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Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660-1700

Misty G. Anderson
Jeremy Webster
B!k Review Editor

September 18, 2015

Dear Professor Byrne,

Thank you for sharing your essay, Ragley Hall and the Decline of Cartesianism. While we found the
essay interesting, our board and readers do not think it is ready for publication at this time. We would,
however, like to offer you the chance to revise and resubmit in light of these reports. If you would be so
kind as to let us know whether you would like to pursue that offer, we would appreciate it. We usually ask
for revisions within 2 months, though we can work with authors on more individualized timelines.
Thank you again for sharing your work with us, and my sincere apologies about the amount of time it
took us to secure reviewers and their reports.

Misty G. Anderson
Editor, Restoration

Reader 1:
I found the piece informative and, for the most part, well written. It does suffer a little, stylewise, from several punctuation and grammar errors as well as from the occasional redundancy. In
light of my evaluation, however, these are probably not worth detailing here.
Although the author seems to be genuinely interested in and knowledgeable about Conways life
and thought, I dont really think this particular essay is publishable in Restoration. It does say
things about her and the Ragley Hall group that I did not know or had forgotten, but I ascribe this
observation to my own distance from the topic . A quick review of the extant scholarship
suggests that I could have obtained just about all of this information, together with the basic
distinctions between Conway's ideas and those of other thinkers of the time, in either Huttons
Ann Conway (Cambridge UP, 2004) or Whites The Legacy of Ann Conway (SUNY P, 2008),
especially the chapter entitled Conway, Descartes, and the New Mechanical Science. The
author of this ms doesnt mention or cite the latter book/chapter, so I wonder if perhaps he/she is
as behind on the conversation about Ann Conway as I am!
By writing as part of this ongoing conversationadding to it, revising aspects of it, etc.-- the
author of this ms could perhaps compose something that would, indeed, be publishable in

Reader 2:
I think this idea has real promise and opens an exciting conversation about the influences on
Newton and the critique of post-Cartesian thought from within devotional perspectives. The
background on the Platonists sources, their relation to Kabbalah, and the revised picture of
Newton that could emerge from thinking about their conversation through Conway is very, very
interesting. That said, the essay still has some problems. The first is the shortage of direct
evidence. The writer makes many big claims about alchemy, the Cambridge Platonists as a
group, and eventually Conways thought that are not supported by textual evidence. The effect is
both generalizing (I think the authors argument would only be sharper and more of an
intervention with such evidence) and suspiciousthe author asks us to take a great deal on faith,
without so much as a footnote. That brings me to my second problem. The claims in the last 5
pages or so of the essay become strangely devotional. The critical distance between the writers
and Conways perspective all but evaporates, and again, the shortage of direct evidence
exacerbates the effect. That is true at the textual level most importantly but also in the absence of
precise dates that would help establish who was where (and who read what) when.
All this said, I remain interested in what is bracing and original (or at least new to me) about this
line of influence, and I think others would learn much from the piece. But it would have to
become more scholarly, more well-documented and more clearly engaged with extant work on
Conway and the Cambridge Platonists. I admit that this is not my direct field of expertise, but I
can see that there has been much scholarship on Conway and her circle since Carolyn Merchant

(whose work on Conway and Leibniz I know but which does not appear here). This piece should
be in dialogue with it.
Problem moments include:
Overly devotional claims, such as: God is not an absent landlord, nor is he literally in all His
creations, but rather His spirit flows through Christ, the mediator between God and nature.
And God cannot create something that is completely contrary to himself, meaning that that
Gods essence, or his spirit, must be part of his creation. How can a living, spiritual being like
God produce purely dead matter? This has to be cast as Conways observation and substantiated
with some evidence.
Undersubstantiated claims, such as:
Conway constructed a natural theological system which justified the beneficent providence of
God by describing the spiritual side of matter. I would love to hear more about this system, but
right now, all I know is that this writer claims she did. Where are the details? Why arent there
solid quotations from her Principia/Principles?
And: For More, although spirit and body are both infinitely extended, they are distinguishable
because spirit is penetrable while body is impenetrable. Spirits can infinitely penetrate each
other, but body cannot penetrate body. Where is the quotation from More? What did More
actually say?
And: Conway at least anticipates the ideas of Bishop Berkeley while distinguishing her thought
from Mores. Really? Wheres the proof? Id be interested in the proof, but without it, why
should I find the claim compelling?
And: Like Descartes, He employed the rationalist, deductive method, meaning that all ideas
could endlessly produce new truths. More loathed Quakerism because if one asserts the existence
of matter filled with spirit, one runs the risk of pantheism. Pantheist ideas were associated with
radical groups like the Diggers and Ranters, so they threatened social stability just as much as
atheism or deism. Fine. Show me.
Newton writes, The world made of preexistent material and immaterial substances in his
annotations of Cudworths True Intellectual System. This quotation, cut off from context and
not a complete sentence from Newton, needs explication that ties it to the surrounding claims
about Newtons investments in this Kabbalah history. NB, the material on Newton is the most
supported and for that reason the most vibrant. Perhaps the writer could signpost the
destination of this argument in Conways influence on Newton more clearly at the beginning?