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Thomas Traherne and the Felicities of the Mind By James Balakier

Chapter 1:  Thomas Traherne, Hobbism, and the Seventeenth-Century Sciences: “Handmaids” to Felicity
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Thomas Traherne and the Felicities of the Mind
amongst these thoughts, with great delight and satisfaction, spending most of his time when at home, in digesting his notions of these things into writing, and was so full of them when abroad, that those that would converse with him, were forced to endure some discourse upon these subjects, whether they had any sense of Religion, or not.… (qtd. in Margoliouth 1: xxxi–xxxii)

This loquacious clergyman, eager to share his thoughts on the “inexpressible Felicities” of existence with anyone he encountered, was identified in the twentieth century by Bertram Dobell to be Thomas Traherne. Dobell comments ingenuously that “[t]he poet was, it is plain, one of those rare and enviable individuals in whom no jarring element is present” (Introduction, The Poetical Works of Thomas Traherne lvi). This appealing portrait, with its reference to Felicity—the key term in Traherne’s nomenclature—may jar, however, with his downright hostile reaction to Thomas Hobbes. In Christian Ethicks, another text published posthumously, Traherne unfelicitously takes Hobbes to task for his belief that self-preservation is the dominant force in human motivation:

Preservation is the first, but the weakest and the low’st principle in nature. We feel it first, and must preserve our selves, that we may continue to enjoy other things: but at the bottom it is the love of other things that is the ground of this principle of Self-preservation. And if you divide the last from the first, it is the poorest Principle in the World. (261)
And does not the man deserve to be burnt as an enemy to all the World, that would turn all men into Knaves and Cowards, and destroy that only principle which delivers them from being Mercenary Slaves and Villains; which is the Love of others!2 (262)

Traherne’s reaction, however fiery, is not unique, for “Hobbism” sent shockwaves through the Church of England. It gave impetus to a countermovement at Cambridge that, imbued with Plato and Plotinus, sought to reconcile the rationalism of scientific inquiry, fostered by Francis Bacon, with orthodox faith. Traherne, if only loosely associated with the Cambridge Platonists, shared a deep affinity with their aims.3 It was