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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

XI. Platonists and Latitudinarians

§ 12. His Divine Dialogues

In 1664, his Mystery of Iniquity aroused afresh the public interest in past history by its denunciation of the claims of popery, while it also excited gloomy forebodings as regarded the future, by its discussions on the fulfilments of prophecy under the reign of anti-Christ. The interest aroused by these arbitrary interpretations of past historical events was further stimulated by his returning to the subject in his Divine Dialogues, published in 1668, the most popular of all his works. Here, in the fifth Dialogue, he took upon himself to point out that the occurrence of the calamities which the soundings of the six trumpets in The Revelation were successively to usher in was clearly to be discerned in certain recognised historic epochs, from the fall of the Roman empire to the invasion of the Turks. Such, indeed, was his confidence in the interpretation of past church history which he thus put forward that he ventured to assert that its outlines, before long, would become as “common and ordinary” a subject of instruction in Christian schools as the children’s catechism itself. The appearance, in 1665, of two portly folios—the Works of Joseph Mede, edited by Worthington, a task on which that eminent scholar, now resident in London, had expended an amount of labour and research which excited high encomiums—proved a further incentive to such studies; while Clavis Apocalyptica, more especially, attracted fresh attention. The popular interest, accordingly, rose almost to a fever of expectancy, when one Israel Tongue of Oxford, the associate of Titus Oates and a notorious charlatan, proclaimed that he had ready for the press certain “Apocalyptical Expositions” which would supersede all that had hitherto been written on that absorbing theme. As, however, his lucubrations never saw the light, More continued to take rank as the most advanced and authoritative writer on a subject in connection with which his fervid imagination might find scope for its employment almost without a check; although, in other relations, it is evident that he was already beginning to incline to a more guarded declaration of his opinions. In common with Cudworth and other leading theologians at Cambridge, he had become, since the restoration, an avowed supporter of the doctrines of the church of England, and he regarded with undisguised alarm the growing progress of infidelity, especially as represented by Hobbes. In other respects, the points of contrast between the master and the fellow of Christ’s college are strong and marked, for Cudworth’s reputation as an author was almost entirely posthumous, the chief noteworthy exception being a sermon preached before parliament in 1647, when he was only in his thirtieth year. In this remarkable discourse, he had given distinct evidence of his sympathy with the party of academic reform by a candid avowal of his dissatisfaction with the prevailing dialectics, on the one hand, and of his sense of the advantages to be derived from the study of nature, on the other. In the endeavour to arrive at a clearer understanding of natural laws, he urged that man was really only discharging a universal religious duty, the neglect of which was, in itself, a violation of the homage due from mankind to its Creator.