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Paracelsian Spirits in Pope’s Rape of the Lock

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Chapter Summary

The Rape of the Lock is not a metaphysical poem, even though it follows Samuel Johnson’s description of that genre as entailing a ‘kind of discordia concors’. The origin of Pope’s machinery has attracted the attention of a number of scholars who all point at the doctrine of elemental spirits. This chapter examines the genealogy of elemental spirits from Paracelsus to Pope. It then traces the origins of what Pope believed to be Rosicrucian lore first to the English translators of Le Comte de Gabalis, and then to the work of Villars itself. It also briefly discusses the treatise by Paracelsus that lies at the root of the doctrine of elemental spirits. Finally the chapter shows that the brief genealogy of spirits can be seen as indicative of the gradual decline of traditional metaphysics whereby critical minds began to discuss the absurdities of supernatural agency.

Keywords:elemental spirits; Le Comte de Gabalis; Paracelsus; Pope; Rape of the Lock; supernatural agency



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