DR. HENRY MORE.* England hundred and fifty years ago the
academic world in England looked upon Dr. Henry More as a great scholar, a great thinker, and an extraordinarily delightful companion. The last of these three verdicts is true. Let anyone ulf.o doubts it read the reprint of the contemporary biography, by Richard Ward, which has just been published with notes and a preface. The foremost object of the biographer was to exalt his subject as a writer, his achievement was to exalt him as a talker.
The life of Dr. Henry More was wholly uneventful. He was a Cambridge Don—" a private Fellow of Christ's" for fifty years. He never married, probably because he fell in love with a pupil, "Mistress Finch," who became Lady Conway, and he never accepted any preferment. A bishopric was offered to him. "His friends got him on a day as fax as Whitehall in order to the kissing of the Royal hand for it. But when he understood the business h3 was not upon any account to be persuaded to it." No doubt he was wise. A typical Latitudinarian was far safer
in retirement. He was too good a man " to speak with the many and think with the few," and he bad no worldly ambition. Some men, he said, "ran to preferment as rats to ratsbane ; and swell and die." Nevertheless, though he refused the bishopric, Dr. More was a "sincere honourer and approver of the Church of England," which he considered nearer than any other Church to primitive Christianity. He would not, however, condemn those who could not agree with him, and held with Whichcote that " the maintenance of truth is God's charge, and the continuance of charity ours." As he was a man of naturally independent mind, his Calvinistic upbringing had no effect upon his religious development—i did not even give him a prejudice. He loved his Puritan father, and tells how he would unbend and read the " Faerie Queen" to his family in the evenings, though be diligently taught the doctrine of predestination. Later in life the influence of his learned son softened his convictions, and before he died he " had no great stomach to his strict Cal- vinism."
Even before he went to Eton, More became a mystics His uncle threatened to thrash him for his "premature philosophizings," but he still refused the dogmas set before him when they contradicted "an inward feeling." One day, he tells us, in the playing fields at Eton a fear took hold of him that he was predestined to hell. His distress of mind was shortly relieved by a certainty, which appeared to come to him from outside himself, that if even in hell he tried to do right God "would hardly keep me long in that place." This assurance remained with him always, and the teaching of his childhood melted away before it. Like all the Latitudinarians, More relied upon religious intuition far more than upon any other religious authority, and, though from his boyhood subject to " dubitations," these were, he tells us, effectually silenced by "that very whole and entire sense of God which Nature herself had planted deeply in me."
More's attitude towards things mystic and psychic was curiously modern. He formed a little society of Cambridge friends for the investigation of ghost stories, and convinced himself that communication with the spirits of the departed was possible, and was certain that he had been preserved from danger whose approach was perceived in " the redoubled soul," by which he seems to have meant "the subconscious self." On the other hand be was shy of talking of such experiences, be- lieving that the contemplation of them "heated the phansy " and made evidence difficult to deal with. Often he would snub those who desired to talk of them, and to someone who was repeating some inane communication of supposed spirits he said, "It seems there are as many errant fools out of the body as in." He was too much a man of letters to forget the power of fancy or "the wantonness of the trimmest imagination." All really life-like pictures of the past resemble the present owing, we suppose, to the unchanging element in human nature, but sometimes the points of identity startle ns. We
• The LIP of the Learned and Pious Dr. Henry More. By Richard Ward, A.X. Edited with Introduction and Notes by F. M. Howard. London Theosophical Publishing Society, 181 New Bond Street. Ds. net.]
are surprised to hear how much exercised More and his fellow- professors were about "the atheistical tendencies of the young men of the world " and how they were moved to indignation by the emptiness of the churches.
"The Doctor Observing Our Churches at the Hours of Prayer, to be almost empty, and to have only perhaps in them a few Old Women, and sometimes more Dogs than Christians, he said with a sensible Emotion, That he believ'd GOD would not bear long with it. Which may deserve to be consider'd and that with some Seriousness, by too great a Number of its profess'd Members."
Not that Dr. More believed for one instant that the world was getting worse or less religious. He had the firmest faith in the amendment of society, one might almost say in the amend- ment of human nature. " To help to purify the age in which we live and to prepare it for better times expected " was, in his biographer's eyes, the aim of his life. Hopes so enthu- siastic as those of Dr. More for the amelioration of the world will, his friend fears, " but slowly go down with many persons." They think that the world "will continue for the main as it is," and never be "so mightily mended." Of such caution our author is scornful :—
" The Dr. hath taken notice, that it was of old the Case of an over-aged Sarah, rather to laugh at than to Credit such improb- able Tidings ; and this though it was declar'd by God Himself. And truly these Persons, I think seem little to regard the Nature, Power, or yet the Promise of God in this their Incredulity. And as little to attend unto the Nature of Man ; what he is capable of, and ought long since indeed, in a Way of palpable Duty, to have attain'd to."
Dr. More, however, while he thought society to be upon the eve of a great and rapid reform, had no belief in the sudden conversion of individuals, and had a great fear of forcing spiritual progress, and he used to say—no doubt only half- seriously—that "if any man mended suddenly he died for it."
As he got older be used to say that he had too often spoken in jest, and the reader is thankful that in this matter, at least, he avoided all sudden amendment. That the world was not already better than it plainly was was a constant surprise to him. Here is an explanation given, perhaps, in one of the jesting moods which he regretted : " That the un- toward Genius, of Men defeating the various and wise Methods us'd to reform them, Puzzled Providence."
It is surprising to hear of psychic research in the middle of the seventeenth century ; it is still more surprising to hear that the question of vivisection was discussed. Dr. More condemned Descartes for the practice which ke did not hesitate to declare cruel and barbarous. He had a great love of animals, and "he abhorr'd that Cruelty and Stupidity of Temper with which over-many are apt to treat the animals of whatsoever kind." " His Kindness went so low as to the very Beasts; Who had the least (he said) and the worst of it."
Those times were rough, and he was accused of having "a soft head." He, however, took the criticism in very good part, and cheerfully thanked God that he had not got a hard heart ! Humour was an integral part of his character, and he had a great belief in the recreative effects of talking nonsense so long as it was wholly innocent :-
"He said to one, after the finishing of some of his Writings, and a long and wasting Studiousness, humonrously and pleasantly (as he was lucky in putting things into an Elegant and Sententious posture) Now for these Three Months, I will neither think a Wise Thought, nor speak a Wise Word, nor do an Ill Thing." "
The truly scholarly mind rarely over-values pure scholarship. Reading, he said, was " an endless business," and spiritual specu- lation as divorced from practice served only to make men " tipsy." He did not underrate the use of " a little knowledge," did not object to specialization, described himself as "no whole- sale man," and often said that "a little armour was sufficient if but well-placed." Now and then he had doubts as to whether the contemplative life of a college Don was really a good one, and he warned his younger friends in the following words :—
"God forbid, Philopolis, that the Sweet of Contemplation should ever put your Mouth out of Taste with the Savoury Usefulness of Secular Negotiations. To do good to Men, to assist the Injured, to relieve the Necessitous, to advise the Ignorant in his necessary Affairs, to bring up a Family in the Fear of God and a cheerful Hope of everlasting Happiness after this Life, cloth as much tran- scend our manner of living, if it ended in a mere Pleasing our- selves in the delicacy of Select Notions, as solid Goodness does empty Phantastry, or sincere Charity the most Childish Sophistry that is. The exercise of Love and Goodness, of Humanity and Brotherly-kindness, of Prudence and Discretion, of Faithfulness and Neighbourliness, of unfeigned Devotion and Religion, in the plain and undoubted Duties thereof, is to the truly regenerate Soul a far greater pleasure than all the fine Speculations imaginable."
"The last exit" of this delightful man was precisely in keep- ing with his life. At the end he was in " an extraordinary calm and easy temper." Just before he died we read :—
" Doctor' (saith he), I have marvellous things to tell you.' `Sir,' replied the other, `You are full, I suppose, of Divine Joy.' Ho answer'd with a most deep Sense, Full.' It is Pity but that Reverend Person had ask'd him a little more particularly about it ; namely, what those Marvellous Things were : But he saw him extreme Weak ; and so it pass'd over."
His last words were "Good Night, Dear Doctor," and he " departed this Life in so Easy a manner, and with so Calm a Passage, that the Nurse with him was not sensible of it."