New Book | Solomon’s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Enlightenment

Posted in books by Editor on October 20, 2014

This book from Paul Monod (like John Fleming’s The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason, featured in the previous posting) appeared last year, but since I failed to note it and since we’ve just highlighted the Gothic Imagination and Witches, it seemed like a good time to backtrack.

And, I would note, after so many events to mark the Hanoverian anniversary, Coronation Day is finally here: George I was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 20 October 1714. CH

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From Yale UP:

Paul Kléber Monod, Solomon’s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 440 pages, ISBN: 978-0300123586, $50.

91lYyBWCNEL._AA1500_The late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are known as the Age of Enlightenment, a time of science and reason. But in this illuminating book, Paul Monod reveals the surprising extent to which Newton, Boyle, Locke, and other giants of rational thought and empiricism also embraced the spiritual, the magical, and the occult. Although public acceptance of occult and magical practices waxed and waned during this period they survived underground, experiencing a considerable revival in the mid-eighteenth century with the rise of new anti-establishment religious denominations. The occult spilled over into politics with the radicalism of the French Revolution and into literature in early Romanticism. Even when official disapproval was at its strongest, the evidence points to a growing audience for occult publications as well as to subversive popular enthusiasm. Ultimately, finds Monod, the occult was not discarded in favor of ‘reason’ but was incorporated into new forms of learning. In that sense, the occult is part of the modern world, not simply a relic of an unenlightened past, and is still with us today.

Paul Monod is A. Barton Hepburn Professor of History at Middlebury College. He lives in Weybridge, Vermont.

New Book | The Dark Side of the Enlightenment

Posted in books by Editor on October 20, 2014

From Norton:

John V. Fleming, The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason (New York: W. W. Norton, 2013), 432 pages, ISBN: 978-0393079463, $28.

9780393079463_p0_v2_s600In The Dark Side of the Enlightenment, John V. Fleming shows how the impulses of the European Enlightenment—generally associated with great strides in the liberation of human thought from superstition and traditional religion—were challenged by tenacious religious ideas or channeled into the ‘darker’ pursuits of the esoteric and the occult. His engaging topics include the stubborn survival of the miraculous, the Enlightenment roles of Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, and the widespread pursuit of magic and alchemy.

Though we tend not to associate what was once called alchemy with what we now call chemistry, Fleming shows that the difference is merely one of linguistic modernization. Alchemy was once the chemistry, of Arabic derivation, and its practitioners were among the principal scientists and physicians of their ages. No point is more important for understanding the strange and fascinating figures in this book than the prestige of alchemy among the learned men of the age.

Fleming follows some of these complexities and contradictions of the ‘Age of Lights’ into the biographies of two of its extraordinary offspring. The first is the controversial wizard known as Count Cagliostro, the ‘Egyptian’ freemason, unconventional healer, and alchemist known most infamously for his ambiguous association with the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, which history has viewed as among the possible harbingers of the French Revolution and a major contributing factor in the growing unpopularity of Marie Antoinette. Fleming also reviews the career of Julie de Krüdener, the sentimental novelist, Pietist preacher, and political mystic who would later become notorious as a prophet.

Impressively researched and wonderfully erudite, this rich narrative history sheds light on some lesser-known mental extravagances and beliefs of the Enlightenment era and brings to life some of the most extraordinary characters ever encountered either in history or fiction.

John V. Fleming is the Louis W. Fairchild, ’24 Professor of English and Professor of Comparative Literature emeritus at Princeton University, where he taught for forty years before retiring in 2006. Fleming graduated from Sewanee (the University of the South) in 1958, before spending three years in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. After taking his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1963, he taught for two years at the University of Wisconsin (Madison). He has published widely in the fields of medieval literature, art history, and religious history.

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