647, in which he has "compared his chief speculations and experiences," should also be consulted. An elaborate analysis of his life and works is given in Principal Tulloch's national Theology, vol. ii., 1874. (J. T.)






Footnotes

"Prefatio Generalissima " prefixed to his Opera Omnia, 1679.
The place and its religious marvels are glanced at in the romance of John Inglesant (chap. xv.).




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