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The Virtue of Sympathy

The Virtue of Sympathy: Magic, Philosophy, and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England

Seth Lobis
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x1srh
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  • Book Info
    The Virtue of Sympathy
    Book Description:

    Beginning with an analysis of Shakespeare'sThe Tempestand building to a new reading of Milton'sParadise Lost, author Seth Lobis charts a profound change in the cultural meaning of sympathy during the seventeenth century. Having long referred to magical affinities in the universe, sympathy was increasingly understood to be a force of connection between people. By examining sympathy in literary and philosophical writing of the period, Lobis illuminates an extraordinary shift in human understanding.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-21041-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Toward a New History of Sympathy
    (pp. 1-35)

    The world ofThe Tempest, a remote island somewhere between Naples and Tunis, variously associated with the New World, the Golden Age, and the Garden of Eden, is a sympathetic animal, a spirit world where the winds sigh back to the sighing, the wood weeps with the weeping, and the air carries “sweet airs.”¹ Prospero gets revenge on his old enemies by taking strategic advantage of the vital connection between heaven and earth. As he explains to Miranda,

    Know thus far forth:

    By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune

    (Now my dear lady) hath mine enemies

    Brought to this shore; and...

  5. 1 Sir Kenelm Digby and the Matter of Sympathy
    (pp. 36-68)

    “StoutOrsin,” as Samuel Butler punningly suggests in the first part ofHudibras(1st ed., 1663), is both a soldier and a “solderer”—that is, one who heals and closes, or “solders,” wounds. The wonder is that he does so at a startling distance from the wounded:

    Learned he was in Medc’nal Lore,

    For by his side a Pouch he wore

    Replete with strange Hermetick Powder,

    That wounds nine miles point-blank would solder.¹

    Of Butler the anonymous annotator of the 1704 edition ofHudibraswrites, “He here . . . Sarcastically derides those who were great Admirers of the Sympathetick...

  6. 2 The “Self-Themes” of Margaret Cavendish and Thomas Hobbes
    (pp. 69-109)

    In a letter written from Paris and dated 9 June 1657, Sir Kenelm Digby expresses his gratitude to Margaret Cavendish (1623?–1673), the Marchioness—later Duchess—of Newcastle, for the gift of one of her books: “The worthy present which your Excellency hath been pleased to make me by Mr.Slaughter, hath strucken me into new admiration of your goodness and knowledge.”¹ Praising its “abundant matter,” Digby does not refer to the book by title, but given the date of the letter and the works by Cavendish listed in theBibliotheca Digbeiana, it was probably either herPoems, and Fancies...

  7. 3 Milton and the Link of Nature
    (pp. 110-155)

    This chapter and the next address the various and complex ways in which John Milton (1608–1674) conceived and represented sympathy from his Cambridge orations in the 1620 s to the second edition ofParadise Lostin 1674.¹ I see Milton, like Digby and Cavendish, as taking part in a broad intellectual conversation in the mid-century about sympathy; for him, as for them, sympathy was a crucial and controversial concern, a force to be reckoned with. Given the extraordinary breadth of his reading and the extraordinary range of his writing, constituting altogether a staggeringly extensive and intensive engagement with a...

  8. 4 Paradise Lost and the Human Face of Sympathy
    (pp. 156-197)

    In his crabbed but incisive life of Milton, Johnson writes ofParadise Lost, “Splendid passages, containing lessons of morality, or precepts of prudence, occur seldom. Such is the original formation of this poem, that as it admits no human manners till the Fall, it can give little assistance to human conduct.”¹ Although I dissent from his claim that the poem lacks didactic content, I would like to draw from Johnson’s words what I take to be a powerful insight: that the story of Paradise Lost after the Fall is “human manners” and “human conduct.”² In the final three books Milton...

  9. 5 “Moral Magick”: Cambridge Platonism and the Third Earl of Shaftesbury
    (pp. 198-255)

    Around the turn of the nineteenth century, Anna Seward reflected on the critical depreciation—already long-standing—of the final books ofParadise Lost:“What should we think of a critic who was to declare that those, so much less poetical books, had dissolved the enchantment of that work?”¹ We should think this critic, it might be answered, right in at least one sense, if not the intended one. Through book 9 and the middle of book 10 Milton shows the ruinous effects of attraction and magical thinking, and then, in the “less poetical books,” he shows the reparative effects of...

  10. 6 The Future of Sympathy I: The Poetry of the World
    (pp. 256-288)

    With Shaftesbury our study of sympathy has moved into the eighteenth century and into what could uncontroversially be called the “age of sympathy.” Indeed, as one scholar has written, “Whether celebrated or charted by its political, economic, and social failings, since at least the 1940s it has been taken for granted in eighteenth-century studies that ‘sympathy,’ the ability to be affected by or to enter into the feelings of others, is the conceptpar excellenceof the eighteenth century.”¹ The argument that follows this claim does not challenge or attempt to unseat the assumption so much as reinterpret it. So...

  11. 7 The Future of Sympathy II: Hume and the Afterlife of Shaftesburianism
    (pp. 289-312)

    David Hume’sTreatise of Human Nature(1739–1740) represents the first full-fledged moral and psychological theory of sympathy in British philosophy, and it has accordingly received extensive attention in eighteenth-century studies, often serving as a starting point for literary-historical inquiries into sympathy and sensibility.¹ But such inquiries, even when they have uncovered the complexity and ambivalence of Hume’s account of sympathy, have generally proceeded from a narrow and partial view of his philosophical commitments. Hume’s sentimentalist ethics has tended to be emphasized at the expense of his skeptical metaphysics, so that the Hume who made sympathy “the basis of social...

  12. Coda: Hawthorne’s Digby and Mary Shelley’s Milton
    (pp. 313-326)

    At the age of thirteen, Victor Frankenstein comes upon “a volume of the works of Cornelius Agrippa,” and, allured by its “wonderful facts,” he proceeds “to procure the whole works of this author, and afterwards of Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus.”¹ As Frankenstein’s autobiographical narrative proceeds, a subtle but pointed contrast emerges between these works and the academic “discourse” of “potassium and boron, of sulphates and oxyds” he receives at the University of Ingolstadt, mere “terms” that are meaningless to him (23). Frankenstein cannot understand them because he has missed the professor’s preparatory lectures, but Mary Shelley’s broader suggestion here is...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 327-366)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 367-406)
  15. Index
    (pp. 407-418)