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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

XVI. The Advent of Modern Thought in Popular Literature.

§ 8. Rosicrucianism.


Whether Rosicrucianism be of prehistoric antiquity 34  or not, it reached England from Germany at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The mystery surrounding this brotherhood and the strange symbolism of their doctrine provoked much misrepresentation, but, as most errors vaguely represent some intellectual movement, so Rosicrucianism, though retrograde and chimerical, is a recognition of the immaterial world and an assertion of man’s supremacy over it. With this germ of progress, the fraternity did not lack apologists among men who could find no saner scope for their spiritual longings. Robert Fludd mournfully reviews the ineffectiveness and confusion of modern science, calling on his contemporaries to turn again and study the occult meanings of ancient philosophy. John Heydon sought to discover the secret of healing in the forces of nature, and has left a description of the Rosicrucian kingdom copied from the renascence Utopians and almost suggestive of Erewhon. Thomas Vaughan, though disclaiming all connection with the brotherhood, was yet imbued with the same spirit. For him, the coming of Elias meant the advent of the heavenly alchemist who should transform the universe into the pure gold of the spiritual city of God. For a while, these doctrines helped to disseminate a purer, nobler conception, both of God and man, and thus played a part in the change which came over the nation in the sixties. But such a sect could end, eventually, only in teaching self-justification and substituting what is vague and allegorical for practical Christianity. Like the witch terror, astrology and other relics of the Middle Ages, hermetic and cabalistic sciences were destined to be discredited—though not effaced—in the spiritual and intellectual revolution which they contributed, in some measure, to bring about.   17
  This revolution, the advent of modern thought, took place as soon as the people had cultivated the habit of looking at a question from more than one point of view. The Baconians and a few of the Theophrastians 35  had acquired this impartiality and reflective scepticism from the study of the classics or of Montaigne; but the people were already absorbed in a controversy which appealed to their medieval instinct of unquestioning self-sacrifice in a cause. At an earlier epoch, this obstinacy and prejudice would have been a permanent obstacle to intellectual progress. Fortunately, the seventeenth century was not only an age of factions; it was an age which kept a diary. Every outburst of folly or hatred was printed on the impulse of the moment and scattered through the streets. Aggregates of people are proverbially irresponsible; but, in this case, the national conscience was gradually confronted with an incriminating record which with other influences shamed the people into a united effort towards progress.   18

Note 34. See Waite, A.E., The Real History of the Rosicrucians, 1887. [ back ]
Note 35E.g. Earle and Stephens. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Astrological treatises The history of the broadside  
 
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