paracelsian spirits in pope’s rape of the lock

Jan R. Veenstra

The Rape of the Lock is not a metaphysical poem, even though in one important respect it follows ’s description of that as entailing a ‘kind of discordia concors’.1 The Rape yokes together two heterogeneous entities that would not normally be found in each other’s company; on the one hand it derives from Milton’s Paradise the dimensions of the world of angels, on the other hand the peoples this world with sylphs and nymphs that properly belong to the world of fairie. The metaphysical were criticised in the eighteenth century for their perverse ingenuity and ‘false ’, even though they wrote their in a vein of high seriousness. Pope’s mock epic is the acknowledged epitome of ‘true wit’, but seriousness is not something that Pope would claim for his supernatural agents—the spirits that he referred to as the ‘machinery’.2 Pope derived his spirits from Rosicrucian doctrine, as he explained in the dedicatory epistle to the second edition of his poem in 1714, and thereby for a moment created the impression that he relied upon a solid and authentic philosophy.3 Yet he knew, probably all too well, that Rosi­ crucians were generally denounced as a ‘sect of mountebanks’ and in all likelihood he made the reference to create a suggestion of erudition that on second reflection might easily be discarded. In like manner, his

1 In his ‘Life of Cowley’, Samuel Johnson defined a metaphysical conceit as a discordia concors and added: ‘the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together’ (quoted from M. H. Abrams, G. Harpham, A Glossary of Literary Terms [Boston, 2005], p. 43). 2 ‘Machinery’ (cf. ) was a general term for supernatural agents such as angels, demons, spirits or gods. See Addison’s remark in note 9 below. 3 All references to The Rape are from the following edition: , and Other Poems, ed. Geoffrey Tillotson, The Poems of Alexander Pope, vol. 2 (London, 1940). The dedicatory epistle to Arabella Fermor is on pp. 142–43. On Rosicru­ cianism in Britain, see Tillotson’s remarks on pp. 356–57, and also Adam McLean, ‘The Manuscript Sources of the English Translation of the Rosicrucian Manifestos’, in Rosen­ kreuz als europäisches­ Phänomen im 17. Jahrhundert, ed. Bibliotheca Philosophica Her­ metica (Amsterdam, 2002), pp. 271–85. As a concept and a philosophy, Rosicrucianism was introduced in in the seventeenth century notably by Thomas Vaughan, John Heydon and Robert Fludd (on Heydon, see note 56 below). Instrumental in the early dis­ semination of Rosicrucian doctrines—McLean argues—was a group of Scottish aristocrats close to King Charles I and King James. 214 jan r. veenstra application of the machinery suggests to the reader a pneumatological metaphysics that is soon belied by the and of his . Thus in an unexpected way—and possibly without the author’s express intention—The Rape of the Lock came to reflect enlightened ideas and sceptical attitudes regarding supernatural agency. In the age of reason the witty satire might be construed to vent the metaphysical doubts of Locke or Hobbes. Whereas Milton in Paradise Lost (from which The Rape derived some of its epic grandeur) had indecisively wavered between a Ptolemaic and a Copernican perception of the cosmos,4 Pope in his depiction of the universe of his nymphs and sylphs underwent the further impact of the mechanised world picture by introducing supernatural agents with shady credentials. The origin of Pope’s machinery has attracted the attention of a number of scholars5 who all point at the doctrine of elemental spirits as devel­ oped by the Swiss doctor and alchemist Paracelsus (Theophrastus Bom­ bastus von Hohenheim, 1493–1541). The latter’s ideas were popularised in Le Comte de Gabalis, a in the form of a series of dialogues by the abbé Nicolas Pierre Henri Montfaucon de Villars (1635–1673), Pope’s immediate source.6 There is, however, a considerable difference between

4 John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Alastair Fowler (London, 1964), 10.668–680: ‘Some say he bid his angels turn askance / The poles of earth twice ten degrees and more / From ’s axle’ (Copernican view); ‘some say the sun / Was bid turn reins from th’ equinoctial road’ (Ptolemaic view). 5 The Paracelsian roots of Pope’s machinery were noted, among others, by Montague Summers in his introduction to Lodovico Maria Sinistrari, Demoniality (London, 1927), pp. xxxvii–xxxviii; Edward D. Seeber, ‘Sylphs and Other Elemental Beings in French Litera­ ture since Le Comte de Gabalis (1670)’, PMLA 59 (1944), 71–83; Kurt Goldammer, Paracelsus in der deutschen Romantik (Wien, 1980), p. 89; and recently by Bonnie Latimer, ‘Alchemies of Satire: A History of the Sylphs in The Rape of the Lock ’, The Review of 57 (2006), 684–700. 6 The was first printed in 1670. An edition of 1671 is available online through gallica.bnf.fr: Le Comte de Gabalis, ou Entretiens sur les siences secretes (, 1671). Mont­ faucon de Villars, Le Comte de Gabalis ou entretiens sur les sciences secrètes. La Critique de Bérénice, ed. Roger Laufer (Paris, 1963) is a critical and annotated edition; in this essay, quotations in French (in the spelling of the seventeenth century) are from this edition. Also important is the following edition produced for an esoterically minded readership: Montfaucon de Villars, Le Comte de Gabalis ou Entretiens sur les Sciences secrètes, précédé de Magie et Dilettantisme “Le Roman de Montfaucon de Villars”, et L’Histoire de “la Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque” par René-Louis Doyon, et L’Ésoterisme de Gabalis par Paul Marteau (Paris, 1921). In 1680 two English translations appeared almost simultaneously, the first by Philip Ayres, the second by Archibald Lovell: The Count of Gabalis: Or, the Extravagant Mysteries of the Cabalists, exposed in Five Pleasant Discourses on the Secret Sciences. Done into English by P. A. [= Philip Ayres] Gent. (London, 1680); and The Count of Gabalis or, Conferences about Secret Sciences. Rendered out of French into English with an Advice to the Reader by A. L. [= Archibald Lovell] A. M. (London, 1680).