By Seth Lobis
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Extra resources for The Virtue of Sympathy: Magic, Philosophy, and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England
The Civil Wars exposed significant differences and enforced significant distances, physical as well as emotional, and for those faced with adversity, whether isolation or persecution or imprisonment, the idea of sympathetic action, or interaction, at a distance provided a significant means of consolation and reconnection. The conflicts of the mid-seventeenth century extended and intensified new approaches to, and emphases on, the question of human motivation—in rhetorical theory, in political theory, in natural law theory.
The latter project assumed a particular urgency in England in the middle of the seventeenth century, when the need for social, political, and religious coherence was intensely magnified. The assertion of a fundamental sympathy in human nature could underwrite nothing less than a new unity in church and society. I have been suggesting that representations of sympathy in this period bear a significant relation to an extraordinarily vital philosophical culture, with the new prominence of Neoplatonic, magical theories, the advancement of mechanistic theories, and the complex and ambivalent reception of both.
Yet in grounding this new concept in a sympathetic view of nature with the same magical and occult associations that Digby and Cavendish sought to dispel, Milton’s argument lapses into rhetorical uncertainty. In Paradise Lost Milton appears to abandon the moral, marital ideal he had left in suspense in the divorce tracts by associating sympathy with Ovidian error on one hand and occultist error on the other. In the middle books of the poem, he depicts a thoroughgoing cosmic sympathy before the Fall and then uses the narrative of the Fall in book 9 to suggest the breakdown of the sympathetic universe.
The Virtue of Sympathy: Magic, Philosophy, and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England by Seth Lobis