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

XII. Hobbes and Contemporary Philosophy

§ 2. Religious philosophy

Religion is as powerful a stimulus to philosophical thought as science is, and it is apt to lead more directly to the study of ultimate problems. It was the chief interest in the speculative writings of Herbert of Cherbury, and the same interest is even more directly obvious in other writings. In 1599, Sir John Davies had published his philosophical poem Nosce Teipsum, in which a view of the nature of the soul and arguments for its immortality are “expounded in two elegies.” Utilising Platonic, as well as Aristotelian, ideas, the author worked out a spiritual philosophy in which the soul is regarded as akin to the universal order,

  • For Nature in man’s heart her lawes doth pen;
  • Prescribing truth to wit, and good to will,
  • Which doe accuse, or else excuse all men,
  • For every thought or practise, good or ill:
  • and, therefore, the soul can find no true satisfaction in earthly things:
  • Wit, seeking Truth, from cause to cause ascends,
  • And never rests till it the first attaine:
  • Will, seeking Good, finds many middle ends,
  • But never stayes, till it the last doe gaine.
  • The same influence led to work of a philosophical kind among theologians, usually conveyed in a scholastic manner. In his Atheomastix (1622), Martin Fotherby, bishop of Salisbury, relied chiefly on St. Thomas Aquinas in his demonstration of the being of God, and maintained that there is a “natural prenotion” that there is a God. The work of George Hakewill, archdeacon of Surrey, entitled An Apologie or Declaration of the Power and Providence of God (1627), touches on philosophy without being genuinely philosophical in character. Bacon is referred to for his “noble and worthy endeavour … so to mix and temper practice and speculation together, that they may march hand in hand”; but his new method is not spoken of, though both Ramus and Lully are referred to in the section on advances in logic. Nor does the discussion on truth contain any observations beyond the ordinary commonplaces: it does not show any knowledge of Herbert of Cherbury’s enquiry, and can hardly have suggested ideas to lord Brooke. The real importance of the book lies in the fact that the author’s eyes are turned to the future, not to the past. It is an elaborate argument against the view that the history of the world is a record of deterioration from an earlier golden age. As described on the titlepage, it is “an examination and censure of the common error touching nature’s perpetual and universal decay.”