Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Critical Introduction by Edmund K. Chambers
Henry More (16141687)
[Henry More was born at Grantham in 1614. His parents were gentlefolk, of small estate and Calvinist principles. He went to Eton, and to Christs College, Cambridge. He took his degree in 1635, and became a Fellow of his College in 1639. He lived a life of study, refusing all preferment, even the Headship of Christs. His time was divided between Cambridge and Ragley, in Warwickshire, the home of his friend Lady Conway. Here he found a congenial circle of mystics and wonder-workers. He died in 1687. His writings, controversial and speculative, are very numerous. The most important of them will be found in his Philosophical Works (1662), Divine Dialogues (1668), Theological Works (1675). He published a Latin version of his Opera Omnia in 1679. He also wrote poems, which were edited by Dr. Grosart in 1878. There is no modern edition of his prose works. R. Wards Life of Henry More (1710), and the chapter on More in Principal Tullochs Rational Theology, vol. ii., are worth consulting.]
HENRY MORE is unread, rather because he is unreprinted and inaccessible, a mystic in folio, than for any failure to interest essential to his work. For in his day he made the booksellers fortunes and commanded the attention of all thinking men. He was the heart of the Cambridge movement of the 17th century, that academic reaction against the Hobbesian scheme of things entire; the heart of it, as Cudworth was its brain. The contribution of this movement to the total process of thought was great: it insisted upon the recognition of the spiritual, as a standpoint for philosophic theory no less imperative, no less to be reckoned with, than that of physical science itself. It made its protest, through the mouth of More and his fellows, on behalf of religion and ethics, against a one-sided system which seemed likely to prove dangerous to both. The protest has been needed, and has been repeated, since then. The emphasis of the spiritual, herein lies Mores strength. The saintliness of his personal life, to which his contemporaries bear witness, gave his words their weight: and in all his writing and thinking the ethical intent is clearly visible. Philosophy other than this assertion of a central principle we shall hardly find in him; but this is so fruitful and so necessary in itself, that it may excuse the absence of any formal or systematic body of thought. What is less easy to excuse is that More fails to recognise the functions of the intellect in the investigation of the spiritual: he treats it as altogether outside the pale of logic: he believes by preference in the supernatural and the unlikely: nothing, from witchcraft to the mesmeric cures of Valentine Greatrakes, is too much for his faculty of assent. Partly, perhaps, this is the effect of his completely academic life, beguiling him with the cobweb theories and fantastic subtleties of Neoplatonism, which have fascinated generations of solitary thinkers, and which a breath of practical life might have blown away.
He writes excellent English, easy, leisurely, scholarly, with an abundance of learning, which is yet not ponderous, and occasional 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.