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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XII. William Law and the Mystics

§ 2. Mysticism in the Seventeenth Century; “Children of Light” in Holland

There were many strains of influence which, in the seventeenth century, tended to foster this type of thought in England. The little group of Cambridge Platonists gave new expression to great neo-Platonic ideas, the smouldering embers of which had been fanned to flame in the ardent forge of the Florentine renascence; but, in addition to this older thought, there were not only new influences from without but, also, new conditions within which must be indicated.

A strong vein of mysticism had been kept alive in Amsterdam, whither the first body of exiled separatists had gone in 1593. Elizabeth, thinking to quell independent religious thought at home, had planted nurseries of freedom in Holland, which waxed strong and sent back over seas in the next century a persistent stream of opinion and literature. To this can be traced the root-ideas which animated alike quakers, seekers, Behmenists, anabaptists, familists and numberless other sects which embodied a reaction against forms and ceremonies that, in ceasing to be understood, had become lifeless. They all agreed in deeming it more important to spiritualise this life than to dogmatise about the life to come. They all believed in the “inner light,” in the immediate revelation of God within the soul as the supreme and all-important experience. They all held that salvation was the effect of a spiritual principle, a seed quickened invisibly by God, and, consequently, they considered learning useless, or even mischievous, in dealing with the things of the spirit. So far, these various sects were mystical in thought; though, with the exception of familists, Behmenists and seekers, they cannot unreservedly be classed as mystics. Large numbers of these three sects, however, became “children of light,” thus helping to give greater prominence to the strong mystical element in early quakerism.