AN ESSAY ON THE LIFE AND WORKS OF JOSEPH GLANVILL.
Of the great and many-sided mental throes through which England passed in the 17th century, especially of the reaction, political, religious, and literary, which is marked by the Restoration, it would be hard to find a better exponent than the author of the Scepsis Scientifica. Glanvill's was one of those eclectic, sympathetic intellects, which, like a glass with many facets, reveals in brilliant prismatic hues not one or two, but all the great Thought-forces which surround it; while in response to this varied intellectual sensitiveness, doubtless serving also as a stimulus, was his environment; for his lot chanced to be cast in one of the most stirring epochs of English History.
The chief events in Glanvill's uneventful life may be briefly summarized. He was born at Plymouth, in 1636. Of his earlier life and education we have no trustworthy record beyond a few casual hints scattered throughout his writings.[*Note 1.] He seems to have been brought up, if not as an extreme sectary, at least in some school of Puritanism which allowed small scope for independent judgment. Thus he tells us, in his "Plus Ultra" (p. 1 42): "In my first education I was continually instructed into a religious and fast adherence to everything I was taught, and a dread of disputing in the least article,"-- a mode of education which he was wont in after life vehemently to denounce. He entered the University of Oxford in 1652, and took his degree three years after. In the dearth of more direct information, his love of culture and mental independence may fairly be inferred from his associates. Thus he was a personal friend of, and for some few years chaplain to, the well-known Francis Rous, Provost of Eton, who, notwithstanding his Puritan proclivities, and the facility with which he accommodated himself to Cromwell's designs, was a man of considerable culture as well as liberality. Another of his theological friends was Baxter,[*Note 2.] while his circle of literary and scientific acquaintance comprised names as famous as Boyle and Meric Casaubon. Glanvill used to lament in after life that his friends had not sent him to Cambridge, so that he might have reached the "New Philosophy" of Descartes -- already domiciled in that University -- by a shorter route than that which his circumstances compelled him to follow. Indeed, the Aristotelianism which was still the ruling philosophy of Oxford seems to have sat as heavily on Glanvill's soul as did the Puritan dogmatism which was its prevailing type of religion. From these twin Incubi he resolved to free himself at the earliest possible moment. His liberation from Aristotle is marked by the publication of his first work, in 1661, while the Restoration may be taken as the date of his emancipation from the religious thraldom of Puritanism. No sooner had that event taken place, than Glanvill renounced the small modicum of Nonconformity he had hitherto professed, and took orders in the Church of England. Of this conduct Anthony Wood characteristically remarks, that at the Restoration "Glanvill turned about and became a Latitudinarian," but the altered position thus sneeringly alluded to was in Glanvill's case, as in that of others, not so much a change of front as a natural and inevitable movement in advance. His own judgment of such a transformation by development is indicated in his account of Bishop Rust, who similarly took advantage of the Restoration to "turn about" from Puritanism to the English Church. "He was one of the first," says Glanvill, "that overcame the prejudices of the education of The late unhappy times in that University (Cambridge), and was very instrumental to enlarge others, He had too great a soul for the trifles of that age, and saw early the nakedness of phrases and fancies. He outgrew the pretended orthodoxy of those days, and addicted himself to the Primitive Learning and Theology, in which he even then became a great master." Glanvill soon became a marked man among the clergy of his time, and his preferment was rapid. First instituted to a small rectory in Essex, he was promoted shortly after to the vicarage of Frome, in Somerset. About the same date (1664) he was made a fellow of the newly-founded Royal Society -- an honour which he seems to have attained by his attack on Aristotle and Scholasticism, and his enlightened advocacy of the new methods of Descartes and Bacon. In 1666 he became Rector of the Abbey Church in Bath, and resided in that city until his death. In 1672 he exchanged the vicarage of Frome for the rectory of Street in Somerset, and about the same time was appointed one of the chaplains in ordinary to Charles II. A few years later (1678) he was installed Prebendary of Worcester. He died of fever in 1680, and was buried in the north aisle of the Abbey Church in Bath, where an inscription may still be seen recording his virtues, and insisting especially on the fact that the twenty-four years of his brief maturity were spent "in studio et contemplatione verbi et operum Dei."
[*Note 1: Comp. Reliquie Baxteriane, Pt. II. P.378]
[*Note 2: The chief authorities for Glanvill's life -- all of them unsatisfactory -- are Prince's Worthies of Devon, p. 431, the Biographia Brittanica, ad. voc., and Horneck's Preface to Glanvill's Remains.]
Such are the chronological dry bones of Glanvill's life, and to these, so far as is known, nothing worthy of record can be added. The real extent of his fame and influence must not, however, be meted by the brevity and comparative unimportance of the chief events of his life -- the meagreness of his biographical data being largely compensated by the fulness of his literary remains. By his written works, now consigned to, in most instances, a most undeserved oblivion, Glanvill exercised no inconsiderable sway on English thought during the latter half of the 17th century. To the student of that period they still attest his high mental qualities, his keen intellectual perception, his variedly-sensitive imagination, what Wood terms his "quick, warm, spruce and gay fancy," his genial, many-sided receptivity, his fearlessness in enouncing his opinions, his quaint, pithy, pregnant and forcible style. Nor are they of less importance as reflecting the undercurrents of speculation then in activity among cultured Englishmen. Employing them for this latter purpose, and thereby illustrating the drift of the following treatise, we may take Glanvill as a fair exponent of the following thought-movements of his time. Thus he exemplifies:
1. The Reaction against Philosophical and Religious Dogmatism, which, though not caused, was materially aided by the collapse of the Puritan regime.
2. The study and advocacy of the foreign humanism imported into English literature in the 16th century, but the development of which had been arrested by the rapid growth of Puritanism and by the political troubles of the reigns of James I. and Charles 1.
3. The liberalizing tendencies of English Theology, which centred around the school of Divines known as the Cambridge Platonists.
4. The early growth of experimental and natural Science, denoted by Bacon's works and the founding of the Royal Society.
5. The imperfect conception of the true methods of scientific enquiry, which allowed the grossest superstitions a place side by side with the most enlightened researches of Science.
I. Glanvill was one of the first thinkers of the Restoration epoch to place on a philosophical basis the many-sided reaction which forms its chiefest characteristic. Just as Milton recognised an intensified ecclesiasticism in certain forms of Puritanism, Presbyter being but Priest "writ large," so Glanvill and others had no difficulty in detecting beneath its sour austerity and theoretical self-abasement a very real substratum of Omniscience. This was none the less specious in itself or less mischievous in operation for being ostensibly founded on religious sanctions, and assuming the place and function of a divine Revelation. From this standpoint of superior and superhuman knowledge, Puritanism opposed itself to all kinds. Its leaders, excepting a very few far-seeing thinkers, lumped all secular learning under the opprobrious title of "carnal knowledge." Their omniscience rendered all ordinary science superfluous, and the supposedly divine origin of their own enlightenment imparted to every other culture a kind of sinful character. Under these circumstances it was clearly necessary for liberal thinkers like Glanvill to enter the court of human judgment with the counter-plea of Ignorance. The attempt was in its essence precisely that which Socrates set himself in ancient Greece, and which the leaders of the Renaissance undertook when they opposed the dogmatism of mediaeval Rome. In fact, Glanvill and his fellow-thinkers were the apostles of the reactionary doubt which is invariably engendered by excessive or tyrannical dogma. The enterprise was not, however, exclusively secular in their case. The religious dogmatism which they opposed was only part of a general intellectual despotism, under which English thought of the freer sort had long groaned. Aristotle shared with Calvin supreme authority in English opinion -- his rule in the realms of science being as absolute as Calvin's in the domain of religious doctrine. There was indeed no little similarity in spirit and method between the two systems, as then conceived and administered; both agreed, e.g., in arrogating finality each in its own province, and therefore in opposing Novelty of Thought as the deadliest of human errors. According to Bacon's definition, Aristotle was Antichrist, and Glanvill, together with other free-thinkers, were not far wrong in discerning a similar antagonism to Truth in certain phases of Calvinism.
Against these twin giants, the "Pope and Pagan" of English Thought during the first half of the 17th century, Glanvill soon proceeded to set the battle in array. He attacked both the religious and scientific liberal culture of Dogmatism directly by pointing out their defects, and indirectly by inculcating as a counteracting principle what he terms the skeptical or free Philosophy. His first onslaught was made by his publication, in 1661, of a work entitled "The Vanity of Dogmatizing or Confidence in Opinions"--"A remarkable work," says Hallam, "but one so scarce as to be hardly known at all except by name." He republished this work in an altered and improved form in 1665, prefixing to it a warm panegyric on the Royal Society. This amended edition is even rarer than the "Vanity of Dogmatizing," the greater part of the impression having been destroyed in the Great Fire. Glanvill entitled it "Scepsis Scientifica," and it is this work which is presented to the English reader, after a lapse of two hundred and twenty years, in the ensuing pages.
But although he styled his thought sceptical, and himself a sceptic, Glanvill did not employ those terms in the commonly received sense of wanton or unreasonable disbelief, but in the classical meaning of enquiry and judicial suspense. It is true he is not careful to discriminate accurately between suspense and negation, and his definition of scepsis is always in the most general terms,[*Note 3.] but there is no mistaking his usual conception of the principle or the mode of its application. It is best described as the principle opposed to excessive dogma, whether in Philosophy, Science or Religion. He defends his method in a noteworthy passage in the second of his collected essays (p. 44), which, as giving the key-note of the following treatise, deserves quotation.
"But the True Philosophers are by others accounted Skeptics from their way of Enquiry: which is not to continue still poring upon the writings and opinions of Philosophers, but to seek Truth in the great Book of Nature, and in that search to proceed with wariness and circumspection without too much forwardness in establishing maxims and positive doctrines: To propose their opinions as Hypotheses that may probably be the true accounts, without peremptorily affirming that they are. This among others hath been the way of those great men, the Lord Bacon and Descartes, and is now the method of the Royal Society of London, whose motto is Nullius in Verba. This is Scepticism with some, and if it be so indeed, 'tis such Scepticism as is the only way to sure and grounded knowledge, to which confidence in uncertain opinions is the most fatal enemy."
[*Note 3: Some mode of discrimination between Skepticism in its proper and primary sense of Enquiry, and in its perverted but usual sense of disbelief or Negation, seems urgently needed. The writer has endeavoured to effect this in his work, "Evenings with the Skeptics," and elsewhere, by spelling the word when employed in its original sense as Skepticism. The persistent confusion that occurs between Suspense and Negation, even in accredited works on Philosophy, is not very complimentary to the progress of human thought. Few persons seem able to realize that Skepsis is as much opposed to Dogmatic Negation as to Dogmatic Affirmation. In the following treatise the reader will find Glanvill's view of the relation between Suspense and Negation; and perhaps the writer may be pardoned for referring on the same point to his work on the Skeptics above-mentioned.]
That the mode of thought thus indicated was well adapted to the needs of the time is obvious, though Glanvill never loses sight of the fact that it is likely to operate only among comprehensive and cultured thinkers. Readers of the Scepsis will find in chaps. XXvi. and XXvII. remarks on the mischief which he considered had been caused in England by excessive dogma, and similar reflections occur throughout his works. In his defence of the Scepsis, e.g. he thus addresses his chief antagonist (Thomas White), who was a rabid Aristotelian: "If we differ, then, 'tis only in this, that you think it more suitable to the requisites of the present age to depress skepticism, and perhaps I look on dogmatizing and confident belief as the more dangerous and common evil." But although Glanvill designed his treatise as a counteractive to the thought-tendencies of his time, it is in itself an indirect outcome of the very influences which he deprecates. His assault on the Aristotelian Philosophy is conceived in the spirit and carried out by the method that marks mediaeval and scholastic Peripateticism, while he attacks current dogmatic Theology from the basis of the primary article in its creed. The latter point seems to merit a few remarks, as indicating the germ and evolution of his Skepticism. Curious as it may seem, it was a direct outgrowth of his Puritan education, for it had as its starting point, The Fallible nature of humanity by means of the Fall. Few things indeed are more remarkable among the many strange mutual relations of Philosophy and Theology than the reciprocal action of the Philosophical doctrine of the weakness of human reason, and the Theological Dogma of the natural degeneracy of mankind. While among the Greeks and ancient Hindus the experience of intellectual impotence and limitation induced a theory of natural fallibility, among Christian thinkers such as Augustine and Pascal the dogma of the fall issued into a Skeptical theory of Intellectual imperfection. Thus Skepticism is oftentimes found to be in Christian speculation nothing else than the philosophical form of Original Sin. In Glanvill's case the Theological form of the doctrine not only leads up to its philosophical form, but becomes merged and lost in it. He enlarges on this theme more in his Vanity of Dogmatizing than in his later Scepsis Scientifica. His introductory chapter in the former work consists of some bold speculations as to the perfection of Adam's Intellect before the Fall. So we are told that "all the powers and faculties of this copy of the Divinity, this medal of God, were as perfect as beauty and harmony in Idea. The soul was not clogged by the inactivity of its mass as ours; nor hindered in its actings by the distemperature of indisposed organs. Passions kept their place as servants of the higher powers, and durst not arrogate the throne as now . . . Even the senses, the soul's windows, were without any spot or opacity: to liken them to the purest crystal were to debase them by the comparison, . . . Adam needed no spectacles. The acuteness of his natural optics (if conjecture may have credit) showed him much of the celestial magnificence and bravery without a Galileo's tube: and 'tis most probable that his naked eyes could reach near as much of the upper world as we with all the advantages of Art. His sight could inform him whether the Loadstone doth attract by Atomical Effluviums. It may be he saw the motion of the blood and spirits through the transparent skin as we do the workings of those little industrious animals (bees) through a hive of glasse Sympathies and Antipathies were to him no occult qualities, &c." (Vanity of Dogmatizing, pp. 5-7). Much of this introduction may justify Hallam's criticism of it as rhapsodical, and Glanvill's fanciful surmises, which are, however, not more extravagant than similar theological speculations of a bygone age, are considerably toned down in the "Scepsis," where the reader will find the following disclaimer, better becoming a Skeptic:--"But a particular knowledge of the blest advantages and happy circumstances of our primitive condition is lost with Innocence, and there are scarce any hints of conjecture from the present." Nevertheless, though more briefly and cautiously, the Scepsis Scientifica also insists upon man's inherent incapacity for knowledge, which Glanvill somewhat incongruously both laments as a lapse from his original perfection, and claims as a primary condition of wisdom. The second chapter is on "Our Decay and Ruines by the Fall," and consists of a lengthy elaboration of that subject. Succeeding chapters expand and illustrate the argument of human impotence, and insist on its only possible outcome of scepticism or judicial suspense on most moot points of speculation.
Ii. But although the Scepsis has its germ in Theological Dogma, its final development in Glanvill's mind must be ascribed to other influences, viz., to the freethinking liberalizing culture which English literature of the 16th and 17th centuries had derived from Continental sources, chiefly from the leading thinkers of the Italian and French Renaissance. It is not sufficiently borne in mind that the Restoration, which brought back Charles II. and reinstated in a modified form the old monarchy, was also a Restoration of a literary movement which the civil troubles and rapid growth of Puritanism had arrested. During the Elizabethan era the works which still hold their place as the highest products of English culture were indebted largely for suggestion and shaping to Ariosto, Boccaccio, Dante, Montaigne, and Rabelais, and other names of "light and leading" in France and Italy; but during the Civil War and the Commonwealth this importation of foreign thought became almost extinct. The fact, no doubt, admits of easy explanation. These foreign commodities were held to be contraband, for the two reasons that they were incompetent to decide grave questions of political and religious controversy, and their free humanizing tendency was diametrically opposed to the Puritan spirit. They shared the fate which befel all mere secular literature, all culture of the intellect for its own sake. They were sacrificed to that sour disdain of those graces which adorn and refine both letters and human life, which forms the ugliest feature of extreme Puritanism. But the stream of Continental enlightenment from whence Shakespeare and Spencer slaked their thirst had in reality not been destroyed by Puritanism, it had only been dammed, and when it burst its dykes at the Restoration, we cannot be surprised if it displayed all the greater force and volume on account of its confinement. Glanvill's works are among the earliest indications of this reflux of Continental thought. His chief teachers are Descartes, Montaigne, Charron, Gassendi. Many of the utterances in the Scepsis would suggest a close study of Montaigne's Essays. He often quotes him by name, and never without some commendatory epithet. But it is probable that Glanvill, like Sir Walter Raleigh in his Sceptic, may have been indebted largely for his sceptical reasonings either to Henry Stephens' translation of the Hypotyposes of Sextus Empeirikos, or to Gassendi's reproduction of the same arguments. In others of his writings Glanvill displays a similar predilection for the leading spirits of what he terms the Free Philosophy. This will serve to account for the suspicion and malevolence which his writings seem to have excited, for he became identified, albeit most unjustly (see his sermon, "Against Scoffing at Religion"), with the excessive libertinism which marked the thought and manners of Charles II.'s reign, and which was largely traceable to Continental sources. Not, however, that these supplied all the motive causes of the reaction. There can be little question that Puritanism, notwithstanding its undeniable merits, helped to engender by its excessive austerity the licence that ensued upon the Restoration. Glanvill fully recognised this fact, and often takes occasion to remark on it in his writings. Thus he observes sententiously in one of his sermons, "The (religious) follies and divisions of one age make way for Atheism in the next." Indeed, Puritanism itself had, as every oppressive scheme of human thought and conduct must needs have, its own licentious side, besides inducing a reactionary excess in other systems. This is abundantly shown by its own distinctive literature, such works, e.g. as Edwards' Gangrena, and Bailey's Letters and Journals. The aim of Glanvill was to direct as far as he could the swollen current of free thought into proper and innocent channels -- to show that Continental Humanism and Philosophy were reconcilable with a moderate and rational Christianity; in a word, to prevent intellectual liberty from becoming "a cloak of maliciousness." For such an attempt no commendation can be deemed excessive. The methods of Puritanism, with its extreme other-worldliness, its 'rigid formalism, its stress on minutiae in speculation and conduct, its malevolent opposition to every form of recreation and pleasure -- whatever appeared likely to enliven human existence -- had a peculiarly cramping, numbing influence on men's minds. It operated as Mephistopheles said of the school logic
"Da wird der Geist euch wohl dressirt
In Spanische stefeln eingeschnürt."
with the intensification that its strait-lacedness claimed to have a religious basis. Some mode of liberation from this narrow and fanatical obscurantism was urgently needed---what Glanvill indignantly terms "that Barbarism that made Magic of Mathematics and Heresy of Greek and Hebrew." What his proposed remedy was readers of the Scepsis will see for themselves; but there is one passage in his Essays wherein he speaks so explicitly of the broadening effects of Humanism and the Free Philosophy as opposed to current Superstition, Enthusiasm, and other foes of human Reason and Religion, that it merits quotation. The passage has an additional interest from its relation to Glanvill's well-known opinions on witchcraft. "Superstition consists either in bestowing religious valuation and esteem on things in which there is no good, or fearing those in which there is no hurt. So that this folly expresseth itself one while in doting upon opinions as fundamentals of Faith, and idolizing the little models of fancy for Divine Institutions, and then it runs away afraid of harmless indifferent appointments, and looks pale upon the appearance of any unusual effect of Nature. It tells ominous stories of every meteor of the night, and makes sad interpretations of each unwonted accident. All which are the products of Ignorance and a narrow mind, which defeat the design of Religion, that would make us of a free, manly, and generous spirit, and indeed represent Christianity as if it were a fond, sneaking, weak and peevish thing, that emasculates men's understandings, making them amorous of toys, and keeping them under the servility of childish fears, so that hereby it is exposed to the distrust of larger minds, and to the scorn of Atheists. These and many more are the mischiefs of superstition, as we have sadly seen and felt."
"Now against this evil spirit and its influences the real experimental Philosophy is one of the best securities in the world. For by a generous and open enquiry in the great field of Nature, men's minds are enlarged and taken off from all fond adherencies to their private sentiments. They are taught by it that certainty is not in many things, and that the most valuable knowledge is the practical. By which means they will find themselves disposed to more indifferency towards those petty notions in which they were before apt to place a great deal of religion; and to reckon that all that will signify lies in the few certain operative principles of the gospel and a life suitable to such a Faith. Besides which (by making the soul great), this knowledge delivers it from fondness on small circumstances, and imaginary models, and from little scrupulosities about things indifferent, which usually work disquiet in narrow and contracted spirits, and I have known divers whom Philosophy and not disputes, hath cured of this malady." (Essay iv., pp. 13-14) In thus asserting a broad culture of Humanism and scientific thought as the best antidote to a narrow, intolerant Theology, Glanvill acted in conformity not only with his own free instincts, but with the best teachings of history -- no law of human progress being better attested than the beneficent effects of Nature study and liberal speculation, on those who have been dieted too exclusively on Theological food.
III. The last sentence of this passage is interesting as probably referring to the Latitudinarians, as they were termed by "men of narrower thoughts and fiercer tempers," says Burnet. They formed that party in the church who found refuge in Philosophical Research and Platonic metaphysics from the religious and other controversies of the time, and whose credenda might be succinctly described as Armenianism; A stress upon human Reason as against extraneous authority; Aversion to dogma on speculative subjects; Belief in Immutable Morality; Large if not universal tolerance of religious opinions; and Belief in the Pre-existence of Souls. It is true Glanvill's name does not occur in ordinary enumerations of the leaders of this party, or, if mentioned, occupies only a secondary place, but readers of the Scepsis will readily perceive how entirely his sympathies accord with the tenets we have just named. Indeed, with two of the most prominent members of the party, Dr. Henry More and Bishop Rust, he seems to have been on terms of personal and intimate friendship. It is however certain that he considered himself as much a member of that school of thought, as that he was a Fellow of the Royal Society. Nor does he manifest any dislike to the epithet Latitudinarian, when duly interpreted, which was its customary designation. It conveyed a protest against narrowness and intolerance, which he appreciated just as heartily as Bishop Thirlwall in our day, and for the same reason, did the title of Broad Churchman. Omitting for lack of space other points of affinity which connect Glanvill with the Cambridge Platonists, we limit our remarks to his undogmatic and comprehensive presentation of Christianity, with regard to which he may claim a place second to none of the party.
Glanvill's view of the Christian Religion may be summed up by the epithets Primitive and Rational. Like Pascal he is an example of that appeal to the personal teaching of Christ, which is the best and only resource of the thoughtful intellect, when distracted by conflicting and irrational Dogmas. From the swollen and turbid stream of ecclesiastical tradition, he turns back to the pure and limpid fountain, which rises amid the mountains of Galilee. Hence he assures us that "he owns no opinion in Divinity which cannot plead the prescription of above 1600." . . . As a believer in Immutable Morality, he contends that, "Divine Truths were most pure in their source and Time could not perfect what Eternity began. Our Divinity, like the Grandfather of Humanity, was born in the fulness of Time, and in the strength of its manly vigour." He maintains a distinction in this respect between Natural and Divine Truth, "Natural Truths are more and more discovered by Time . . . But these Divine Verities are most perfect in their fountain, and original. They contract impurities in their streams and remote derivations." This theme, incidentally touched upon in the "Scepsis," is fully developed in his Essays, and in his sermon "On the Antiquity of our Faith" whence the last extract is taken. He calls the two great commandments of the Gospels, "Those Evangelical Unquestionables." The comparative allegiance he conceives himself to own to Primitive Christianity on the one hand, and the tenets of the English Church on the other, he thus indicates:-- "Contenting myself with a firm assent to the few Fundamentals of Faith, and having fixed that end of the compass, I desire to preserve my liberty as to the rest, holding the other in such a posture as may be ready to draw these lines, my judgment informed by the Holy Oracles, the Articles of our Church, the apprehensions of wise antiquity and my particular reason shall direct me to describe: and when I do that," he adds with noble and Christian tolerance, "'tis for myself and my own satisfaction. I am not concerned to impose my sentiments upon others, nor do I care to endeavour the change of their minds, though I judge them mistaken, as long as Virtue, the Interests of Religion, the Peace of the World, and their own, are not prejudiced by their errors." Glanvill's significant simile of the compasses, and his idea of the latitude the church allowed in ordinary matters of speculation, receives a further illustration from his preface to "Lux Orientalis." "It is none of the least commendable indulgences of our church that she allows us a latitude of judging in points of speculation, and ties not up men's consciences to an implicit assenting to opinions not necessary or fundamental . . . Nor is there less reason in this parental indulgence than there is of Christian charity and prudence; since to tie all others up to our opinions and to impose difficult and disputable matters under the notion of Confessions of Faith, and Fundamentals of Religion, is a most unchristian piece of tyranny, the foundation of persecution, and every root of Antichristianism." Nor is he unprepared with an answer to the delicate and crucial question -- What are Fundamentals? His reply forms the fifth of his Collected Essays, and of a sermon ad clerum, which he entitled λογου θρησκεια [Greek:logou threskeia] (The Service of Reason), to which we must refer our readers. Suffice it to say, that Glanvill's opinion of the essentials of Religion is marked by extreme simplicity, the most generous comprehension, and the noblest scorn of long and difficult Creeds and Confessions. Such schemes of Belief were, we need hardly say, very frequent during the years immediately following the Restoration. Hardly a Divine of note could be named, either among the clergy or the Nonconformists, who did not try his hand at devising a system of Belief for the National Church. As a rule these designs serve only to illustrate the narrow conceptions of the would-be ecclesiastical architects. The scheme propounded by Glanvill is probably unique for its exceedingly broad and undogmatic spirit. That it should have been deliberately put forth amid the scenes of ecclesiastical and political tyranny, which disgrace our annals from 1662 onwards, gives it the appearance almost of a grave satirical jest. The church erected on Glanvill's Fundamentals might have been acceptable to some ideal community -- some imaginary city of Bensalem, in New Atlantis -- it was evidently unsuited by its very excellencies for the England of the 17th century.
Iv. But Glanvill is not only an advocate of broad religious and literary culture, as required by the exigencies of his time, he also insists on a specific pursuit of natural science -- i.e. the New Philosophy of Experiment, such as was taught by Bacon, Descartes and the Royal Society. The advocacy was in truth urgently needed. For we must remember that this new movement of thought, notwithstanding a few propitious circumstances, soon found itself in antagonism to various reactionary forces, which followed upon the Restoration, and which may be described as a recoil towards Medievalism. It is true the Royal Society received its charter in 1662, and its small band of Fellows were doing their utmost to promote experimental Science as it was then understood; but this at first was no more than an insignificant back-eddy by the side of a broad and rapid onward current. Of this retrograde movement, the House of Commons, which as Macaulay says, "was more loyal than the King, and more Episcopal than the Bishops," was the political centre, but of its philosophical and Theological phases, the University of Oxford was the stronghold. Here then were two concurrent reactionary movements, each aided by the other, towards Scholasticism in Philosophy, and Sacerdotalism in Theology. The first took the form of an exclusive devotion to Aristotle, and the second so far shared this worship as to maintain that all the Philosophy and Science an orthodox divine needed were contained in the same repository of Greek wisdom. The advice of Marlowe's Faust:--
"Having commenced, be a Divine in show,
Yet level at the end of every art,
And live and die in Aristotle's works,"
Still summarized the essentials of clerical training as taught by the largest English University. Bearing this in mind, we are able to discern what the animus against Aristotle, disclosed in the Scepsis Scientifica, and Glanvill's other writings, really signified. It was not mere opposition to the doctrines of the greatest of Greek Scientific Teachers. From his long and intimate connexion, almost amounting to identification, with medieval Catholicism, the name of Aristotle had become the symbol of pre-Reformation ideas, not only in Philosophy, but in Theology as well. It was the recognized banner of an antiquated Dogmatism, from which the freer minds of Europe were detaching themselves. The extent of this movement which had derived impetus from the ascendancy of Puritanism (for all the leading Calvinists were Aristotelians) is sufficiently shown by the number of Peripatetic Teachers contemporary with Glanvill, and some of them his own personal antagonists. Even enlightened thinkers, like Meric Casaubon, felt compelled to take up arms in defence of the Stagirite, and to deprecate a too hasty or complete sundering of the associations that clustered round his venerable name. If among a number of concurrent causes, any single one be selected as the chief power, which in England helped to dethrone Aristotle, and the medievalism with which his name had become identified, it is the foundation of the Royal Society, and the newly awakened enthusiasm, on behalf of Natural Science, of which it was the focus. Those who have dipped into the earlier volumes of the Philosophical Transactions, are aware of the fact that the proceedings of the Society constituted at first a kind of tacit crusade against Aristotle. No doubt the Society itself was only a practical outcome of the Philosophies of Bacon and Descartes, but it is characteristic of the English intellect, that mere philosophical theory obtains little popular recognition until it has been embodied, enforced and illustrated by actual experiment. Glanvill was a foremost combatant in the struggle. He came forward as the advocate of Freethought and experimental Science, the uncompromising foe of Aristotelianism, the enthusiastic disciple of Bacon and Descartes. To the great French thinker we must ascribe a preponderating share in the moulding of his intellect, for though his veneration for Bacon was great, it was exceeded by his regard for Descartes, whom he addresses in terms of fulsome, and even extravagant, panegyric. He speaks of him as "the grand Secretary of Nature, the miraculous Descartes." "That great man, possibly the greatest that ever was," &c. Probably the more critical analytic and direct method of the French Thinker was better suited to Glanvill's intellect than the practical, yet somewhat ponderous, system of the English Philosopher. Certainly the Discourse on Method afforded a shorter road to Skepticism than the devious route supplied by the Novum Organum.
Besides the attack on Aristotle contained in the Scepsis Glanvill returns to the subject in more than one of his subsequent writings, especially in his work Plus Ultra, published in 1668, and afterwards epitomized in the third of his collected Essays "Of the modern Improvements of Useful Knowledge." His stand-point in the Plus Ultra, and his other writings on the same topic, are even now of considerable interest. We are thereby made aware that Glanvill's age was emphatically an age of Discovery and Invention in every department of human knowledge. Galileo's "tube" was as yet a novelty; Harvey had not long discovered the circulation of the blood; the Barometer, Thermometer, Microscope and Air-pump were comparatively recent inventions. New discoveries in Geography, and thereby, as Glanvill remarked, a larger field for human speculation were of continual occurrence. At the very time the Plus Ultra was published, Newton, then a young man of twenty-four, was pursuing those studies which gave to Glanvill's enthusiastic forecast of the future a far more prophetic character than he, even in his most sanguine moments, would have dared to anticipate. In short, the human intellect, after long and devious wanderings, had reached the bounds of the "Wonderland" of Modern Science, and expectation was rife as to the disclosures likely to follow; Glanvill was one of the first to prognosticate a glorious future for English and European Science. His enthusiasm is in part depicted in his address to the Royal Society, prefixed to the Scepsis. But its fullest expression is found in his Plus Ultra. This is indeed a cheering cry of "Forward" for all lovers of Knowledge, as well as a much needed protest against the Dogmatic and Immobile "Ne Plus Ultra" of the past.
v. It is with regret that we turn from that phase of Glanvill's intellect which has most affinity with the present to another aspect of it, closely allied with the remote past, from the enlightened advocate of natural Science to the apologist for antiquated and gross superstition, from the author of Scepsis Scientifica and Plus Ultra to the writer of Sadducismus Triumphatus; or, a Full and Plain Evidence concerning Witches and Apparitions. Such a conjunction is, however, not unparalleled. Many instances occur both among ancient and modern thinkers of a cautious skepticism in one direction being counterbalanced by a surplusage of faith in another. Nor is Glanvill's philosophical suspense totally unrelated to his witch-beliefs. Skepticism, we must remember, is largely a cleansing process, and may possibly result in the admission into the swept and garnished intellect of some other spirits more wicked than the single one exorcised. He indeed calls attention to the connexion between his Scepsis and his Book on Witches (Sad. Tri. p. 7), the plea for the existence of such supernatural beings as witches being based on that very ignorance of the hidden processes of Nature which it is the object of the Scepsis to set forth and demonstrate. There are besides other points of connexion between this superstition of Glanvill's and his general environment and mental conformation. With all his desire to emancipate himself from the Puritanism of the Commonwealth, his thought betrays occasional sympathies with its origin, as we have already incidentally noted. Here, at least, he is in full accord with the despised Sectaries. No article of Puritan faith was more firmly grounded than that which related to the reality and malefic power of witches, and Glanvill's work on the subject is only one of a large number written by "enthusiasts" and Sectaries whose other credenda he would have disdainfully rejected. No doubt the dominating element in his intellectual formation was not Sentiment nor Intuition, but Reason. Still, it was Reason qualified by emotional sensitiveness, as well as by an eager powerful imagination, which sometimes carried him further than he wanted to go. His "warm, spruce and gay fancy" is apparent in all his works, even in those which treat of science and philosophy; but in no direction does he allow it freer flight than within the confines of the spirit world. We must therefore find in his uncompromising belief in the existence and perpetual activity of non-material Beings a primary motive of his witch-faith. But the work had also a polemical object. It was written to confute the materialists of his time. "'Tis well known," he says, "that the Sadducees denied the existence of spirits and the Immortality of Souls, and the heresie is sadly revived in our days." (Essay iv. p. 8). On the truth of the latter statement it is needless to dilate. All who are acquainted with the chief under-currents of English speculation during the latter half of Charles II.'s reign are aware that not the least influential among them was an unthinking and gross materialism, -- which was in itself, let us add, only the natural reaction of Puritan dogmatism -- as to the manifold activities of the world of spirits. This materialism Glanvill attacks in the most vehement fashion. Not only was the denial of spirits unjustifiable, but it was unphilosophical. It set an absolute barrier to speculation. It asserted a finality which was both arbitrary and incapable of proof, and it left many unquestioned facts in human history without any rational basis. But once the existence and continuous energy of good spirits were admitted, then, according to Glanvill, there must needs be bad spirits as well, and their activities will probably be no less varied. The inference, though in an opposite direction, was precisely that by which Göethe's Supernaturalist on the Brocken inferred the existence of good spirits:
"Denn von den Teufeln kann ich ja
Auf Gute Geister schliessen."
We have no space to dwelt further on Glanvill's "Vanquished Sadducieism," nor to resuscitate the Demon of Tedworth and other fantastic spectres of equal authenticity from the oblivion which is their just due. The argument of the book is in form Inductive. Glanvill bases his proof on what he terms a choice collection of modern Relations, but it is in truth a travesty of the Inductive method, and betrays a ludicrous misconception of the nature of human testimony. But while we assign to Glanvill's witch-beliefs their merited estimate, we must remember that we cannot fairly blame him for not being in advance of his time. His benighted condition on this subject was shared by most of his compeers in English thought. Boyle, Henry More, Meric Casaubon, Baxter, Cudworth, all believed fully in Witchcraft, and most of them wrote in its defence. Glanvill's own co-Fellows of the Royal Society were similarly fully persuaded of the truth of Alchymy, and in some cases attested their scientific instincts by a diligent search for the philosopher's stone. Bacon himself believed in the transmutation of metals, and Sir Kenelm Digby's sympathetic powder and weapon salve found numerous recipients as credulous as their author. On the whole, then, while we cannot exonerate the author of the Scepsis from sharing an unworthy and degrading superstition, we must allow him the extenuating circumstances which are always due when a man's errors are the outcome of his environment. After all, a thinker's claim to stand in the forefront of the speculation of his time must be determined not by an impossible freedom from all the errors by which he is surrounded, but by such a comparative immunity from some of them, as enables him to reach forward to, and represent the Knowledge and enlightenment of the Future. Readers of the Scepsis, the Plus Ultra, and the collected "Essays," will have no difficulty in claiming such a position for Joseph Glanvill.
Our space rather than the interest of the subject is exhausted. All we have attempted is to set before the readers of the ensuing treatise, such particulars as to the life and thought of its author as seemed likely to enhance their appreciation of his work, and to aid its fuller comprehension. Let us add, that the spirit and intent of Glanvill's work seems to us of more durable worth than its form, though this also is charged with manifold interest. As long as men are constituted as they are, the peace and welfare of the world will always be imperilled by excessive dogma, or too confident Belief on many moot points of speculation, not only in Philosophy and Theology, but in Science, Politics, and other departments of human thought which deal with indeterminable matters and issues, and therefore there will always be room for a Scientific Skepticism -- for the enquiry and judicial suspense of the truly wise man.