Mysticism in eighteenth-century English literature
In the heart of the 'age of reason' there is a hunger for transcendence, for the experience of unity of the mind and spirit of man with the Divine, both within nature and beyond. The sublime was the socially acceptable mode in which the man of reason abandoned the rules and anxiously sought to experience the transcendental. The sublime was not an aberration of the age but an inevitable outcome of the new awareness of the infinite resulting from various causes including the seventeenth-century scientific advances, the work of Newton and of Locke. The desire of the age for integration and wholeness is elucidated through examination of the work of sixteen writers. Beginning with the third Earl of Shaftesbury and ending with William Law, this thesis intends to show, first, that there was a significant amount of mystical literature written in eighteenth-century England and, secondly, that there was a vital mystical dimension in the spirit of the age. The writers examined are not part of one or two large groups atypical against the background of their century. They come from different traditions and are diffused throughout the period. The writers studied are as well-known as Christopher Smart and George Berkeley and as little known as James Usher and Alexander Dow. The oneness of mystical experience, which, to various degrees, all of the writers demonstrate in their mystical insights, impelled them to write of the oneness of internal and external reality, and of the human and Divine. They all testify, in different ways and with various emphases, that there is a divine, creative force in man which unifies all the disparate elements of self, and unites the self with God, but only when one gives all to this divine fire in the soul.