Margaret Lewis Bailey.

Milton and Jakob Boehme; a study of German mysticism in seventeenth-century England online

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(Bermanic Xfterature an& Culture






Sometime Fellow at the University of Illinois







Copyright, 1914.





-O I T
*J i Otw


THE present study is the first of a series of monographs
on Germanic literature and culture. As the title indicates,
the plan of the series does not limit its scope to German
literature, but includes also the literatures and civilizations
of the peoples of kindred origin.

While literature is usually considered the most perfect
expression of national genius, it is, after all, but a portion
of that full, pulsating life of a people which manifests itself
in the entirety of their civilization. To understand literature
one must take into account not only the resolves and inner-
most strivings of the intellectual leaders of the time, but
also the immediate and permanent effect of their work upon
the life of the people. Nowhere does the close relationship
between literature and culture present itself more clearly
than in the great intellectual movements which weave, like
the Earth Spirit in Faust, the living garment of Teutonic
civilization. The present monograph is an attempt to trace
one of these mighty though little noticed movements, which,
starting in Germany during the seventeenth century, sub-
sequently, by devious ways, returns to its source.

The science of literature should strive to comprehend and
appreciate human life both present and past. Moreover, a
general and live appreciation of literature is essential to
progress in higher civilization. Or, as Carlyle has it, " to
apprehend the beauty of poetry clearly and wholly to acquire
and maintain a sense and heart that sees and worships it, is
the perfection of all human culture."

America's joint heritage of English and German culture



would seem to make this country a particularly suitable one
in which to study sympathetically and broadly, but without
national bias, English and German literature in their multi-
ple and complex relations. Certainly it is in this field of
comparative literature that American scholarship may hope
to develop independence and originality.

J. G.


THE following pages contain the dissertation offered for
the doctorate at the University of Illinois in June, 1912, and
the results of the work accomplished under the Illinois Trav-
eling Research Fellowship, 1912-1913.

Through a study of the part played by Gottfried Arnold's
Kirchen- und Ketserhistorie in Goethe's intellectual life,
my interest in mysticism and the Neoplatonic movement was
aroused. I found that in the mysticism of Goethe I was
considering only one slight manifestation of a tremendous
world-power reaching far into all the spiritual realms open
to the mind and heart of man. The conclusion seemed
forced upon me, however, that the grave importance of the
relation of the Neoplatonic movement to literature had
been decidedly overlooked in our literary histories, both
English and German. Especially did it seem incompre-
hensible that a mystic who had such ardent admirers and
so pronounced a following as did Jakob Boehme, from the
time of the first appearance of his writings down to the
new edition that is even now being published, should have
had practically no accredited influence on the literary life
that mirrored the great spiritual movements rising about
the time of his activity.

During my work in England, I found that the relation-
ship of mysticism and literature had not been so unnoted as
I had thought. I found Miss Spurgeon's illuminating chap-
ter on " Law and the Mystics " in the Cambridge History of
English Literature (chap, xii, vol. ix), published in the
autumn of 1912. Miss Spurgeon herself called my atten-


tion to her Mysticism in English Literature just as it
was appearing in the spring of 1913, for which I wish here
to thank her, as also for several very kindly suggestions.
In the main, however, the growing interest in mysticism
seems, as in the Studies of Mystical Religion by Rufus M.
Jones, 1909, and Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill, 1910,
to be along lines of religion, psychology, and history, rather
than of literature. A systematic treatment of the connec-
tion between literature, and Neoplatonism as a carrier of
mystical thought, has not yet been made. It seems not too
bold a statement to make that we have here a most remark-
able instance of an international and intellectual relation-
ship, an eminently worthy subject for the study of compara-
tive literature.

The suggestion of a relationship between Milton and
Boehme was made by Dr. Julius Goebel. To his unfailing
inspiration and guidance I owe what results these pages
have to show.

The method I have tried to follow has little in common
with the old method of careful and detailed comparison of
the works of each author for possible resemblances, although
some such comparison must of course be used as a checking
up of any other method ; it is rather an attempt to lay hold
of the spirit of the time that produced natures so sympa-
thetic and complementary as those of the simple, uneducated
Gorlitz shoemaker and the cultured man of the world, friend
of a rising republic. This method may best be characterized
in the words of Dilthey : " It is the comparative method,"
he says, " through which the positive, the historical, the
distinctly individual, in short, the individuation itself be-
comes the object of scientific research. Even the scientific
determination of the single historical event can be com-
pleted only through the method of comparison on the basis


of universal history. One phenomenon explains another;
taken all together, all phenomena explain each individual.
Since the far-reaching results arrived at by Winckelmann,
Schiller, and the romanticists, this method has continually
gained in fruitfulness. It is a scientific procedure that was
developed from the comparative methods of philology, and
then transferred to the study of mythology. It follows
logically that every systematic mental science must, in the
course of its development, sooner or later, arrive at depend-
ence upon this same comparative method."

In the course of my studies in England, I was greatly
indebted to courtesies extended by officials of the British
Museum, Dr. Williams's Library (London), the Bodleian
Library, the libraries of Queen's, Christ Church, Worcester,
and Manchester Colleges of the University of Oxford, the
collections of Magdalene, Trinity, and Peterhouse of the
University of Cambridge, and the Library of the University
of Cambridge. Particularly, I wish to thank Champlin Bur-
rage, M.A., B.Litt., librarian of Manchester College, Ox-
ford, for many valuable suggestions and Dr. Frederick W.
C. Lieder of Harvard University for his kind assistance in
reading proofs.

M. L. B.

January, 1914.















To speak of the sources or influence of any mystical writer
or movement seems paradoxical indeed, in view of the
absolute independence and separateness of every individual
mystical experience. Yet a certain relationship is clearly
discernible among the exponents of purely personal religion ;
their tradition, though not of forms and ceremonies, not
bounded by the ordinary material facts of religious life, is
nevertheless a tradition. They are not isolated phenomena,
but are related to one another. The truths that they express
can never age nor die. Each mystic, original though he be,
receives much from the past; each, by his personal experi-
ence, enriches the heritage and hands it on to the future.
Thus the names of the great mystics are connected, and
around them may be grouped historical facts of religious

But the history of the period of greatest religious changes
in England, the time of the great religious revival of the
seventeenth century, when mysticism was most dominant
and powerful there, is not a history mainly of a few tre-
mendous personalities extending to the spiritual sphere
man's conquest over his universe, but rather a history of
an epoch when certain great spiritual ideas, certain far-
reaching mystical truths, struggled for expression in every
realm of human activity. It is a history, not so much of
great mystics, as of very many mystically-minded men and
women. It deals with a mystical atmosphere which many


diverse elements united in producing, expressed by a very
general experience of religion in its enthusiastic form, and
running the gamut of experience from pure mystical ecstasy
to a belief in magic, from regenerating faith in the Inner
Light, through alchemy, Rosicrucianism, apocalyptic proph-
ecy and other aberrations of the spiritual sense.

The form of this mysticism is, like that of the most of
Christian Europe, the Neoplatonism of which Plotinus was
the greatest exponent. But Neoplatonism as a whole, and
the mysticism which used its language, must not be identi-
fied with one another. We find pure mysticism, it is true,
in seventeenth-century England. But we also find a wide-
spread revival of Neoplatonism.

Many inconsistent elements united to form the semi-
religious philosophy that goes by the name of Neoplatonism.
Plotinus (A.D. 205-^.270), Egyptian by birth, studied in
Alexandria at a time when that city was the center of
the intellectual world. He was a determined opponent of
Christianity. The form of his thought is an advanced
Platonic idealism, combined with the conception of emana-
tion from the Hermetic philosophy, with elements from the
Mysteries and from oriental cults, but the real inspiration
came from his own deep mystical experience of ecstatic
union with " the One." From the age of forty he taught
in Rome, surrounded by eager adherents. Appearing at the
moment in which the wreck of paganism was complete, but
before Christianity had conquered the educated world, his
system made a strong appeal to the spiritually-minded, and
also to those whose hearts thirsted for the mysterious and
the occult. In his teaching of the existence of an Absolute
God, the " Unconditioned One," not external to anyone, but
present in all things, he appealed directly to the mystical
instincts of men, and to those living at the time of the


greatest popularity of his system it came as a ready means
of expressing their own vision of Truth. Hence early Euro-
pean mysticism, Christian and pagan alike, is Neoplatonic.

The influence of Plotinus upon later Christian mysticism
was enormous, though mainly indirect, through the writings
of his spiritual descendants, Proclus (412-^.490), the last
of the pagan philosophers, St. Augustine (354-430), and
Dionysius the Areopagite, that unknown writer of the early
sixth century, probably a Syrian monk, who chose to ascribe
his priceless little tracts on mystical theology to Dionysius,
the friend of St. Paul. Through these men the powerful
genius of Plotinus nourished the spiritual intuitions of men
and possessed, even into the seventeenth century, a final au-
thority like that of the Bible or the great church fathers.
The works of Dionysius were translated from Greek into
Latin, about 850, by the great Irish philosopher and theolo-
gian, John Scotus Erigena, one of the scholars of Charle-
magne's court. In this form they widely influenced later
medieval mysticism.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the tradition was
carried on by the first great French mystic, St. Bernard
(1091-1153) the Abbot of Clairvaux, and by the Scotch or
Irish Richard of St. Victor at Paris; in Italy by St.
Bonaventura (1121-1274) and Thomas Aquinas (1226-
1274), all close students of Dionysius. 1

Under the influence of St. Bernard, Richard of St. Victor,
and St. Bonaventura, the torch was lighted in England by
Richard Rolle of Hampole (c. 1300-1349) and the short but
brilliant procession of English mystics began. Rolle, edu-
cated at Oxford, and widely read in mystical theology, be-
came a hermit in order to live the mystic life to which he

'See Evelyn Underbill: Mysticism, pp. 541-62, for historical
sketch of European mysticism.


felt himself called. His writings already show the practical
temper destined to be characteristic of the English school;
his interest is not philosophy, but spiritual life. Similar
devotional treatises of practical instruction for the inner life
are the works of Walter Hilton (died 1396), and of the
unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing, who pro-
duced also the first English translation of Dionysius, Dio-
nise Hid Divinite, and the beautiful Revelations of Love
of Julian Norwich (1343-^.1413), with their devotional
exposition of the mystical steps of purification, contempla-
tion, and ecstatic union. From Julian to the seventeenth
century there is practically no English representative of
mystical thought. Spenser's Hymns (1596) would seem to
carry on the tradition, but they are Platonic rather than
mystical and curiously informed with the spirit of Puri-

In Germany, the spirit of Plotinus lived in the mystical
genius of Meister Eckhart and his two most famous dis-
ciples, Tauler and Suso. All three were Dominican friars,
all devout followers of St. Augustine and Dionysius, St.
Bernard and Aquinas; all lived and worked in or near the
valley of the Rhine. Yet the contrast between the three is
very striking. Eckhart (1260-1329) was like St. Augustine
and Thomas Aquinas in that he was so strong, intellectually,
that his mystical power is in danger of being obscured. He
laid at once the foundation of German philosophy and of
German mysticism. His pupil John Tauler (c. 1300-1361),
friar-preacher of Strassburg, a man of great theological
learning and mystical genius of a high order, was a born mis-
sionary, living only in his labor to awaken men to a knowl-
edge of their transcendental heritage. His breadth of hu-
manity was equaled only by his depth of spirituality. Hein-
rich Suso (c. 1300-1365), famous neither for his metaphysi-


cal nor for his humanistic qualities, was a subjective, roman-
tic mystic, deeply concerned with his own soul and his per-
sonal relation to God. His autobiography seems impelled
less by a desire to impart his doctrine to other men than by
the essentially human impulse to leave a record of an inti-
mate personal adventure.

With these three men were associated less known person-
alities, members of the great informal mystical society of the
Friends of God, which sprang into being in Strassburg and
worked courageously for the regeneration of the people in
a time of corrupt and disordered religious life. From one
of these unknown workers came the literary jewel of the
movement, the beautiful little treatise known as the Theo-
logia Germanica, " one of the most successful of many
attempts to make mystical principles available for common

Directly following these men and drawing their intellectual
vigor from the genius of Eckhart, were the Flemish mystics
John Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), in whose works the meta-
physical and personal aspects of mystical truths attain their
highest expression, and Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471),
called " another Dionysius, clear where the Areopagite is
obscure," author of the exquisite Imitation of Christ
(written 1400-1425). Through Kaspar von Schwenkfeld
(1489-1561) the teachings of Eckhart and Tauler reached
the people at a time when the fashion of sect formation and
the branding of heretics was nearing its height. Through
Sebastian Franck (1499-1542) the philosophical basis of
those same teachings was assured.

So far, we have been dealing only with the mysticism that
has come down to us in the language and traditions of Neo-
platonism. Several great mystics have been omitted from
our list ; they were of such a thoroughly original and spon-


taneous character that they owed absolutely nothing to the
formative influence of the writings of their predecessors.
Other men, generally spoken of as mystics, have likewise
been omitted, because in reality they belong to quite a
different side of Neoplatonism. Like Porphyry (233-304),
they inherited only the philosophy of Plotinus. Thus it came
about that two different views of life are represented
by Neoplatonism, views radically different, yet often so
similar that they seem to merge, for they often use the
same language, instruments, and methods. These two views
represent the two great human activities corresponding to
the two eternal, elemental passions of the self, the desire
for love and the desire for knowledge, the hunger of the
heart and the hunger of the intellect for absolute truth.

The hunger of the heart is expressed by mysticism, not
an opinion nor a philosophy, not a pursuit of the occult and
the hidden, but first-hand experience and knowledge of the
ultimate reality underlying all appearance. " It is the name
of that organic process which involves the perfect consum-
mation of the Love of God ; the achievement here and now
of the immortal heritage of man, the art of establishing his
conscious relationship with the Absolute," a in other words,
the experience of Plotinus, Dionysius, Tauler, and the rest.

For that other type of character in which the desire for-
knowledge dominates, the goal of ultimate truth means like-
wise a knowledge of the supersensible world, but here it is
a knowledge that must change into control. To this the early
centuries gave the name of magic. 2 In this the intense

1 Evelyn Underbill : Mysticism, p. 97.

1 One must bear in mind that the word " magic " as now generally
used has quite lost its original flavor and connotation ; love-philters
and conjuring tricks have no relation to the serious and reverent at-
tempts of bygone centuries to come into possession of a part of the
power of the Infinite.


human craving for hidden knowledge and for power, the
deep interest in the occult, the mysterious, finds a place. It
is the intellectual, aggressive, and scientific temperament
seeking to extend its field of consciousness until it shall
include the supersensual world. It is the quest for a power
that may control the whole universe. Under this view, a
line of Neoplatonic thought progressed that culminated a
few centuries ago in what we now call modern science.
Organized religion, in its forms and ceremonies, must always
show traces of this magic ; modern therapeutic measures de-
manding faith in a healer or a heightened power of the will
are everyday expressions of the same fundamental concep-
tion ; and all of the sciences owe their birth to this magical
way of regarding the relation of man to his universe.

This intellectual interest in Neoplatonism, as opposed to
the mystical intuition of it, had also its great exponents. Its
period of influence begins with the founding in Florence of a
Neoplatonic academy. Under the patronage of Cosimo de
Medici (1389-1464), Marsilius Ficinus (1433-1499) made
masterly translations of Plato and of Plotinus and various
other Neoplatonists. He interpreted Plato entirely accord-
ing to the spirit of Plotinus and consciously attempted to
bring their philosophy into accord with Christian doctrine.
Ficinus taught that the divinity of the soul was assured by
its immeasurable power to will and to know; fostered and
uplifted by religion and philosophy, the soul should ascend
the heights of knowledge even to the summit of divinity
itself, and part of the way thereto might well be learned
from those elements of Plotinus's teachings that were of
Egyptian origin, from the writings of Hermes Trismegistos,
father of magic. It was in this atmosphere of intellectual
progress of the academy that the great artists of the Renais-
sance lived and worked. Although later the academy fell


under the displeasure of the church, its influence continued

Pico de Mirandola (1463-1494) dedicated his life to the
dissemination of these principles. Following his belief that
they came originally, in part at least, from the Orient, he
made a study of oriental languages, and to the teachings of
Plotinus and Hermes added the kindred ones of the Ka-

This was the first introduction to the Christian world of
the cabalistic writings, that collection of supposedly ancient
Jewish tradition committed to writing some time in the
second century of our era. Here again we meet the doc-
trines, familiar to us from Neoplatonism, of the emanation
of the soul from God, of the essential harmony of all things,
of the archetypal world of which our world is a copy,
doctrines that lie at the foundation of the belief in magic,
the belief in a spiritual alchemy powerful to effect great
changes beneficial to the life of man. Significant for the
progress of these ideas was the German humanist who came
under the influence of the academy at Florence and returned
home to carry on in his own country the mission of Pico de
Mirandola. This was Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522), with
his writings on the Kabalah and the cabalistic art.

In its beginnings, magic appears as the office, or art and
science of priests; closely related to the art of healing it
was naturally considered the receptacle of hidden wisdom,
the knowledge of higher, of supernatural powers, such as
spirits sometimes possess and sometimes communicate to the
favored of mankind who know how to come into harmony
with the forces of the universe. But this borrowing of
power might arise from either a good or an evil purpose,
just as spirits themselves are either angels or devils, servants
of light or servants of darkness. Hence the distinction


between white and black magic that Mirandola felt con-
strained to make. " One of the chief complaints against
me," he says in his Apology, 1 " is that I am a magician.
But have I not myself differentiated a two-fold magic ? One
sort which founds itself entirely upon the help and co-
operation of evil spirits and most decidedly deserves aver-
sion and punishment, and the other sort, magic in its true
sense. The former subjects man to evil spirits, the latter
makes him their conqueror; the former should be called
neither an art nor a science ; the latter embraces the deepest
secrets, the investigation and knowledge of all nature and
her powers. In assembling and calling forth the powers
spread by God throughout the universe, true magic per-
forms no miracles but rather comes to the assistance of
Nature in her activities ; it investigates the relations or sym-
pathies of all things, it applies to each thing a most powerful
attraction and thus draws from the deep and secret treasure
chamber of the world wonders usually hid from mortal
view, just as if it were of itself the originator of them. Re-
ligion teaches us the contemplation of divine wonders; as
we learn to know natural magic aright, we are still more
compelled to say: full are the heavens, full is the earth of
the majesty of Thy Glory ! "

But the powers of nature and of man that were the legiti-
mate object of the researches of science, that is, of " white
magic," had been throughout the centuries a profound
mystery, a matter of faith and foreboding, and whoever
sought to learn anything of them, sought also to keep his
acquirements secret, or to share them only with the initiated.
Some men purposely shrouded their knowledge in obscurity
in order to appear the greater and wiser, expressing in

'Quoted on p. 85, Carriere: Die philosophische Weltanschauung
der Reformationsseit.


symbols that which they themselves understood only par-
tially, hiding what remained hidden from them because their
insight and experience of laws and relationships was in-

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Online LibraryMargaret Lewis BaileyMilton and Jakob Boehme; a study of German mysticism in seventeenth-century England → online text (page 1 of 16)