The Role of Illuminism in the Thought of Henry More

  • Robert Crocker
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 150)


When Henry More was about fifteen years old he had a dream. In his dream angels appeared, blowing trumpets through a mist, which gradually cleared before his eyes as the trumpets grew louder.2 As the sound from the trumptets increased, they pained his ears to such an extent that he awoke. On waking from his dream, he tells his readers, he remained for several days in an “unexpressable” state, “which if it were in my power to relate would seem to most men incredible”.3


Philosophical Work Private Letter Spiritual Realm Paranormal Phenomenon Orthodox Theological 
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  1. 1.
    Henry More, Cupid’s Conflict, in Philosophicall Poems (Cambridge: Roger Daniel, 1647), pp. 302–3. In this paper all references to individual works by More are to book, chapter and section number (eg. I, xii, 4), and to book, canto and stanza number for the poems (e.g. I, iii, 54), except when to those works with no section numbers, where references are to page numbers only. For recent works relating to More’s illuminism, see notes 7 and 9 below; see also my “A Bibliography of Henry More”, in S. Hutton (ed), Henry More (1614–87) Tercentenary Studies (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1990), pp. 219–47.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    More, Mastix his Private Letter to a Friend, in Enthusiasmus Triumphatus (London: J. Flesher, 1656), p. 312ff.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Mastix his Private Letter, p. 315.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See Richard Ward, The Life of the Learned and Pious Dr Henry More (London, 1710), p. 39 ff.; More, Cupid’s Conflict in Philosophicall Poems, op. cit; Psychozoia, iii, 67 ff. in Psychodia Platonica, or a platonicall song of the soul (Cambridge: R. Daniel, 1642); Discourses on Several Texts of Scripture (London: for B. Aylmer, 1692), p. 54; and D.D., pp. 303–6 and below.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ward, Life, op. cit., pp. 86, 94–5 and 147 and below.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid., p. 42.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The main exceptions here are David Dockrill, “The Fathers and the Theology of the Cambridge Platonists”, Studia Patristica, 18 (1982), pp. 427–39;Google Scholar
  8. 7a.
    George Panichas, “The Greek Spirit and the Mysticism of Henry More”, Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 2 (1956), pp. 41–61Google Scholar
  9. 7b.
    C. A. Patrides, The Cambridge Platonists (Cambridge: CUP, 1969), pp. 16 ff., who all emphasize the revival in Cambridge Platonism of a kind of philosophical theology deriving from the early Greek Fathers. See the discussion below.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    See More, Discourses, op. cit., pp. 52–3 and 101–3; R. Cudworth, A Sermon (1647), in Patrides, The Cambridge Platonists, op. cit., p. 102 ff.; and J. Smith, Select Discourses (London, 1660), p. 3.Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    The sources More cites, and especially the valuable notes he composed for the second edition of his Psychodia Platonica (1642), the Philosophical Poems of 1647, upholds Patrides’ contention that the Cambridge Platonists ‘inverted’ the more usual hierarchy of authority of their day, replacing Jerome with Origen and Aristotle with Plotinus and Plato, with the result that the little-known Greek concept of ‘deification’ assumed central importance. See Patrides, op. cit., pp. 3 ff., and especially pp. 19–22. On the particular and more contentious issue of the influence of Ficino, see C.A. Staudenbauer, “Galileo, Ficino, and Henry More’s Psychathanasia”, J.H.I., 29 (1968), pp. 565–78, who claims that the structure of More’s poem closely follows that of Ficino’s Theologia Platonica. Google Scholar
  12. 9a.
    This is rightly denied and severely qualified by Alexander Jacob, “Henry More’s Psychodia Platonica and its relationship to Marsilio Ficino’s Theologia Platonica.”, J.H.I., 46 (1985), pp. 503–22.Google Scholar
  13. 9b.
    Allison Coudert, “Henry More, the Kaballah end the Quakers”, in R. Kroll et al. (eds), Philosophy, Science and Religion in England, 1640–1700 (Cambridge, Cambridge U.P. 1992), pp. 31–67 argues that these influences made More simultaneously open to, and ambivalent towards Lurianic Kabbalism and Quakerism, both of which adhered to a similar perfectionism, or notion of the soul’s potential for a real union with God in this life. On this ambivalence to others More classified as ‘enthusiasts’, see my “Mysticism and Enthusiasm in Henry More”, in Sarah Hutton, (ed.) Henry More, op. cit., pp. 137–55, and the comments below.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 10.
    More, Praefatio Generalissima, sections vii–xi, in Opera Omnia (3 vols., London, J. Maycock, 1679), vol. 2; and Ward, Life, op. cit., p. 5 ff.Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    Praefatio, vii, in Ward, ibid. pp. 5–7. See also J. Peile, A Biographical Register of Christ’s College (2 vols., Cambridge, CUP, 1910), vol. 2, p. 51.Google Scholar
  16. 11a.
    C. C. Brown, “Henry More’s ‘Deep Retirement’: New Materials on the Early Years of the Cambridge Platonist”, Review of English Studies, 80 (1969), pp. 445–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 12.
    Ward, ibid., p. 6 On Gabriel More, D. D., see Peile, ibid., vol. 1, pp. 238–9.Google Scholar
  18. 13.
    On Wotton and Hales at Eton, see DNB and also R. Birley, “Robert Boyle’s Head Master at Eton”, Notes and Records of the Royal Society (1958), pp. 104–14, which contains information on the books owned by Wotton and his friend John Harrison, now in Eton College Library.Google Scholar
  19. 14.
    More, Democritus Platonissans (Cambridge: R. Daniel, 1646) stanzas 47–51; Philosophicall Poems, op. cit., pp. 421–2; D.D., pp. 300–2 and 326–8; Enchiridium Ethicum (London: J. Flesher, 1667), I, iv.Google Scholar
  20. 14a.
    See also George Rust, A Discourse of the Use of Reason (London, 1683), pp. 40–1.Google Scholar
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    See D. D. , Dialogue 3, sections xv–xvi.Google Scholar
  22. 16.
    Ward, Life, op. cit., p. 10, and Brown, “Deep Retirement”, art. cit., pp. 451–2.Google Scholar
  23. 17.
    See More’s later refutation of scholastic psychology (against Richard Baxter), An Answer to a Learned Psychopyrist, in Joseph Glanvil (ed More) Saducismus Triumphatus (London, 1682), and the discussion in J. C. Henry, “Medicine and Pneumatology: Henry More, Richard Baxter and Francis Glisson’s Treatise on the Energetic Nature of Substance”, Medical History, 31 (1987), pp. 15–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 18.
    Praefatio, op. cit., viii, ommitted in Ward, Life, op. cit. More is referring here to the followers of Averroes. I cannot accept C. A. Staudenbaur’s contention, “Galileo, Ficino and Henry More’s Psychathanasia”, JHI, 29 (1968), p. 575, that More included an attack on monopsychism in Psychodia Platonica, op. cit. only because Ficino had done so in his Theologia Platonica. The parallel between the structure of More’s poems and Ficino’s work are striking, as Staudenbaur observes, but there is no evidence of any direct intellectual dependence. See More, ‘Preface’ to Antipsychopannychia, Philosophicall Poems, op. cit., p. 216, and below.Google Scholar
  25. 19.
    More, Psychathanasia, in Psychodia Platonica, op. cit., I, i, 10–18; D.D., op. cit., pp. 222–24; “Digression”, in Annotations upon (Rust’s) Discourse of Truth, in (Henry More), Two Choice and Useful Treatises (London: for J. Collins and S. Loundes, 1682), p. 208 ff.; and Fundamenta Philosophiae, in Opera Omnia, op. cit. (vol. 2, 1679), pp. 523–8. See also A. Coudert, “A Cambridge Platonist’s Kabbalist Nightmare”, JHI, 36 (1975), pp. 633–652; and her “Henry More, the Kaballah, and the Quakers”, art. cit. pp. 31–67.Google Scholar
  26. 20.
    M. H. Nicolson (ed S. Hutton), The Conway Letters (Oxford: OUP, 1992), p. 299, and Ward, Life, op. cit., p. 11.Google Scholar
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    Praefatio, op. cit., ix, translated by Ward, ibid, p. 12.Google Scholar
  28. 22.
    Ward, Life, op. cit., p. 13. See S. Winkworth (ed. and trans), Theologia Germanica (London, Longman, 1854); and also R. F. Jones, Spiritual Reformers (London: Macmillan, 1928), pp. xxvi and 4.Google Scholar
  29. 23.
    Ward, ibid., p. 15, More, Praefatio, op. cit., x. See also Brown, “Deep Retirement”, art. cit., pp. 451–2.Google Scholar
  30. 24.
    Ward, Ibid. Google Scholar
  31. 25.
    Ward, Life, p. 16. These poems were never translated and so are not in More’s Opera Omnia. Google Scholar
  32. 26.
  33. 27.
    Brown, “Deep Retirement”, art. cit., pp. 449–51.Google Scholar
  34. 28.
    On Gell, see Peile, Biographical Register, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 301, and Robert Gell, Remaines (2 vols, ed. N. Bacon, London, 1676). It should be emphasized here that Gell, not William Chappell, was More’s tutor, and there is little evidence to suppose that More was ‘advised’ by Joseph Mede—versus the errorprone A.R. Hall, Henry More: Magic, Religion and Experiment (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), p. 83.Google Scholar
  35. 29.
    Robert Gell, Remaines , vol. 1, pp. 148 and 155–80.Google Scholar
  36. 30.
    For the charge of ‘familism’ against Gell, see J. Etherington, A Brief Discovery of Familisme (London, 1645), p. 10; Richard Baxter’s view of Gell as a ‘sectmaker’, in M. Sylvester (ed.), Reliquae Baxterianae (2 vols, London, 1696), vol. 1, p. 78. See also Jeremy Taylor to John Evelyn (April, 1659) seeking information on Gell and his congregation of ‘perfectionists’, cited in Nicolson (ed. Hutton), Conway Letters, op. cit., p. 155, note 3. Gell was also, a lecturer to the society of Astrologers, which perhaps accounts for More’s exceptional knowledge of astrology and astronomy. See his refutation of astrology in his Mystery of Godliness (1660), VII, XVII-XX, and his later response to John Butler’s attack on it, Tetractys Anti-Astrologica (1681), which includes the original offending chapters.Google Scholar
  37. 31.
    Jeremy Taylor, in Nicolson, ibid.; see Sebastian Castellio, Concerning Heretics (ed. R. Bainton: New York, 1935), p. 10 ff.; and Castellio, Of Obedience and A Conference of Faith, (London, 1679); and Gell’s Remaines, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 148, and 155–80.Google Scholar
  38. 32.
    More’s Psychodia Platonica makes it clear that the ‘degree’ of moral and spiritual perfection he envisaged is the result of a personal spiritual effort, as well as the action of divine grace in a believer. See Psychozoia, ii, 122–5 and ff. (1647 edition). See Patrides, op. cit., pp. 21–2, and below.Google Scholar
  39. 33.
    See G. Bullough, (ed.), The Poems of Henry More (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1931), pp. li and lvi.Google Scholar
  40. 34.
    Psychozoia, op. cit., iii, 67 ff.; see also More, Discourses, op. cit., p. 54, and D.D., op. cit., pp. 303–6. The philosophical background is the neoplatonic doctrine of procession (proodos) and reversion (epistrophe): see Plotinus (ed. and trans. S. MacKenna), Enneads (5 vols., London: Medici Society, 1917–30), V, 3, 9; Proclus (ed. and trans. E. R. Dodds), The Elements of Theology (Oxford: OUP, 1963), props 16,17 and 25–39.Google Scholar
  41. 35.
    Psychozoia, op. cit., ii, 42 ff.; compare Smith, Select Discourses, op. cit., pp. 466–7 and B. Whichcote, Aphorisms (London, 1753), # 388.Google Scholar
  42. 36.
    Psychozoia, only in Philosophicall Poems, op. cit. ii, 57–125.Google Scholar
  43. 37.
    Ibid, ii, 89–92, 99.Google Scholar
  44. 38.
    Ibid, ii, 58; and see my “Mysticism and Enthusiasm in Henry More”, loc. cit., pp. 141–4.Google Scholar
  45. 39.
    Psychozoia, only in Philosophicall Poems, op. cit., ii, 141; and see ibid, pp. 359–60; More, Discourses, op. cit. p. 79; and Conjectura Cabbalistica, Philosophical Cabbala, (London: J. Flesher, 1653) iii, 3; compare Cudworth, in Patrides The Cambridge Platonists, op. cit., p. 112; and Smith, Select Discourses, op. cit., pp. 15–6, and pp. 469–74.Google Scholar
  46. 40.
    Psychozoia, ii, 139 ff. only in Philosophicall Poems, op. cit. Google Scholar
  47. 41.
    Psychozoia iii, 10–22; compare Spenser, Fairie Queene, VI, i, 9–22, in J. C. Smith and E. de Selincourt (eds), The Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser (Oxford: OUP, 1970); Smith, Select Discourses, op. cit., pp. 353–9 and 472–4; see also More’s notes on this, Philosophicall Poems, op. cit., pp. 364–6.Google Scholar
  48. 42.
    Psychozoia, op. cit, iii, 22.Google Scholar
  49. 43.
    Psychozoia, op. cit., iii, 55–62; compare Spenser, Fairie Queene, op. cit., VI, viii; Theologia Germanica, op. cit., xix; and Castellio, Conference, op. cit., p. 54.Google Scholar
  50. 44.
    See St Paul, Romans, vii, 23-viii, 2; and H. Hallywell, Deus Justificatus (London, 1668), pp. 177–83, which expands on this theme, probably after More.Google Scholar
  51. 45.
    See Psychozoia, op. cit., ii, 9; and Insomnium Philosophicum, in Philosophical Poems, op. cit., pp. 324–8, esp. 326; Conjectura Cabbalistica, Moral Cabbala, op. cit., i, 1; and below.Google Scholar
  52. 46.
    See More, Cupid Conflict, cited above, note 1; Philosophical Poems, op. cit., “To the Reader upon this Second Edition”, B2; Psychozoia, in ibid., ii, 91–93; and Moral Cabbala, op. cit., i, 2.Google Scholar
  53. 47.
    Psychozoia, op. cit., i, 12–39; and “To the Reader upon the First Canto of Psychozoia”. Compare Plotinus, Enneads, op. cit., I, i, 4; V, ix, 6–7; and see also J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (London, Black, 1977), pp. 127–30.Google Scholar
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    Psychozoia, ibid., i, 40 ff. The Ogdoas probably derives via the neoplatonists and neopythagoreans from Plato, Republic, 616d ff. (on the 8 whorls of the spindle of the Fates) and the Pythagorean harmonic diaspason. See S. K. Heninger, Touches of Sweet Harmony (San Marino, Calif.: Huntington, 1974), pp. 91, ff.Google Scholar
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    Psychozoia, ibid., i, 7; and D.D., op. cit, pp. 301–2.Google Scholar
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    See Psychozoia, ibid., ii, 23 ff., and Discourses, op. cit., pp. 123ff.Google Scholar
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    Psychozoia, op. cit, ii,9, and see Psychathanasia, op. cit., III, i, 18–22, and Discourses, op. cit, p. 188.Google Scholar
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  61. 55.
    Cited in Ward, Life, op. cit., pp. 39–40. Versus Coudert, “Henry More, the Kabbalah, and the Quakers”, art. cit., pp. 50–1, who interprets this and related passages from More’s writings against Vaughan as indicative of an initial adherence to a hermetic, ‘physicalist’ view of spiritual perfection, later to be abandoned when More came to realize that his ‘neoplatonism and Christian theology were not compatible’. This is not substantiated in her account.Google Scholar
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    Psychathanasia, op. cit., III, ii, 58. See also the two orbs of good and evil beings described in the early poem, Insomnium Philosophicum, in Philosophicall Poems, op. cit., pp. 325–28.Google Scholar
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    Antipsychopannychia, ii,15 in Psychodia Platonica, op. cit. Compare also Smith, Select Discourses, op. cit., pp. 385 ff., and Whichcote, Aphorisms, op. cit., #294.Google Scholar
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    Psychozoia, op. cit., iii, 20–22, and 112–114.Google Scholar
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    Psychathanasia, op. cit., I, i, 9–17.Google Scholar
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    Psychathanasia, op. cit., III, iii, and the notes on this canto, in Philosophicall Poems, op. cit., pp. 385–408.Google Scholar
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    Psychathanasia, ibid., I, i, 10–17; and below.Google Scholar
  68. 62.
    Alazonomastix Philalethes (ie. Henry More), Observations upon Anthroposophia Theomagica and Anima Magica Abscondita (London, J. Flesher, 1650). For a fuller discussion of this dispute, see my “Mysticism and Enthusiasm in Henry More”, art. cit., pp. 145–8; and also A. Rudrum (ed), The Works of Thomas Vaughan (Oxford, 1984), pp. 7–12.Google Scholar
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    See (More), The Second Lash of Alazonomastix Philalethes (originally London: J. Flesher, 1651), in More, Enthusiasmus Triumphatus, op. cit., pp. 174–5.Google Scholar
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    E. Philalethes (Vaughan), The Second Wash, or the Moore Scour’d Once More (London, 1651), p. 10, versus More, Philosophicall Poems, op. cit., pp. 353–4 (referring to Plotinus, Enneads, op. cit., IV, ii, 9.)Google Scholar
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    See E. Philalethes (Vaughan), Lumen de Lumine (London, 1651), especially pp. 13–5; and idem, Anthroposophia Theomagia (London, 1650), p. 5.Google Scholar
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    See my “Mysticism and Enthusiasm in Henry More”, art. cit. p. 145.Google Scholar
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    (More), Second Lash, in Enthusiasmus Triumphatus, op. cit., pp. 177–84, and Vaughan’s response, Second Wash, op. cit., pp. 10 ff. See also More’s apologetic comments, An Antidote against Atheism (London: J. Flesher, 1653), ‘To the Reader’, and Mastix his Letter, in Enthusiasmus Triumphatus, op. cit., pp. 296–8.Google Scholar
  74. 68.
    More, Antidote, ibid., ‘To the Reader’, and I,ii,5; and the earlier statement, preferring a sincere doubt to a false certainty, Philosophicall Poems, op. cit., ‘Preface to the Reader upon this Second Edition’, sig B4.Google Scholar
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    Antidote, ibid., and see also Conjectura Cabbalistica, op. cit.. Preface.Google Scholar
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    Philosophicall Poems, op. cit, ‘Preface to the Reader upon this Second Edition’, sig. B3; and Democritus Platonissans, op. cit., ‘To the Reader’; and see Alan Gabbey, “Philosophia Cartesiana Triumphata: Henry More, 1646–71”, in T. M. Lennon, J. M. Nicholas, J. W. Davis (eds), Problems in Cartesianism (Kingston and Montreal, 1982), pp. 171–249, especially pp. 173–5.Google Scholar
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    More to Descartes, Dec. 11, 1648, in C. Adam and P. Tannery, (eds), Oeuvres de Descartes (11 vols, Paris: Vrin, 1964–74) vol. 5, pp. 238–40, and 242–3. See also More, Epistola H. Mori ad V.C (London: J. Flesher, 1664), sect. 5; and Gabbey, “Philosophia Cartesiana Triumphata”, art. cit., pp. 191–2.Google Scholar
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    More, C.S.P.W., Preface General, p. xi–xii.Google Scholar
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    Gabbey, “Philosophia Cartesiana Triumphata”, art. cit., pp. 173–5.Google Scholar
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    Philosophicall Poems, op. cit., “Preface to the Reader on this Second Edition”, sig.B.3.Google Scholar
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    Democritus Platonissans, op. cit., ‘To the Reader’.Google Scholar
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    For example, Philosophick Cabbala, op. cit., i, 6 and i, 8; and see also Appendix to Defense of the Philosophick Cabbala, i, 8, in Collection of Philosophical Writings, op. cit. Google Scholar
  83. 77.
    See for example the ‘physico-theology’ contained in Antidote against Atheism, op. cit., II.Google Scholar
  84. 78.
    Antidote against Atheism (3rd edition), II, ii, 7–15, C.S.P.W., using Boyle, New Experiments Physico-Mechanical (London, 1660), and More, I. S., III, xii, 4–5, using Helmont on sympathetic cures and Harvey on the generation of the foetus. Judging by a letter to Hartlib (c.1561) (Sheffield University Library, Hartlib Papers, 18/1/42a-43b), More had begun his collection of ‘verified’ tales of witchcraft and other paranormal phenomenon about this time as experimental proofs for the existence and life of spirits. This was used in a number of More’s works, culminating in the Collection he attached to Joseph Glanvil’s Saducismus Triumphatus (1681).Google Scholar
  85. 79.
    Antidote, op. cit., I, iv, and Appendix to idem, iv, in second edition (London, 1655), Immortality of the Soul, op. cit., I, iii–vii, and II, xviii, 1; and the fuller treatment of this in More, The Easie, True Notion of a Spirit, in Glanvil, Saducismus Triumphatus, op. cit., a translation of More, E. M., xxvii–xxviii.Google Scholar
  86. 80.
    See above and Psychathanasia, op. cit., III, i.Google Scholar
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    Antidote, Preface.Google Scholar
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    Cupids Conflict, in Philosophical Poems, op. cit, p. 303, cited above, note 1.Google Scholar
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    D.D., pp. 247–53.Google Scholar
  90. 84.
    Ibid., 250.Google Scholar
  91. 85.
  92. 86.
    Psychathanasia, op. cit., III, iii, 74.Google Scholar
  93. 87.
    D.D., op. cit., p. 252. This motto inspired the work of the same title by More’s admiring disciple, Edmund Elys, Amor Dei Lux Animae (London, 1670).Google Scholar
  94. 88.
    See More, Immortality of the Soul, op. cit., III, xi, 6; and D.D., dialogue II, xxii, and IV, vii, and also (Henry Hallywell), Deus Justificatus, op. cit., p. 269. Similar necessitarian theologies, usually associated with a defence of the ‘hypothesis’ of preexistence, can be found in the works of More’s friends and disciples, Joseph Glanvil, Henry Hallywell, George Rust, F. M. van Helmont, Anne Conway and Christian Knorr von Rosenroth. See D. P. Walker, The Decline of Hell (London: Routledge, 1964), pp. 122–55.Google Scholar
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    D.D., p. 252–3.Google Scholar
  96. 90.
    D.D., p. 253. See Richard Roach’s interpretation of this, that the asses represent “the Clamour of Narrow and Ignorant Spirits”, in J. White, The Restoration of all Things (London, 1712), Sig A.2.Google Scholar
  97. 91.
    D.D., p. 255.Google Scholar
  98. 92.
    Ibid., p. 255–6.Google Scholar
  99. 93.
    Ibid., p. 256.Google Scholar
  100. 94.
    Roach, in White, Restoration of All Things, op. cit. Google Scholar
  101. 95.
    More refers to the doctrine as a ‘stoic dream’ in the Immortality of the Soul, III,xviii,11–12. See also More’s early letter to Anne Conway (c.1652), where he warns his friend against the doctrine of universal salvation, despite its apparent harmony with his own emphasis on the power of Christ to save all men, printed in Ward, Life, op. cit., pp. 303 ff. However, Coudert, “Henry More, the Kabbalah, and the Quakers”, p. 45, suggests (perhaps after Roach’s statement) that More really ‘leaned’ towards the doctrine.Google Scholar
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    D.D., p. 253.Google Scholar
  103. 97.
    See above, and Philosophicall Poems, op. cit., “Preface to the Reader upon this Second Edition”, sig.B4, and Antidote, op. cit., I, ii, 5.Google Scholar

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  • Robert Crocker

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