Such large discourse: hermeticism in 17th century English poetry and prose

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This dissertation examines the influence of Hermeticism and alchemy on language reform, poetry and prose in seventeenth century England. It traces the Platonic and Nee-platonic background to magic and the function of language and metaphor. Language exists and is used not simply in a nominalist sense, but in a figurative manner. Plato, Plotinus, the Florentine Neo-platonists and the Hermetica all point to a via verborum by which words are used to show the inherent unity of man and nature with God. The Hermetica is most important because it stresses the divinity of language, both the Creative Logos and man's reciprocal words to nature and a fructifying God. Language, metaphor, becomes the means to a cosmic unity. This metaphoric unity is essential to alchemy, for it too is primarily a religious endeavour. The process within the alembic duplicates and participates in the primal Creation. Part of that process is accomplished through the alchemical symbols which, when united in the Hermetic vessel, also share in divinity. John Dee's Monad is an English example of this. Symbolic characters take on the characteristics inherent in whatever they represent. Hence sign and thing become inseparable. God's original word is recoverable in some manner. The Royal Society's original Fellows were primarily interested in alchemy as a science and religion, as were its language reformers. John Wilkins' Real Character and Philosophical Language employs characters in much the same way as alchemical symbols as metaphors for God. The character which shows a thing's inherent nature depends upon the character for God. The Royal Society's call for a plain style did not, in reality, mean the dismissal of metaphor. It meant a change in the use of metaphor from gilded speech to essential meaning which properly united man, nature and God. Metaphysical and Augustan poets and essayists shared many of the same themes and concerns. The demonstration of a unifying language was one. Hermeticism was another. Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, Andrew Marvell and John Dryden all show a synthesis of language and Hermeticism in their writings. They all employ Hermetic language as essential metaphor to properly show man's relationship with nature and God. Seemingly split, the two schools in fact share image and meaning, substance and form, word and thing.
Bibliography: p. 418-439.
Isaac, B. M. (1986). Such large discourse: hermeticism in 17th century English poetry and prose (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/12263