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Virtue of SympathyMagic, Philosophy, and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England$
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Seth Lobis

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780300192032

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300192032.001.0001

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The Future of Sympathy I:

The Future of Sympathy I:

The Poetry of the World

(p.256) 6 The Future of Sympathy I
Virtue of Sympathy

Seth Lobis

Yale University Press

This chapter examines the complex legacy of Shaftesburianism and reveals the enduring vitality of natural and magical conceptions of sympathy through the first half of the eighteenth century. In so doing, it revises the standard model of treating sympathy in eighteenth-century studies, according to which sympathy “rose” after the Restoration as an exclusively moral and social principle. Both David Fordyce’s Dialogues Concerning Education and James Thomson’s Seasons reinforced Shaftesbury’s version of a sympathetic worldview, and both works demonstrate the extent to which natural and moral conceptions of sympathy remained in active conversation. With the widening impact of skepticism and empiricism among the intellectual elite, strong claims for the naturalness of sympathetic response in society functioned to secure an idea of order that was becoming more and more uncertain in the universe as a whole. As the case of Thomson shows, the aesthetic was an increasingly hospitable environment for a universal conception of sympathy that was increasingly out of place in mainstream scientific accounts of the natural world. At the same time, poets and philosophers appealed to Newtonianism as a means of bolstering a sympathetic worldview; represented as analogous to gravity, sympathy could be reuniversalized as a scientific principle.

Keywords:   Sympathy, James Thomson, The Seasons, David Fordyce, Third Earl of Shaftesbury, Shaftesburianism, Newtonianism, John Milton, Skepticism, Empiricism

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