Littell's Living Age/Volume 133/Issue 1714/Spinoza: the Man and the Philosopher
From The Contemporary Review.
THE MAN AND THE PHILOSOPHER.
The 21st of February, 1877, has been consecrated to the celebration of the bicentenary anniversary of the death of a very great man; of a man so great indeed, that humanity had to move a distance of considerably more than a century before reaching the perspective point from which his greatness could be measured. To all but an insignificant few of his contemporaries, Spinoza was either unknown, or, if known, was an object of aversion and of superstitious dread: the nineteenth century raises a statue to him. If the monument destined to be so tardily erected at the Hague had been unveiled just thirty years ago, it would have been impossible to detect, in the mind of any person capable of judging, the faintest whisper of a doubt that the tribute was justly paid, not alone to lofty genius and splendid zeal for truth and liberty, but to unblemished nobleness and purity of private life as well. To-day, such singleness of belief is less easy. Of late years, historical research has brought to light new facts and new traditions concerning Spinoza's life; and it has become necessary, in order to a solid appreciation of his character, to re-examine the history of his life.
Baruch de Spinoza was born at Amsterdam on the 24th November, 1632. Of the social rank into which he was born, it must be said, that the knowledge we possess is neither precise nor certain. His principal biographer, Colerus, tells us that the representation which gives him out as being born of poor parents and of low extraction is untrue; and that his parents, Portuguese Jews, merchants at Amsterdam, were respectable people and well-to-do ("honnêtes gens et à leur aise"), living in a good house ("dans une assez belle maison"), on the Burgwal. A later account expressly contradicts the last detail, and states that the philosopher was born in a house on the Houtgracht. According to another contemporary biographer, Lucas, it was because his father did not possess the means of launching him in a commercial career that he resolved to have him taught the Hebrew humanities. Such is the dearth, not only of facts, but of hearsay and even of imagination, concerning his early childhood, that we are almost grateful to Lucas for the following anecdote. He relates that Spinoza's father,
- being a man of common sense, used to teach him not to confound superstition with solid piety; and being desirous to put his son to the proof, charged him, when he was yet but ten years old, to receive for him certain moneys due to the father from an old woman of Amsterdam. When he had come into her house, where he found her reading the Bible, the old woman motioned him to wait until she had finished her devotions. Which being done, the child told her of his errand, and the good old woman, having counted out the money on the table for him, said, "Here is what I owe your father. May you be one day as pious a man as he is; he has never gone astray from the law of Moses; and heaven will bless you only so far as you shall resemble him." And as she finished speaking she took up the money to place it in the child's purse; but he, discerning in this woman the marks of that false piety against which his father had warned him, omitted not to count it after her, in spite of her resistance, and finding that there were wanting two ducats that the pious old woman had let fall into a drawer through a slit made to that end in the table, he was confirmed in his suspicion.
So far, if there is nothing very interesting in the story, neither is there anything very improbable in it. Unfortunately Lucas, who throughout his biography is too little mindful of the maxim, "Qui dit trop ne dit rien" [Who says too much does not say anything], goes on to say that,
- puffed up with the success of this adventure, and with the applause of his father, he set himself to observe this sort of people more closely than before; passing upon them judgment of so fine a sarcasm that all persons were astonished.
A kind of conduct that would stand in incredible contradiction with all that we know of Spinoza's social habits and modes of thought.
It may be taken as fairly certain that Spinoza had the advantage of a by no means despicable education. He was very early conducted through a thorough course of Talmudistic study; and the thorough study of the Talmud constituted in itself a discipline that was, for those days, of no mean order.
- It is important to remember [remarks Dr. Ginsberg in the excellent introduction prefixed to his edition of the Ethica] that the Talmud embraces all possible aspects of Jewish culture — its points of contact with the culture of other civilizations, as well as its points of difference from them. The polemical attitude of the Talmud is an occasion for bringing under consideration the whole range of speculative problems proposed or resolved by the Græco-Roman world. And if the Talmud places itself in a purely polemical attitude in regard to the different manners in which the cosmos is conceived by Platonism, Aristotelianism, Neo-Platonism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Scepticism, yet it could not do so without imparting a considerable knowledge of the errors that it combats; and the young Talmudist became familiar with them, adopted them as part of the mechanism of his mind.
In his Talmudistic studies he was directed by the rabbin Morteira, who was, in the words of the ingeniously snappish paraphrase of Lucas, "a man celebrated amongst the Jews, and the least ignorant of all the rabbins of his time." Morteira, we are told by this writer, was struck with admiration for the genius and character of his disciple. The works of the Arabo-Hebraic philosophers of the Middle Ages, of Maimonides in particular, were studied, and at fifteen Spinoza was an accomplished Talmudist. Some such conclusion at least is what remains to us after due distillation of Lucas's somewhat unsatisfactory assertion that "before he was fifteen years old he used to propound objections that the most learned among the Jews found difficulty in resolving." Later on, Latin was studied, at first with a certain German for a master, and afterwards under the guidance of Franz Van den Ende, a physician of Amsterdam. This was an important moment in his philosophical development. Van den Ende was a man of no ordinary culture, and of no ordinary character. He fell a victim to his zeal for liberty, and was hanged for political intrigues in France: in France, not in the Netherlands as stated by Heine in his "Deutschland." Let us hope that the great poet's spirit may by this time have found consolation in the knowledge that worthy Van den Ende was not hanged in the country "where they hang worse than anywhere else in the world," but in pleasant, graceful, spirituel France, where doubtless they ordered those things better.
The horror-struck tone in which Colerus's account of him is given makes it too amusing to be passed by in silence: —
- This man [he says] taught with much success, and gained such a reputation that the richest traders of the city entrusted him with the education of their children, until it became known that he taught his pupils other lore than Latin. For it was at length discovered that he used to sow in the minds of these young men the seeds of atheism.
A fact that good, charitable old Colerus does not state lightly; he says that he can prove it, if need be,
- by the testimony of many pious souls, which know not how sufficiently to bless the memory of their parents who withdrew them, whilst it was still time, from the school of Satan, by removing them from the instruction of a master so pernicious and so impious.
We greatly suspect that the teaching here stigmatized as atheistical, was, in point of fact, merely the black art of physiology, in the literal sense of the term, the not yet entirely unsuspected study of natural science. The internal evidence of Spinoza's writings leaves no room for doubt that he possessed remarkably sound knowledge of nature; his whole method of thought, when he is dealing with the finite, is eminently scientific, eminently positive. Mr. Lewes has long ago pointed out that in physiological matters he never betrays ignorance. His choice of the trade of an optician is evidence of his early love for science. Colerus expressly states that, "finding himself the more strongly drawn to the investigation of natural causes and products, he abandoned theology in order to devote himself entirely to physics." All this points to the conclusion that it was to Van den Ende that he owed the stimulus that have a scientific bias to his mind.
Van den Ende had a daughter, a perfect mistress, says Colerus, of Latin and of music, and Spinoza fell in love with her, continues the biographer; nay, even determined, as he himself did often since confess, to marry her. But her wit and her gaiety had also touched the heart of another of Van den Ende's pupils, one Kerckering of Hamburg, who, becoming jealous of Spinoza, increased so greatly in assiduity as to succeed in winning his mistress's affections, to which result a present of a pearl necklace, of the value of two or three hundred pistoles, doubtless contributed. And after the said Kerckering had abjured the Lutheran religion, which was that which he professed, and had embraced the Catholic faith, she fulfilled her promise of marrying him. When Mr. Lewes was writing his "Biographical History of Philosophy" in 1852, he was able to picture this courtship
- as a sort of odd reverse of Abelard and Heloisa. Spinoza, we fancy, not inattentive to the instruction, but the more in love with it coming from so soft a mouth; not inattentive, yet not wholly absorbed. He watches her hand as it moves along the page, and longs to squeeze it. While "looking out" in the dictionary their hands touch, and he is thrilled, but the word is found, nevertheless.
The romance of a Platonic love, that, being rejected, transformed itself into philosophy, may be a pleasing and artistically proper ingredient in the life of the great mystic. It may be hard for us to be obliged to confess that it is true only in so far as "imagination is truer than fact," but from the historical point of view we must allow it to lapse into the limbo to which modern criticism has consigned the myth of William Tell and the fiction of Julia Alpinula, for we now know, on the prosaic testimony of a marriage register, that Clara Maria Van den Ende was married to Dirck Kerckrinck in 1671, at the age of twenty-seven. She was therefore only twelve years old in 1656, by which time Spinoza had quitted Van den Ende. It does not appear, then, that love-lessons formed any part of Spinoza's occupations whilst he was with Van den Ende. Probably the want of such emotions was not felt by him. Other heavings and stirrings were being felt in the young prophet's breast; and even if the occasion of looking too curiously on a daughter of Eve had presented itself, we must think that his strong soul would have resisted the temptation, with a presentiment that its mission was to go forth amongst mankind, "dread, fathomless, alone."
It was probably Van den Ende who introduced him to the writings of Descartes; a most important event for him. In a mind that was already in more than unconscious revolt against rabbinical authority and rabbinical tradition, the method of Descartes, with its honest individualism and its fearless scepticism, must have produced an explosion. That such and such a doctrine must be believed by you because it was the doctrine of such and such a rabbin, or of such and such a prophet, must have roused indignation from a very early age in the breast of a child who for genius and for character so far transcended all the rabbins, and almost all the prophets. The spark of Descartes' teaching, that the one principle of evidence is clear and distinct seeing for oneself, must have fallen upon very well-prepared fuel.
- From that time forth [says Colerus] he was very reserved with the Jewish doctors, avoiding as much as possihle all commerce with them; he was rarely seen in their synagogues, showing himself there only in a perfunctory manner (par manière d'acquit); which irritated them extremely against him, as they nothing doubted but that he would shortly abandon them and turn Christian.
We imagine Spinoza in a state of doubt; he does not yet quite see clearly; he leans now to the side of tradition and belief, now to that of incredulity and revolt. His indignation against the falseness and ineptitudes of the Jewish tradition we imagine to have now and then flashed out from him in manifestations honest rather than prudent.
- Certain young men [relates Lucas] who called themselves his most intimate friends, conjured him to tell them his true opinions. "What think you?" they asked; "hath God: a body? Be there in truth angels? is the soul immortal?"
We gather that to questions such as these be made replies such as that, according to the Bible (by which is meant, of course, only the Old Testament), God is evidently material, the idea of spirit being perfectly unknown to that book; that by angels were there meant certain phantoms, phenomena of a merely subjective order, not real and permanent substances (a heresy, by-the-bye, of which it is difficult to perceive the offensiveness); and that —
- As for the soul, wherever it is mentioned in the Scriptures, this word expresses simply life, or that which hath life. So that to seek for proofs of immortality in the Scriptures were absurd.
A heresy which hears a most amusing resemblance to a remark for which Gibbon got into hot water; an element, however, which was but most mildly lukewarm in comparison with the seething floods of fanaticism that were to roll over the soul of Spinoza. The reader will observe that none of these are philosophical assertions but that they are, all of them, merely propositions belonging to the perfectly positive science of Biblical criticism. A tittle of evidence may perhaps be considered to be contained in the quaint statement of Stolle's old man (of whom more hereafter) that Spinoza was excommunicated because he "was charged with having rejected the books of Moses as a human book, not written by Moses (weil man ihn beschuldigt, dass er die Bücher Mosis, als ein menschlich Buch, so Moses nie gemacht, verworfen)." "Reflecting," continues Lucas, "that curiosity seldom springs from good intentions, he set himself to observe the conduct of these friends; and found in it so much to disapprove of that he broke with them, and would no longer speak with them."
The "friends" vowed vengeance, — so the story runs, — which they instituted by crying him down in the opinion of the people, giving warning that instead of becoming one of the pillars of the synagogue this young man was more likely to become a destroyer of it; and proceeded afterwards to lodge a formal accusation against him with the rabbins. The accused was summoned to appear before the rabbins. He obeyed, and betook himself to the synagogue. There the Jewish doctors, "with the downcast visages of men tormented by their zeal for the house of God," told him that he was "accused of the blackest and most enormous of crimes, contempt of the law." And on his denying this (to this day the whole of Spinoza's writings are an eloquent witness that with his sweet reasonableness of soul he must have been ever incapable of any outrage against religion or the State) the false friends stepped forward with their deposition. The judges urged the accused to recant; but to their entreaties and to their menaces he now opposed a haughty defiance. Morteira then arrived upon the scene, armed with friendly exhortation as well as with official menace. The threat of excommunication to which he at length proceeded did not mend matters; and the assembly broke tip without any definite result having been obtained. The strangeness and the bitterness of this story of betrayal as related by Lucas do not tempt belief; yet it should be remembered that the anathema by which Spinoza was excommunicated refers to "witnesses," and that fanaticism is capable of malignity and of treachery to an extent the quantification of which may be left to the reader.
As to what followed we are on a firmer ground of history. The "secession" from the synagogue of a young man who was already widely known as a favorite disciple of Morteira and as a Talmudist of extraordinary attainments, was not a thing to be lightly incurred. Further efforts were made to extract concessions from him; he remained deaf to exhortation. The price attached to his friendship by the rabbins showed itself in the offer that they made him of an annuity of 1,000 florins, "to induce him to stay among them, and to continue to show himself from time to time in their synagogues." The apostate refused. A less gentle argumentum ad hominem was tried by some person unknown to infamy. One evening, as the philosopher was leaving the old Portuguese synagogue,
- He saw some one near him, poignard in hand and this having caused him to be on his guard, and to keep to one side, he escaped the thrust, which took effect only upon his clothes. He preserved the justaucorps pierced by the thrust in memory of the event.
Quitting Amsterdam, he retired some little distance into the country, with a friend, of whom all that we know is that he was a member of the religious sect known as Rijnsburgers or Collegiants. During this absence from Amsterdam, Morteira's threat was put into execution, and the anathema of excommunication was fulminated against the obstinate infidel from the pulpit of the synagogue.
Many curious accounts of the institution of excommunication as practised by the Jews of that time are extant; and the student is generally refreshed in his journey over the abstract wastes of philosophy by the narration of a scene that might fittingly have been invented for an opéra comique. In the handsome old Portuguese synagogue of Amsterdam an awestruck crowd is assembled.
- The ceremony begins by the lighting of numbers of black wax candles and the opening of the tabernacle in which the books of the law are kept. The chantre, from an elevated place, intones with a loud, lugubrious voice the words of execration, whilst another chantre winds a horn — or a cornet, called in Hebrew sophar. The black wax candles are held downwards, so that their wax falls drop by drop into a vat full of blood. The people, filled with holy horror and with sacred rage at the sight of this sombre spectacle, cry, Amen, with a furious voice that testifies to their belief that they would be rendering service to God if they were to tear the excommunicate to pieces, which they would no doubt do if they met with him in that moment, or on coming out of the synagogue.
But Lucas expressly states that the melodramatic accessories of horn, and candles dripping into the blood-vat, were not observed in the case of Spinoza, who was not accused of blasphemy (a crime which is punished with the above-described species of anathema), but only of contempt for Moses and the law; for which the ceremony of excommunication consisted in the simple reading of the anathema. This of itself may, perhaps, be considered sufficiently melodramatic. The document is important as well as curious; we therefore translate it in full. It bears the date of the 6th day of the month Ab, in the year 5416, that is to say, the 16th July, 1656. It is written as follows —
- The herem that was given forth of the Sanctuary on the 6th day of the month Ad, against Baruch de Espinoza.
- The Masters of the Ecclesiastical Council make known to you that, having long had knowledge of the bad opinions and of the bad works of Baruch de Espinoza, they have carefully studied by various ways and promises to draw him back from his bad ways; and being nothing able to remedy the same, but, on the contrary, getting daily fresh notification of the horrible heresies that he practised and taught, and of the enormous works that he wrought (ynormes obras que obrava); and finding many witnesses, worthy to be believed, of these things, who deposed and testified in the presence of the said Espinosa, who was by them convicted: after due consideration of all things, in the presence of the Lords of the Wise Men (dos SSrs. Hahamim), have determined, with their assent, that the said Espinoza shall be anathema and separated from the nation of Israel, as they now declare in the Herem, with the Herem following (como actualmente o poni em Herem, com o Herem sequinte): —
- By the sentence of the Angels, by the sentence of the Saints, we anathematize, separate, and curse and execrate Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal, and with the consent of all that holy community before the holy Sepharim, with their six hundred and thirteen precepts that are written in them, with the Herem with which Joshua cursed Jericho, with the malediction with which Elisha cursed the children, and with all the maledictions that are written in the law: cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night, cursed be he in his sleeping and cursed be he in his uprising, cursed in his going out and cursed in his entering in; may the Lord refuse to know him, may the fury of the Lord and his jealousy be hot after that man, and lay upon him all the maledictions that are written in the Book of the Law; and may the Lord blot out his name from beneath the heavens, and may the Lord separate him for evil from all the tribes of Israel, with all the maledictions of the firmament that are written in the Book of the Law; and you, cleaving to the Lord your God, may you have life!
- But take notice, that none may speak with him by mouth, none by writing, none show him any favor, none be under the same roof with him, none within the distance of four ells from him, none read any document made or written by him.
A smile involuntarily rises as we read this breathless cursing, and we think of Mr. Shandy and of Dr. Slop, of Trim and of Uncle Toby, and his "For my own part, I could not have the heart to curse a dog so." On the lips of the outcast thinker it must have produced a harder, bitterer curl. Spinoza changed his Jewish name of Baruch for the Christian one of Benedict. Very willingly withdrawing from the society of those of his race, he found friends both sympathetic and generous amongst the Gentiles. Of his family — of those, that is, who if the ties of blood are to be anything but fetters, ought to have been forthcoming as a help and a consolation in such a crisis as this — history makes no mention relating to this epoch. From their conduct later on it may be inferred that they now joined the hue and cry against the "atheist." The fury of the Jews may have been increased by the suspicion that the apostate was about to embrace the creed of Christianity. According to one account there was a recrudescence of zeal on the part of the synagogue, in the time that followed the excommunication.
- Morteira, in particular, after the affront that he had received from his disciple, could not suffer that he should even remain in the same city with him. Procuring himself to be escorted by another rabbin of similar temper, he came before the magistrates, to whom he represented that if he had excommunicated M. de Spinoza, it was for no common cause, but on account of most execrable blasphemies against Moses and against God. He exaggerated this falsehood in all the ways that an holy hatred can suggest to an irreconcilable heart, and in conclusion demanded that the accused should be banished from Amsterdam. At the sight of the rabbin's passion it was easy to see that it was less a pious zeal than a secret rage that was urging him to vengeance; and, in fact, the judges, seeing this, endeavored to elude his demands, and referred him to the clergy. These, having examined the affair, found themselves in great embarrassment. After the manner in which the accused justified himself, they were unable to discover anything impious in him; yet the accuser was a rabbin, and the rank he held bid them be mindful of their own rank; so that, after all due consideration, they were unable without outrage to their cloth to absolve a man that one of their order wished to ruin; and this reason, good or bad, caused them to conclude in favor of the rabbin. . . . The magistrates, not daring to contradict them, for reasons which it is easy to divine, condemned the accused to an exile of some months.
This account, for which Lucas is responsible, is corroborated by the fact that Spinoza retorted to the excommunication by writing a certain volume of "Apology," now no longer extant, in which the Jews were "severely handled." Colerus says, "Il protesta contre cet acte d'excommunication, et y fit une response en espagnol qui fut adressée aux rabbins, et qu'ils reçurent comme nous le marquerons dans la suite." (It is unfortunate that the worthy author forgets to "marquer dans la suite" the matter in question, and never mentions it again.) It is evident that such an act of defiance might of itself constitute a sufficient reason for the reprisals which ended in Spinoza's exile.
We must stop for a moment to consider this "Apologia para Justificarse de sa Abdicacion de la Synagoga," the first fruits of Spinoza's pen. We have already stated that it is no longer extant. Rienwertz states that he had had the manuscript in his possession, and that it was a large book, in which the Jews were severely handled. A more satisfactory indication of its nature is afforded by the statement of Bayle, that the argument of it may be found in the twentieth chapter of the "Tractatus Theoiogico-Politicus." The thesis of that chapter is, "that in a free state (republic) it is lawful for every man to think in his own way, and to publish that which he thinks." Thought, from its very nature, is incapable of being bound by laws — is incapable of being given over to reigning powers, with those other "natural rights "that Spinoza allows, with Hobbes, may be so made over to the sovereign; and if thought cannot be bound, neither can speech, though of course the latter is susceptible of a measure of coercion; but no sooner has the author laid down this principle, than he proceeds to limit its application by considering how far the liberty of speech may usefully be conceded — that is, how far the exercise of such coercion as is possible may be desirable. Now the end of a state is the security of liberty to its subjects ("Finis reipublicæ revera libertas est"). Spinoza therefore concludes that all opinions should be allowed to be published, except seditious opinions. Seditious opinions he defines as those "which being accepted would nullify the contract by which the citizen has yielded up the right of acting according to his individual will (ex proprio suo arbitrio)." From such a latitude of the liberty of speech he allows that inconveniences would arise; but it must be conceded, nevertheless; "for those things that cannot be prohibited" (he means, "whose prohibition is not supported by a sufficient sanction") "must necessarily be conceded, even though ills do thence arise." Proceeding to examine the ills that arise from the illegal and tyrannous persecution by the State of the liberty of speech, he shows that such persecution falls, not on the unworthy members of society, "the greedy, the timeserving, and the otherwise impotent in character, who have no care for truth and piety, for whom blessedness consists in contemplating the gold in their coffers, and having their bellies gorged (nummus in arce contemplari et ventres distentos habere)," but on those whom a good education, integrity of morals, and the practice of virtue have endowed with a liberal mind: —
- Men such as these [he continues] will not be silenced by tyrannous laws, for men are so constituted that they hear nothing less patiently than to have the opinions that they believe true treated as crimes, and to have things reputed wicked, by which they are moved to piety towards God and man.
- that the true schismatics are they who condemn the writings of others, and seditiously stir up the petulant vulgar against them; and not the writers themselves, who write, for the most part, only for the learned, using no other aid than reason; and that the true disturbers are they who in any State endeavor to destroy the liberty of judgment, which cannot be destroyed.
Spinoza has been accused, amongst other odd accusations, of bitterness against Judaism. We have extracted out of this twentieth chapter of the "Theologico-Political Treatise," which may very well be taken as a sample of the book, the most uncompromising expressions that we could find; the reader who is acquainted, even slightly, with the amenities to which theological discussion in this nineteenth century has given rise, may be left to say whether language such as this should be considered a very "bitter" reply to execration, excommunication, banishment, and attempted murder.
The die was thrown. Spinoza was now twenty-four years of age — that is, if we take into account the precocity of his development, in the prime of genius and enthusiasm. Conscious of learning and of talents, and of the not entirely despicable advantages of a handsome face and commanding manners, he must have felt himself richly equipped for a career of honors and of power. Morally, he had but to palter but a little with his conscience, to be able to accept the brilliant career with self-approval. The obstacles that it threw in the way of self-development must have seemed, to all but a very searching gaze, to he more than counter-balanced by the facilities for culture that it afforded in the shape of affluence and security. The social element in which he would have had to move was not one of repulsive "Philistinism." The Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam, formed at that time a community that we cannot help calling cultured, if not enlightened. With their traditional Talmudist education they connected modern studies. An eminent member of the college of rabbins by whom Spinoza was excommunicated, Menasse hen Israel, was publishing writings in Latin and in Spanish. Dr. Ginsberg tells us that Hugo Grotius has left a very appreciative judgment of this remarkable man, dating from the year 1639. From this it appears that Manasse ben Israel was well versed in ten languages, and composed poetry and other writings in Spanish as well as in Hebrew and in Latin. He is named in state documents theologian, philosopher, and doctor of physic. In 1632, at the age of twenty-seven, he published in Spanish his first great work, "Conciliator;" a writing the object of which is to reconcile with one another all the contradictory passages of the Holy Scriptures. It was the product of five years' labor, and was therefore begun at the age of twenty-two. The author's reading includes not only rabbinical literature, but the Greek and Roman poets, Plato and Aristotle, the Arabo-Hebraic philosophers, and the scholastics of the Middle Ages. More than two hundred and ten Hebrew works, and fifty-four Greek and Latin, Spanish and Portuguese authors, are cited in the first part. The fourth and last part of this exhaustive work appeared in 1651. A society that could produce men such as this could hardly have been an intellectual desert, even for Spinoza; and the temptation to yield, to compromise, to sacrifice this or that moment of the absolute idea of his life to the profit of the rest, must have been a strong one. And as for the interests of humanity, Spinoza's mind was dangerously well furnished with the ethical maxims that justify compromise. He held a doctrine of exoteric and esoteric treatment of truth that we cannot but consider as wearing a dangerous likeness to the principles of obscurantism. Submission to authority, that is, submission to power, political or religious, is the very principle on which depends the whole of his doctrine of political and religious practice. A brave and uncomplaining acceptance of the established fact is one of the most prominent features of his attitude towards all branches of human endeavor; a tendency that in the higher walk of philosophy, in the doctrine of the ideal sage as contained in the "Ethica," appears in the conclusion that places the freedom of the sage in his "contemplative submission to the order of nature. . . ." He did not reject the Scriptures as an authority ruling the conduct of life, he merely contended for liberty in the interpretation of them. He did not even advise that this or that demonstrably false method of interpreting them was in all cases to be combated. Many are the forms under which belief may be operative on conduct; and truth, if it is to be believed, must be accommodated to the intelligence of the believer. If Spinoza had accepted the career offered him by the rabbins, and had placed a golden lock upon his lips, the act would but have taken rank with the too often forgotten fallings off of many another great leader lost. But he refused to palter, were it even but ever so little, with his conscience. Shaking off the dust from his feet, he set his face towards a life of poverty and of toil, made worthy and worth having by the consciousness of independence and integrity, and by the warmth of the great design that was brooding within him.
Out of the four years of struggle and anxiety, and so weighty development, that followed his secession from the synagogue, from 1656, namely, to 1660, hardly a detail of his life has come down to us. We gather that his position must have been a hard one, at all events a very trying one. He was penniless. Rienwertz says that he got his living by teaching (dass er Kinder informiret). The writer of the MS. life discovered by Müller states that he lived with the "Collegiant" friend above mentioned, "on the road between Amsterdam and Auwerkerke, until he moved with him to Rijnsburg, near Leiden."
Misfortune, it has been said, is the midwife that delivers genius of her children and in some way or other Spinoza found time for writing during these years. Though he published nothing, it is probable that he wrote a great deal. The "Theologico-Political Treatise" was written about this time; and during the same period the lately discovered "Tractus de Deo et Homine" — "Treatise on God and Man and his Welfare" — was probably entirely written. And if we take into account the composition of the "Apologia," we shall see that these were years of intense activity.
Spinoza was at Rijnsburg in 1661, as appears by a letter to him from Oldenburg, the secretary of the then lately-instituted Royal Society of England. Oldenburg refers to his visit to the philosopher at Rijnsburg; and to their "conversation about God, about extension and infinite thought, about the difference and agreement of their attributes, about the manner of the union of the human mind with the body; also about the principles of the Cartesian and Baconian philosophies." Colerus is therefore in error in saying that it was in 1664 that Spinoza moved to Rijnsburg — or Rhynsburg, as it is differently spelt. He there inhabited a very small house, "still standing" writes Van Vloten in 1862, "and easy to be known by its inscription, dating from 1667, from the pen of the poet Kamphuysen, —
Ach, waren alle menschen wijs,
En wilden daarby wel:
De aard waar heer een Paradijs,
Nu is ze meest een Hel;"
an inscription that is curiously appropriate to the circumstances in which the philosopher found himself when an inhabitant of the house. It may be rendered, for the benefit of those unacquainted with the language, —
If all mankind could but be wise,
And pure their wills as well,
This earth would be a paradise,
That now is but a hell.
Spinoza had living with him during that time a certain young man whose identity is not quite clear, but whom there is great reason to believe to be that Albert Burgh who in 1675 became a convert to Catholicism, and wrote to the author of the "Ethica" a letter of some five-and-thirty pages, full of exhortation to "repent, to acknowledge his ignorance to be wisdom, and his wisdom madness; to be humbled from his pride, and be healed." The bear-leading of this youth was anything but a pleasant duty for the thinker; he complains bitterly of it in a letter to his friend Simon de Vries —
- There is no one more annoying to me, nor none against whom I have to be more carefully on my guard, than he: wherefore I would have you and the others take heed not to communicate my opinions to him till he shall have attained a more mature age. He is too boyish yet and changeable, and greedy rather of novelty than of truth.
By "the others" is meant a certain circle of ardent friends who had gathered round the germ of the new doctrine, and were looking up in eager dependence to their leader. They had instituted a sort of club for the study in common of the new philosophy.
- As for the course of study [writes Simon de Vries] we have thus ordered it. One of us (but each in turn) reads out to the rest, and explains according to his judgment, demonstrating everything according to the order and series of your propositions; then, if it happen that one of us cannot convince another, we think it worth while to make a note of the matter and write to you, in order that, if possible, it may be made clear to us; and that we may be able, with you for a leader, to defend truth against the superstitiously religious and the superstitiously Christian, and to resist the onslaught of the whole world.
During these years an active correspondence was kept up with Oldenburg. It is interesting to watch in it the working of forces that tend to dissolve the friendship between these so widely different minds, a friendship whose persistent triumph over all differences of opinion and of feeling is most encouraging. Spinoza is conscious of holding opinions which Oldenburg would consider to be at least "strange," and very likely "abominable;" but his friend has pressed him to communicate to him his thoughts on the weighty problems of philosophy and religion. So he writes that he will not refuse, for he holds "that friends should have all things in common, but most especially spiritual things." He adds, "I will endeavor to give you the explanation you ask for, though I think that, unless your kindness help, this step will not be a means of attaching you more strongly to me." He sends certain propositions of the "Ethica" which Oldenburg does not very well understand (this is in September, 1661); and the interest of the correspondence becomes transferred to the experiments of Robert Boyle, concerning whose book, "De Nitro," Spinoza writes with a minuteness that testifies to the interest that he took in chemistry, and shows that he was not by any means devoid of practical acquaintance with the subject. He is in correspondence too with his good friend and medical adviser Ludwig Meyer, an Amsterdam Jew.
Of his way of life at Rijnsburg and at Voorburg, details are wanting, but an idea may be formed of it from Colerus description of his way of life at the Hague.
- It is almost incredible [says Colerus] how sober and economical he was during that time. We find [from accounts found amongst his papers] that he lived a whole day on a milk-soup prepared with butter, which came to three sous, and a jug of beer at one sou and a half; another day he ate nothing but gruel prepared with raisins and butter, and this dish cost him four sous and a half. In these accounts, mention is made of at most two half-pints of wine in a month; and although he was often invited to dine out, he preferred to live on what he could have at home to sitting at a sumptuous table at another's expense.
We should have gladly passed over this oft-told tale of the milk soup and the gruel — which after all does not prove much were it not that it is again necessary to vindicate Spinoza's character from the charge — one can hardly write the word seriously — of gluttony. In 1847, Professor Guhrauer published in the Zeitschrift für Geschichte, an account of the tradition concerning Spinoza that had been collected by one Gottlieb Stolle, a pupil of Christian Thomasius, during a voyage in Holland in the beginning of the eighteenth century, and written down by him in his "Memoirs." During his stay in Amsterdam in 1703, Stolle came to know "a certain old man," who had been personally acquainted with Spinoza. This old man stated that
- In the beginning Spinoza lived very soberly, that is, so long as he had not much to spend; but as he became richer, he began to live better. From Amsterdam he went to Leyden, and thence afterwards to the Hague; and as he became acquainted with persons of distinction, he took to wearing a sword, dressing himself nicely, committed excesses in eating and drinking (he could take quite well a couple of cans of wine), and also —
But we must decline to attempt the translation of the very curious passage that follows; in short, the excesses he committed were such, "that he brought on consumption, of which he died." The reader who knows Spinoza, and has not the advantage of being acquainted with Stolle's old man, may be pardoned if he doubts the faithfulness of our quotation. He shall have the excerpt in the original; it is worth reading: —
- Da er mit grossen Herrn bekannt geworden, (habe er) sich einen Degen angesteckt propre (sic) aufgeführet im Essen und Trinken Excesse gemacht (wie er denn ein Paar Kannen Wein gar leicht auf sich genommen), auch wohl ad virgo (sic!) gegangen, daher er sich endlich die Schwindsucht an dens Hals gezogen, und daran gestorben.
We have inserted, in the interest of grammar, a sic that appeared to be called for; as for the matter of the statements, we feel that marks of exclamation would be perfectly inadequate to the occasion. But let us look at the evidence. Firstly, Stolle's old man tells his story badly. To place the epoch of sensual indulgence at the end of a life whose whole course has been a chastening of the senses by moral suffering, by poverty, by intense thought, by the approaches of disease, is really clumsy. Secondly, all the other witnesses agree that Spinoza's life was one of perfect temperance. Rienwertz, his friend, the publisher of his works, told Stolle, that "he had always lived very moderately and been contented with little. He had never had any inclination to marriage, yet never blamed those who marry." We think of certain propositions of the "Ethica," and notwithstanding Stolle's old man, involuntarily we think of St. Paul. Stolle visited Bayle, the celebrated author of the dictionary, at Amsterdam, and Bayle told him that
- as regards Spinoza's morals, he lived soberly at the Hague, without furniture, or feasting, or show (er habe im Haag mässig gelebt, und von Hausrath, Saufen, und Pracht nichts gehatten).
Lucas writes that
- he was so temperate and so sober that the smallest means sufficed for his wants. He did not spend six sous a day, on an average, and did not drink more than a pint of wine in a month. "Nature is satisfied with little," he used to say, "and when she is content, I am so too."
The evidence of Colerus has been given above. It should be borne in mind that this writer is the chief and by far the most weighty authority for the facts of Spinoza's life; and his testimony to the purity of Spinoza's morals is by so much the more valuable as good Colerus was animated by a most vehement hatred and terror of the philosopher's teaching. He speaks of him, when examining his writings, as "this miserable man," and as "this celebrated atheist." He is satirical concerning the terms of the bill sent in after Spinoza's death by his barber, who was so ill-advised as to speak of him in that document as "M. Spinoza de bien-heureuse mémoire." The undertaker, two taillandiers, and a mercer, having paid the deceased the same compliment, Colerus devotes a grave paragraph to animadversion on the propriety of the term "bien-heureuse." He ends a paragraph on the "Theologico-Political Treatise" with the apostrophe, "Le seigneur te confonde, Satan, et te ferme la bouche!" He asserts that that work is "full of nothing but lies and blasphemies," and of the doctrine of the "Ethica," he asks, whether it be not "the most pernicious atheism that has ever been seen in the world." Such an attitude of mind must infallibly have inclined him to render to the philosopher's moral character no more than the strictest measure of justice it is incredible that he should have passed over without due distillation the malicious stories that were current concerning the "reprobate" freethinker, and any confirmation of them must have destroyed the admiration that he evidently felt for his character. And Colerus informants were capable witnesses one of them, Van der Spyck, was an artist, and, judging from his eloquent portrait of Spinoza, by no means a bad artist; he must be considered to be a competent witness to the habits of the man who for more than six years lived in friendly intercourse with him under his own roof. For those who know Spinoza from his writings, such evidence must be superfluous; it is impossible to have the "Ethica" tolerably present to one's mind, and to believe the writer capable of low sensuality.
The instruction of Albert Burgh, or other unknown pupil, seems not to have furnished him with a sufficient income and it was probably shortly after his excommunication that he set himself to work at a trade by which he could live. Colerus states that he "set himself to learn" the construction of lenses for telescopes and for other optical uses. It is probable that he had learned the art long before. It is well known that the Hebrew law ordained that all, even those destined to the study of the law, should learn some handiwork or other, by which in time of need they might subsist. The exiled thinker, looking somewhat blankly around him for a plan of life, was reminded of this perhaps once-despised handicraft. It offered him, at least, "independence, the first of earthly blessings; " and he gallantly cast in his lot with plain living and high thinking. He succeeded so well in his lens-grinding, we are told by Colerus, that
- he was applied to from all sides for his glasses, the sale of which furnished enough to suffice for his wants. When the lenses were finished, his friends used to send and fetch them, sell them, and remit him the money that they brought in;
a practice which demonstrates in a most significant and even touching manner these friends' sense of the fitness of relieving a philosopher from sublunary cares.
- Most of his time he passed in his room. When tired of his meditations, he used in order to refresh himself, to come down-stairs and talk to the people of the house on any matter that would serve for conversation, even on trifles. Sometimes he would enjoy a pipe of tobacco; or, when he wished for longer relaxation, he would set spiders to fight with one another, or would throw flies into the spiders' webs, taking such delight in the spectacle of the combat that he sometimes laughed outright.
So far Colerus. The anecdote is gravely brought forward by Dugald Stewart, in his "Dissertation" prefixed to the "Encyclopædia Britannica," as evidence that Spinoza was "mad." To us it appears that, if true, it hears testimony merely to the philosopher's habits of hard thinking. Is it not a very picture of the childishly cheerful relaxation of a brain fairly brought to a standstill by thought? We of the present generation must take upon trust the statement of such a teacher as Carlyle that Dugald Stewart was an "amiable philosopher;" but our faith in the propriety of the one and of the other of the terms of the proposition is put to a somewhat severe trial by the thorough unfairness and incompetence of his estimate of Spinoza.
Persons whose æsthetic judgments were informed by their religious feelings, were of opinion that the philosopher was "little, yellow, that there was something sombre (noir) in his physiognomy, and that he wore a look of reprobation in his face (qu'il portait sur son visage un caractère de réprobation)." The accounts of the biographers agree that he was "of middle height, with well-proportioned features, dark complexion, curly black hair, long black eyebrows, small, lively, dark eyes, and the general appearance of a Portuguese Jew." Van der Spyck's portrait of him shows us a perfectly handsome face. The forehead is not very conspicuous, but is very handsomely moulded; a broad and shallow furrow, scarcely perceptible, in the median line, testifies to the habitual contraction of the brows in thought. The eyes are not small; the orbit is very large, leaving between eye and eyebrow that all-important space where the soul seems to move; they look at you with a quite startling directness. The eyebrows are drawn in a wide true curve, dark and strong; the space between them is wide. The base of the nose is broad, and tapers downwards for some distance before reaching the level of the greatest narrowness, from which it swells out to form the bridge; the nose itself is Roman, with a slight Dantesque droop at the tip; broad on the level of the nostrils, The upper lip is very firm, the mouth exquisitely curved, and of a more lively appearance than any other feature of the face; its tendency to movement is controlled by a most sharply decisive line that cuts it obliquely downwards and backwards at the corner. The chin is large, massive, round, and handsome, of a firm, clear contour; and the face is set in a fine correct oval, with long dark hair flowing in broad waves down to the shoulders: every way a very noble face. So he looked, one thinks, when worthy Frau Van der Spyck asked him the uncomfortable question whether she could find salvation in the religion she professed. "Your religion is a good one," was the answer; "you have no cause to seek for any other, nor to doubt that you will find your salvation in it, so be it that whilst following piety you lead a peaceable and tranquil life." Those who. feel curious concerning the outermost of the hulls in which the philosopher's spirit walked on earth, may choose between the statement of Stolle's old man, that he was nicely dressed, and wore a sword by his side; that of Colerus, that he was careless of his clothes, "which were no better than those of the most simple citizen;" and that of Lucas, that he "had a quality that is by so much the more estimable as it is rarely found in a philosopher: he was extremely clean, and never appeared in public without showing in his dress that which distinguishes the well-bred man from the pedant."
The four years spent at Rijnsburg were full of life and movement; and some of the moments in their flight must have shaken a little golden dust about the quiet room in which the "Ethica" was being written. They are the busiest years of the philosopher's life. Lenses were being ground, and lessons given, that he might eat. An extensive correspondence was being carried on ; an occupation which must have taken up much more time in those old days, when people wrote letters of a score, or two score of pages, which they forwarded by the kind hands of some travelling friend, than in this century of telegrams, and post-cards, and public newspapers. Books were being written. Of the "Apology" we have already spoken. On reading it over in the quiet of his country retreat, "on the road to Auwerkerke," Spinoza probably reflected that the "dry light" was the better, and decided not to publish the MS. Instead, he set himself to treat the whole great question of liberty of thought, of Church and State, from the very foundations, in a thoroughly scientific manner. By the time he removed to Rijnsburg, the "Theologico-Political Treatise" was finished, or, at all events, was sufficiently advanced for him to be able to set to work on the "Ethica." He did so, and in all probability produced, as the first result of his philosophical essay, the "Treatise on God and Man and his Welfare." He was, perhaps, dissatisfied with the form that this work lent to his ideas, and for that reason — probably for others besides — withheld it from publication, and started again courageously to develop the system anew on another principle, the principle of mathematical form, which finally gave us the "Ethica" in its present shape. This was written down so fast, that in 1663 Spinoza was thinking of publishing it. In the early summer of that year, he had occasion, as we know from a letter of his to Oldenburg, to make a trip to Amsterdam "in order to fetch his furniture." Whilst he was there, certain friends asked him to make them a copy of a résumé of the second part of Descartes' "Principia," in the form of mathematical demonstration that he had dictated to Albert Burgh (if this be in reality the certain youth mentioned in his letter), for the use of the latter. At the same time they urged him to proceed, without loss of time, to a similar treatment of the first part of the "Principia."
- Not liking to deny my friends [he writes to Oldenburg] I set myself straightway to the preparation of such a work; and finished it within two weeks, and handed it over to my friends. These then entreated me to allow them to publish the whole, —
a request to which he acceded.
- For perhaps [he explains] some of those who fill the first places in my country, may be led by this writing to wish to see the other works which I have written, and which contain the exposition of my own opinions, and so may be induced to take measures for having them introduced to the public, safe under the escort of their authority. If it so fall out, I nothing doubt but that I shall shortly publish something; but if it be not so, I shall choose to be silent rather than intrude my opinions on my fellow-men against their desire.
The little book was published, together with an appendix of certain very suggestive "Cogitata Metaphysica," which form a bridge by which the student may pass, if he please, from Cartesianism to Spinozism. The "Principia" was a modest, and apparently a harmless little book enough, as befitted an innocent dove sent out to try whether in all the turbulent waters of the fatherland there might be found sufficient foothold for the "Ethica." Notwithstanding its airs of innocence, however, it soon became the cause of much throwing about of brains, amongst the Cartesians. Lucas tells us that
- notwithstanding all that he says in praise of this celebrated writer, his partisans (i.e. the Cartesians), in order to ward off from him the suspicion of atheism, tried all ways to bring down thunderbolts on our philosophers head; thus putting in practice the policy of the followers of St. Augustine, who, in order to clear themselves of the reproach of leaning towards Calvinism, have written against that doctrine the most violent of books.
"Battre le chien devant le lion" appears to have been a very favorite device of theological warfare in the seventeenth and certain other centuries. The persons in the chief places in the land do not seem to have been attracted in the hoped-for manner by the "Principia," and for seven years to come Spinoza published nothing more.
In the month of May, 1664, he removed to Voorburg, a village distant one mile from the Hague. There he lived in the "Kerklaan," in the house of one Daniel Tydeman, an artist, "who seems to have held opinions more liberal than those that were generally current in the Reformed Church." The author of Müller's Dutch MS. suggests that it was Tydeman who first introduced Spinoza to the world of art. He may have had lessons in drawing, perhaps even in painting, from this artist. At all events, he seems to have undertaken art studies in a very serious way. He attained some proficiency in portrait-drawing in ink or charcoal. Colerus possessed an album of his portraits, amongst which were those of several distinguished persons, and one of himself, in the costume of a fisherman "en chemise," carrying a net on his shoulder.
Very pleasant must have been these outlooks into the world of external beauty; one feels quite grateful that the ascetic thinker was able to sun his fancy for a little while before the sweet, moving skies, and the sunshine modestly dickering on the prim, brick-paved courts, before the sleeping water-wheels and dreaming waters, and the interiors lit up by maidens in white satin dresses, of the old masters that we love. In this respect, at least, he was born into the world at a happy date. In 1664 Holland had awakened to an artistic life of the brightest glory. There were living Wynants, and Albert Cuyp, Terburg, Bol, Adrian van Ostade, Van Loo, Wouverman, Pynacker, Nicholaas Berghem, Ruisdael, Van der Velde, Backuisen, and Jan Steen. Potter had died in his brilliant youth, ten years before; Metsu also a few years before; but still living, thinking, dreaming, and working hard, at the close of his splendid and miserable career, was that prince of luminous darkdess, the magician Rembrandt. The hermit of Rijnsburg made an excursion now and then to Amsterdam; he was there in the spring of 1663. He may have strolled (one cannot help indulging in such imaginings) absorbed in some philosophema of the "De Deo," down the Roosgracht. Then, at the door of a mean house in this mean part of Amsterdam, there may have stood, refreshing himself in the sunshine, and absorbed in contemplation too, but in outward contemplation, a strange old man, with short disordered grizzly hair and beard, wearing a nightcap, or a colored kerchief for a headdress, and a fur-bordered dressing-gown variously spotted with dabs of paint. The philosopher, feeling that he was being scanned as he passed by, may have looked up at the wrinkled face, with its coarse puffy cheeks irregularly flecked with rich crimson blood, and started a little on remarking the powerful mouth, smiling its massive smile with its strong sanguine lips, the vertical fold of the brow with its two deep bordering furrows, and the small eyes shooting out from their deep setting their odd glance of energy and confidence. Then one thinks that these two great kindred spirits must have felt a shudder of no common order as their eyes met; or perhaps they may have felt nothing; the philosopher may have forgotten the distraction in a moment, and passed on in meditation, fancy free; whilst Rembrandt van Rhyn, merely revolving in his mind his observations on Hebrew physiognomy, may have turned to a most exceedingly disorderly palette, and set to work to sketch a memorandum of this Jewish face, as material for some future "Head of an Evangelist."
Rembrandt, one thinks at all events, must have come home to Spinoza in his works with singular nearness. The two natures have singular points of likeness; their lives, as well as their work, have much of the same spirit. Both of these great men were mystics; both of them abstract thinkers, ideologists, metaphysicians preoccupied exclusively with the essence of things, and careless of the outsides of things; visionaries both, looking inwards and disdaining to look outwards; proud, impassable, absorbed in the idea to the extent of forgetting the reality, almost to the extent of denying the reality; alike in their lives of solitary labor, uncomplainingly persevering, and answering the unjust criticism and the unjust neglect of their contemporaries by the production of monumental works that stand like pyramids, in their inimitable solitary grandeur, in the view of their posterity.
The six years' residence at Voorburg was, it may be hoped, a happy one; at all events, it was a tranquil one, and affords the biographer not an incident of any moment to relate. The "Ethica" was slowly crystallizing in the quiet into its perfect geometric form; the "Traclatus Theologico-Politicus" was being thought over lovingly, and lovingly retouched; but, after the fiasco of the attempt to gain the public mind by means of the "Principia," Spinoza seems to have been quite undisturbed by any desire to publish it; a trait that is very characteristic of him. A large correspondence afforded him the means of instructing a coterie of earnest and eager disciples; sometimes, indeed, of instructing persons who were neither disciples nor earnest. Correspondents took up his time with the strangest questions. His friend Peter Balling had heard in the night certain groanings. Afterwards, his child fell ill, gave utterance to groanings which Balling recognized as identical with those he had before heard in the night, and died. Balling wrote to be instructed whether the groanings he had heard were "omens." Spinoza replied at some length in a very curious letter. He considered that the groanings heard by Balling were imaginations." It had happened to himself, he related, that, waking up one morning, the images of which his dreams had been composed remained obstinately before his eyes, as vivid as though they had been real things. Amongst these was the image of a "certain black and filthy Æthiopian" whom he had never before seen. This image in great part disappeared when he directed his eyes with attention to a book or other object; but returned with the same vividness as it at first possessed, so soon as he allowed his eyes to fall anywhere carelessly (sine attentione). The image at length disappeared from the head downwards. His description of the phenomenon may be interesting to students of the psychology of dreams. The most interesting part of the letter is the passage in which he admits the possibility of a certain species of "omens." "The mind has a power of vague presentiment of future events, which it may sometimes exercise (mens aliqiuid, quod futurum est, confuse potest præsentire)." The dreadful correspondence with Blyenbergh took place in this period. Mijnheer Willem van Blyen Bergh was a well-to-do merchant of Dordrecht, who occupied his leisure hours with dilettante metaphysics. On the 12th December, 1664, he wrote to his "unknown friend" Spinoza, to beg that he would explain certain doubts that had arisen in his mind on the perusal of the treatise of Descartes' "Principia." God is the creative cause of all actions, as well as of all substances. Therefore he created the act of will that caused Adam to eat that apple. Therefore, either the eating of that apple was not a sin, or God is the cause of evil. A few days after receiving this letter, Spinoza answered it at great length, with that grand sweetness of his that we feel to be of so much higher worth than mere politeness. As regards that apple, he called Mijnheer van Blyen Bergh's attention to the fact that he had not specified what he meant by "evil." "As for me," he added, italicizing the statement as we have italicized it, "I am unable to admit that sin and evil are anything of a positive nature at all." No! in this world, which is the splendid phantasmagory reflected from the changing outside of the infinite substance of God, all is good; and all is perfect; even the impious are units of the perfectness of the whole; they are the necessary shadows in the great scheme of chiaroscuro. The above italicized statement is not to be taken to be in any way an acceptance of the position that if sin be nothing positive, then the impious serve God equally well with the righteous. Once more, no! They are indeed, after their own fashion, expressions of the perfect will of God; but they are not to be compared with the righteous.
- For they who know not God are but as the tool in the workman's hand, that serves unconsciously, and in its service is consumed; but the righteous serve God consciously, and through the service become ever more perfect (improbi, quia Deum non cognoscunt, non sunt nisi instrumentum in manu artificis, quod inscium servit et serviendo consumitur; probi contra conscii serviunt, et serviendo perfectiores evadunt).
More than one noble mind has found in this noble thought of Spinoza's a refuge of inestimable value, and has felt for it a quite unbounded gratitude. Mijnheer van Blyen Bergh saw in it nothing but hard words, which he resented. He could not perceive what Spinoza meant by "τό perfectiores evadere," nor what may be the meaning of "τό continuo perfectiores evadere." He returned to the charge with a very foolish letter of forty-two lengthy paragraphs, full of "objections." With similar heavy paper bullets of the brain he continued for the next three months to bombard the philosopher. He even managed to personally penetrate into his retreat at Voorburg, and argue with him there. Of the conversation that took place on that occasion, no record has been preserved. We learn from Blyen Bergh's next letter, that notwithstanding the intense efforts that he made to commit the colloquy to memory, he was unable to do so; and that when on the first opportunity he sat down to commit it to paper, he found that he could not remember one-fourth of the matter. He therefore begged that Spinoza would be kind enough to refresh his memory for him, and took the liberty of propounding five new questions. Concerning these, we shall probably have done our duty towards the curious reader, by relating that one of them is, "Whether, properly speaking, there be such a thing as error?" The persecution could be borne no longer, and, in his reply, Spinoza gently but firmly gave his questioner to understand that the demands on his time did not allow him to continue the correspondence. More agreeable was the renewal of the correspondence with Oldenburg, that had been allowed to lapse for nearly two years; and that now was carried gaily on with a new impetus through the greater part of the year 1665. Physical and metaphysical subjects were pleasantly discussed in these letters, and now and then some item of political gossip calls forth a tiny ripple on the surface of their philosophic calm. "I pass on to politics," wrote Oldenburg on the 8th December, 1665, at the end of a letter in which he had discussed the mechanics of Descartes, and of Hugens, and the physiological observations that were being made by the Royal Society at Oxford: —
- In every mouth here there is a rumor of the return of the Jews into their fatherland, after their dispersion for more than two thousand years. Few here believe it, but many hope it. You will signify to your friend what you have heard of the thing, and what you think about it. I long to know what the Amsterdam Jews have heard of the matter, and in what way they are affected by such a piece of news, which, if it were true, would certainly seem to herald some catastrophe of the whole world.
Over his young friends of the philosophical club Spinoza continued to keep a fatherly watch. To one of them, namely, to a certain Bresser, the same "J. B. Med. Dr." to whom the forty-second letter of Bruder's collection is addressed, Spinoza wrote the altogether charming page published by Van Vloten at p. 303 of his "Supplementum." He gently reproaches his young friend with his neglect, and urges him to write.
- I earnestly ask of you, nay, by our friendship I beg and beseech you, that you now turn your attention to some serious study, and henceforth devote to the culture of your mind and soul the better part of your life; now, I say, now, whilst it is yet time, and before you have cause to lament the downhill of your years. As to our correspondence, I have a word to say, in order that you may write to me with the greater freedom. Know then that I have long suspected, nay, been almost certain, that you are more diffident of your own powers than is desirable, and that you are fearful of asking or stating something that may fail to smack of learning (quod virum doctum non redoleat). I am not going to enter into praises of you, and narrate your gifts. But if you are fearful of my communicating your letters to others, so as to cause you to become a laughing-stock for them, I give you my word beforehand that I will keep them religiously for myself, and not communicate them to any soul without your leave.
Spinoza was in correspondence too with his friend Jarig Jellis, on philosophical matters, and on the attempts of one Helvetius to obtain gold by transmutation, a subject in which Spinoza seems to have been much interested.
His friends seem to have been dissatisfied with the remoteness and out-of-the-way character of the little village in which the master resided; and finally, in 1670, he yielded to their entreaties, and settled at the Hague. He there lived at first "en pension" on the Veexkaay, in the house of a certain Widow Van Velden. Finding this mode of life to be too expensive, he hired a room in the house of Henry Van der Spyck, an artist, on the Paviloengragt, "where he lived according to his fancy in a very retired manner, himself seeing to the providing of what food and drink was necessary for him."
This was an anxious year. In it, after some fourteen years of preparation, revision, and alternation of hope and despair, the "Theologico-Political Treatise" at length saw the light. Of the anxiety that must have attended its production, some idea may be formed from the precautions with which its publication was attended. It first appeared anonymously, under the title "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, continens dissertationes aliquot, quibus ostenditur, libertatem philosophandi non tantum salva pietate et reipublicæ pace posse concedi, sed eandem nisi cum pace reipublicæ ipsaque pietate tolli non posse. Hamburgi, apud Henricum Kuenrath, 1670." Henry Kuenrath of Hamburg was a fiction, designed to lead the press-controlling authorities on to a false scent, the real publisher being Christopher Conrad of Amsterdam. The epitome of the contents of the book given in the declaration of the long title, that it showed "that freedom of philosophizing may not only exist without hurt to piety and the peace of the State, but that it cannot be withheld without hurt to the peace of the State and even to private piety," reticent though it was, was imprudently honest. The book was officially proscribed, though not, indeed, immediately on its appearance; for in February, 1671, we find Spinoza writing to Jarig Jellis to beg him to do his best to prevent a threatened translation of the book into Belgic; "which to prevent," he says, "is not only my desire but that of many friends and acquaintances, who would not willingly see the book proscribed, which it certainly would be if it appeared in the Belgic tongue." The very year it appeared it was attacked by Jacobus Thomasius in a tract, "Adversus anonymum de Libertate Philosophandi;" by Fr. Rappoltus, in an "Oratio contra Naturalistas;" in 1671 by an anonymous S. M. V. D. M., in a certain "Epistola" directed against it; whilst from 1671 to 1676, that is, during the remainder nearly of the author's short life, it was copiously written against by authors whose names have now lost all interest. These attacks appear to have left Spinoza very much at his ease. Of the bulky quarto, "Adversus anonymum Theolagico-Politicum," that the professor at Utrecht, Regnerus a Mansvelt, had written against him, he writes to a friend, "I have seen exposed in the bookseller's window a book that the Utrecht professor has written against me; and from what I was able to read of it, I judged it unworthy to be read, much more to be replied to. I shall therefore leave alone book and author." Early in 1671 one Lambert van Velthuysen (or Velthusius), a writer on theology and philosophy, attacked it in a letter of thirty-five pages that he wrote to Isaak Orobius, who forwarded it to Spinoza for refutation. In his letter to Orobius, Velthuysen accuses the author of the "Tractatus" of "subverting all worship and all religion, of secretly introducing atheism, or making God such that no room is left for his divine government or providence, or distribution of rewards and penalties;" and thinks he is not far from the truth in judging the author "tectis et fucatis argumentis merum atheismum docere." The manuscript draft of Spinoza's reply has been discovered, and it is very interesting from the manner in which it shows us the philosopher writing at first under the sway of a flush of wrath, but cooling down, after reflection, into more perfect reasonableness. The first draft began thus (the reply is addressed of course to Isaak Orobius): You are doubtless astonished at my having made you wait so long for my answer; the fact is that I feel the greatest difficulty in bringing myself to reply to the ineptitudes (ineptias) of that man." On second thoughts he ran his pen through the word "ineptias," and substituted that of "libellum," feeling probably that to throw hard words at a theological adversary was mere waste of energy. A little further on in the draft we find a passage that attributed Velthuysen's misrepresentation of the "Tractatus" to malice or ignorance, and his vituperations of the author to malevolence (malum animum) and hatred of truth. This passage also he afterwards erased, and substituted a simple "but to proceed (sed ad rem)" Again, after his explanation of his doctrine of the liberty of God, he at first wrote a contemptuous "which seems to surpass this man's understanding," — and subsequently softened it down into the inoffensive "I really can see nothing in this that any one should fail to understand." The dispute was conducted, on Spinoza's side at all events, with great dignity. The "Jew" nourished so little rancour in his heart, that four or five years afterwards he proposed to Velthuysen that a second attack on the "Tractatus" that the latter had written should be published between the same covers as the notes to the "Tractatus" that he was then thinking of bringing out. But no very great length of time can have elapsed before the "Tractatus" was hunted down and suppressed by the authorities. Three years after its first appearance, it was brought into circulation again as "Danielis Heinsii operum historicorum collectio prima. Editio secunda priori editione multo emendatior et auctior. Accedunt quædam hactenus inedita. Lugduni Batav., apud Isaacum Herculis, 1673." It circulated also at the same time under the titles of "Francisci de la Boe Silvii totius medicinæ idea nova. Edit. ii., Amstelodami, 1673;" and "Francisci Henriquez de Villacorta, doctoris medici, a cubiculo regali Philippi IV. et Caroli II., archiatri, opera chirurgica omnia, sub auspiciis potentissimi Hispaniorum regis Caroli II. Amstelodami per Jacobum Pauli, 1673;" these two last ingenious titles having been imagined for the purpose of smuggling the book into Spain and Portugal. It appeared in England as the treatise of Daniel Heinsius.
On the 5th November, 1671, the celebrated Leibnitz wrote our thinker a flattering letter addressed to him with the odd superscription, "A Monsieur Spinosa, médecin très-célèbre et philosophe très-profond; à Amsterdam." The matter of the letter is of little interest; it accompanied a copy of an optical treatise of Leibnitz', on which the latter asks Spinoza's opinion, "having heard, amongst the other praises that report has published concerning you, that you are remarkably skilled in optics." Spinoza replied politely in the same strain, touching on no subjects other than optical, and accepted with thanks the offer made him by Leibnitz of a copy of his "Physical Hypothesis;" offering in return to send a copy of the "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus." Shortly afterwards, namely, in the very next month of January, Leibnitz wrote to his old master, Thomasius, concerning Spinoza in terms that implied that the latter was totally unknown to him, speaking of him as "a certain Jew, excommunicated on account of his monstrous opinions — as they write to me from Holland." (!) Other letters, now no longer extant, passed between the philosophers. From those of Leibnitz, Spinoza learned that he had to do with a man of most eminent talents; but they failed to inspire him with confidence in his character. To Leibnitz' endeavors to obtain, through Tschirnhaus, a sight of the "Ethica," Spinoza opposed a quiet but firm "I do not think it desirable that my writings should be communicated to him so soon." On his return from Paris through Holland, he visited Spinoza at the Hague. "I saw him when I passed through Holland," he wrote to the Abbé Galloys, "and had speech with him many times and at great length. He has a strange system of metaphysics, full of paradoxes." A system, we may remark en passant, that was not so "strange" as to prevent him from plagiarizing from it his doctrine of the "pre-established harmony," one of the most celebrated of the theories of the relation between "body" and "soul" that have been developed out of the position in which the problem was left by Descartes. Having to touch upon this visit in his "Théodicée," he passes over it as dry-footed as possible. "I saw M. de la Court, as well as Spinoza, on my return from France, and heard from them some good anecdotes touching the affairs of the times."
M. de la Court was a writer on politics, and the introduction of his name in this connection was nothing more or less than an ingeniously Jesuitical device for insinuating that for Leibnitz, the great Christian philosopher, the excommunicate Jew Spinoza was only an object of the most disinterested curiosity. His assertion that Spinoza "burnt his imperfect writings lest, being found after his death, they should diminish the glory which he sought to acquire by his writings (ne gloriam, quam scribendo quærebat, imminuerent)" is an instructive instance of the manner in which a splendid intellect may be dragged into error by a meanness of the soul. Spinoza did not burn his "imperfect writings," for all of them, except the "Apologia," are extant; of the two that were published in his lifetime, only one, the "Principia," was signed and for what reason it was signed the reader knows; for the rest we have the testimony of the editors of the "Opera Posthuma" that shortly before his death he gave express directions that his name should not be prefixed to the "Ethica," the darling work of his life. Gifted with as fine a brain as ever beat, Leibnitz carved out for himself a splendid career that may still dazzle us, but leaves our hearts unwarmed. As for the "excommunicate Jew" that he pretended to despise, we have come to love him and to honor him; we have made him our master, and have
Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
Made him our pattern to live and to die.
Notwithstanding that the "Theologico-Political Treatise" had been published anonymously, and that the only other work published by Spinoza, the "Principia," was a mere trifle, his fame had by this time been wafted far and wide. In February, 1673, Fabritius, the professor of philosophy at Heidelberg, wrote to him in the name of the elector palatine (Karl Ludwig, the son of Frederic V.) offering him in most eulogistic terms, the post of professor of philosophy in the University of Heidelberg.
- You would enjoy [wrote Fabritius] the fullest liberty of teaching, which his Serene Highness believes you would not misuse to the disturbance of the established religion. . . . I, for my part, add that if you come hither you will be able to lead in peace a life worthy of a philosopher.
The offer must have been a tempting one to any lover of learning, most especially to one so poor as to be obliged to grind a living out of lenses. Spinoza probably took very anxious counsel with himself before writing the refusal that he shortly sent —
- If ever [he replied to Fabritius] I could have wished for a professorship, it could only have been this one that his Serene Highness the elector palatine offers me and that especially on account of the liberty of teaching that the most gracious prince deigns to offer me; not to mention that I have long desired to live under the rule of a prince whose wisdom is the admiration of all. But as indeed I have never had any desire to teach in public, so now I am unable to bring myself to embrace this brilliant opportunity, though I have long turned the matter over in my mind. For I reflect, firstly, that I should be hindered in the pursuit of philosophy if I were to give up my time to the teaching of youth; and secondly, I reflect that I do not know within what limits that liberty of teaching would have to be confined, so that I might not seem to be disturbing the established religion; since schisms arise not so much from an ardent zeal for religion as from the different passions of men, or from the desire of contradicting, which leads them to misrepresent and to condemn even doctrines that are rightly taught. It is not from any hope of higher fortune, but out of love of tranquillity, which I believe myself to be in some measure able to obtain, that I abstain from public teaching.
The following years, too, were not quite bare of emotional excitement. In 1672 the French invaded Holland, under the conduct of Turenne and the Prince of Condé. In 1673 there commanded in Utrecht one Stoupe, the lieutenant-colonel of one of the Swiss regiments of the king of France. Stoupe had been at one time the Savoy minister in London, in the time of Cromwell; and to these political and military activities he added the exercise of theological polemics. Whilst he was at Utrecht he published a book on "The Religion of the Dutch," in which he took to task the reformed theologians of Holland for having suffered such a book as the "Theologico-Political Treatise" to be printed in their country. By the order of Condé, Stoupe invited Spinoza to Utrecht, of which place Condé was taking over the government, and being greatly desirous to converse with Spinoza judged the opportunity a favorable one for so doing. A passport was forwarded to the philosopher, who in the month of July started for Utrecht; moved by what reasons we are unable to conjecture. Condé had left before he arrived, and he was received by Stoupe, who assured him that his Highness would be delighted to use his interest for him, and had no doubt that he could obtain for him a pension from the king, if he would but dedicate some one of his writings to his Majesty. Spinoza "having no intention of dedicating anything to the king of France, refused the offer with all the civility of which he was capable." The philosopher was known to have been on terms of personal intimacy with the celebrated Jan de Witt, one of the leaders of the advanced republican party in Holland, who, with his brother, had been massacred by the mob on the occasion of an uprising of the Orange party. Jan de Witt used to attach great importance to the philosopher's friendship, consulting him frequently on important matters. At one time he desired to learn mathematics of him. During his life he had settled on him a pension of three hundred florins; on his death, his heirs having "raised difficulties" about the further payment of it, Spinoza quietly returned them the document by which it was assured; a step which caused them to reconsider their conduct, and finally to continue to pay him the pension without any further difficulty. The knowledge of this intimacy gave rise to a popular suspicion that Spinoza's visit to the French authorities had been undertaken in the interests of a political intrigue. The mob regarded him as a spy, and on his return were whispering that it would be well to get rid of ("se défaire de") so dangerous a man. Van der Spyck was alarmed, apparently not without reason, fearing that the mob would force the house and lay violent hands on the philosopher. Spinoza reassured him.
- Fear nothing [he said], I can easily justify myself the objects of my journey are known to many persons, and amongst them to some of the chief persons of the country. If the mob make the least noise at your door, I will go out to them, even though they should treat me as they did the poor De Witt.
Happily the crowd was by some means or other quieted, and Van der Spyck's household left in peace.
The "Ethica" had long been finished; and the last few years of Spinoza's life were occupied with the composition of his unfinished works, and with a very large correspondence. The "Political Treatise" was occupying his attention; part of it had been communicated to at least one friend by the year 1674, as we learn from the fiftieth letter of Bruder's collection. Lighter occupation was afforded him by a correspondent who teased him greatly with questions concerning "spectres and lemurs." He had to reply gravely and politely to such questions as "whether there be such things as spectres and lemurs; and if so, how long do they live." Before formally deciding this point, he requested the writer to explain what he meant by these "spectres or spirits." "Are they mad?" he asked, "or foolish? or childish? for the things I have heard concerning them are like nothing so much as the imbecilities of children or of idiots." (It is sad to think that two centuries of evolution should have left the spirits unimproved in this respect.) Nothing daunted, the inquirer furnished a statement of the reasons for his belief. He thought that they exist, for the following reasons: "Firstly, because it belongs to the fairness and perfection of this universe that such should exist." Let us pass over the three remaining reasons, and proceed to record the writer's opinion, "that there be spirits of all species, yet none of the female sex" — an opinion which certainly procured Spinoza a hearty laugh, as the curious reader may assure himself from his answer (Ep. 58 of Bruder), in which he takes the trouble to examine his questioner's "reasons" one by one, at great length. Van Vloten has shown, in his interesting "Collectanea ad vitam Spinoza," that the anonymous correspondent to whom the group of letters comprising Nos. 61 to 72 of Bruder are directly or indirectly addressed was no other than Walther von Tschirnhaus, the author of the celebrated work, "'De Medicina Mentis." He has also shown, in the most exhaustive manner, that that composition is nothing more than a plagiarism, of the most dishonest description, from the works of Tschirnhaus's great master. Its principles are taken from Spinoza's "De Emendatione Intellectus," and are frequently set forth in Spinoza's own words. Of his debt to his master, Tschirnhaus makes not a syllable of mention, only referring to him once, anonymously, as a "quidam" who had "reduced the "Principia" of Descartes to a mathematical form." "And writers have endeavored," he adds, "to cast their reflections on ethics (sua cogitata ethica) into such a form." Once more, the sad spectacle of great meanness allied to great talents!
We have nearly exhausted the history of Spinoza's outward life. One or two events, for which the dates are wanting, alone remain to he related. The philosopher's father died, leaving a scanty succession to be divided between him and his two sisters. The latter endeavored to exclude him from his share, pretexting the fact of his excommunication as a legal bar. He resisted this act of fanaticism and injustice, feeling certainly that he was by so doing combating a tyrannous principle of thought, rather than resisting an attempt at petty extortion. One would like to think that the sisters were prompted to this unsisterly act rather 'by the bitterness of fanaticism than by their greed of old furniture but it appears more likely that they were moved by both these forces. They were legally condemned to carry out the division of the succession but Spinoza, having successfully asserted his principle that thought should not be persecuted, abandoned his share to them, "only keeping out of it for his own use a bed" — the rest the sisters seem to have accepted. Verily, whom the gods love, they chasten. Small as was Spinoza's stock of worldly goods, it numbered such articles of curiosity as a justaucorps pierced by a dagger-thrust, a parchment that solemnly cursed him and cast him out of the fellowship of man and God, and a bed that reminded him that his sisters would fain have left him without a bed to sleep on: all this because he had dared to say that the letter of the law was dead and insignificant, and that piety is enough, and that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses. We turn with pleasure to the other undated facts. Spinoza's good friend Simon de Vries brought him one day a present of two thousand florins. The philosopher, "in the presence of his host, civilly excused himself from accepting the money, saying that he was in need of nothing, and that the possession of so much money would only serve to distract him from his studies and occupations." But Simon de Vries did not abandon his project of providing for the sage's welfare. He made his will in his favor, constituting him heir to the whole of his property, an arrangement which he was able to make without injury to more pressing claims, as he was without wife or child. But Spinoza gave him to understand that he would never accept the legacy, which he considered to be unjust on account of its defeating the natural expectations of a brother whom De Vries had living. De Vries yielded, and made his brother heir, charging the legacy, however, "with an annuity for Spinoza for his life, sufficient for his subsistence." On his death, the brother offered Spinoza an annuity of five hundred florins, which he refused, "esteeming it to be too considerable," and caused it to be reduced to the sum of three hundred florins; which was paid him regularly until his death.
The last few years of his short life must have been passed peacefully and cheerfully. Peace of mind he had, at all events, for the work of his life was done — perfectly done. The "Theologico-Political Treatise," the work of most immediate practical importance to mankind, was not only written but published. The "Ethica," that great pyramid of lofty thoughts built upon geometric lines, and fitted together with such minute and careful workmanship — tower of refuge, temple reared to the glory of the One Infinite Substance — was finished. The worker, we think, lingered lovingly over the last finishing touches, loath for very love to quit the work; perhaps, too, a little anxious lest some slight oversight should have been committed that would mar its fairness, and that might still be mended. The picture that history has handed down to us of Spinoza in these latter years is more than romantic in its sweetness and peacefulness. Colerus account of the manner in which he passed his time has already been given. Colerus tells us besides that his manners were sweet and peaceful. He was to an admirable degree the master of his passions. No one ever saw him either very sad or very gay. In anger, he retained his self-possession; and of the vexations that befell him not a trace was visible in his exterior; or if there escaped him one word or gesture that testified to his chagrin, he would retire at once, in order not to offend against good manners, He was affable and easy in. the commerce of life, conversing frequently with his hostess and the people of the house. He exhorted the children to attend frequently at church, and to be obedient and submissive to their parents. When the people of the house returned from church he often inquired of them what profit they had derived from the sermon, and in what respects they were edified by it. He had a great esteem for Dr. Cordès (Colerus predecessor in the ministry), "a learned man, of a pious nature and exemplary life, for the which Spinoza often praised him. Sometimes he even went to hear him preach, and attached great value to the learned manner in which he explained the Scriptures, and his solid applications of their doctrine. He used to exhort his hostess and the people of the house never to miss any of the sermons of so gifted a man."
Once more he suffered a hard rub from contact with the world. Correspondence with Oldenburg had been interrupted for nearly ten years, when, in the early months of 1675, Spinoza sent his old friend a letter and a copy of the "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus." On the 5th July, 1675, he wrote to Oldenburg that he was about to publish the "Ethica," and at the end of the month he set out for Amsterdam to arrange for the publication of the book.
- Whilst I was so engaged [he writes] a rumor was being spread everywhere that there was a certain book of mine under the press, and that I endeavored to show in it that there is no God, which rumor was believed by many. Whence certain theologians (very likely themselves the authors of the rumor) took occasion to denounce me before the magistracy; and certain stolid Cartesians, who are believed to hold my views, began to go about, and are still going about, uttering abuse of my writings and opinions, in order to clear themselves of that suspicion.
This state of things became day by day worse, and the publication of the book was suspended. It is probable that on reflection he decided that the book should be withheld until after his death, promising himself that he would devote the remaining years of his life to the elaboration of the subordinate members of his system of thought. Such works were begun by him, and their remains make us regret that their author did not live to complete them. One of them, the "De Intellectus Emendatione," probably one of his earliest works, is a noble fragment, every way worthy to stand beside the "Ethica." It appears to have been at this time that he made those excursions into the domain of natural history of which Colerus makes mention. "He used to observe with the microscope the parts of the smallest insects, whence he used afterwards to draw the inferences that seemed best to accord with his discoveries." This may point to biological studies undertaken in the interest of an unwritten book, in which the laws of life were to be exposed. We are unfortunately unable to say whether he was stimulated to these researches by a knowledge of the splendidly persevering and acute observation of his contemporary and countryman Leeuwenhoek, the father of modern microscopic anatomy.
We can well believe that Spinoza's health was never robust — that he was delicate, unhealthy, emaciated. Colerus adds that he had suffered from phthisis for more than twenty years before his death, and other authors have repeated his statement. It is, however, difficult to believe that such arduous work as that accomplished by Spinoza was performed in the teeth of such an enervating disease as pulmonary consumption. The last twenty years of his life, it should be remembered, cover just the latter half of it from his excommunication, namely, in 1656, to his death early in 1677; that is to say, they include the whole period of his labours as an author. To the labor, assuredly immense, of the composition of such works as the "Ethica," we have to add that of the trade by which he gained his daily bread. Phthisis is a disease of a peculiarly enervating nature, peculiarly destructive of the courage necessary to support such long and arduous work. Is it not more reasonable to suppose that, always of a phthisical diathesis, Spinoza brought on an attack of consumption by undue abandonment to his sedentary mode of life? "He would sometimes pass three months without leaving the house." By such a mode of life disease must have been brought on.
Spinoza escaped a lingering illness, and on the afternoon of the 21st of February, 1677, placidly breathed his last. The tongue of slander was not silenced by the presence of death. The imaginations of the seventeenth century could not help dressing out the "deathbeds of infidels" with the blackest colors and the most horribly fantastic incidents. We do not know whether the profession of pantheism in particular was supposed to be visited with "horrible deaths brought on by special diseases;" but our great writer's epigram loses all appearance of caricature when we compare it with the rumors that were current on the occasion of Spinoza's death. The author of "Menagiana," a book published in Amsterdam in 1695, asserts that he died in France, from fear of being put into the Bastille. Other stories relate the precautions taken by him during his illness, in order to avoid visitors "the sight of whom would importune him "(that is, we imagine, as the sight of the blessed forms one of the torments of the damned). One account states that he was heard frequently to pronounce the name of God during his illness, with a sigh. Another declares that he was heard many times to cry, "O God! have pity on me, miserable sinner!" — "which having given occasion to those around him to ask him whether he now believed in the existence of a God whose judgments he had every reason to fear after his death, he replied that the words had only escaped him unintentionally, by force of habit." Amongst still other tales, we read that he kept constantly in readiness "a preparation of mandragora juice, which he drank as soon as he felt the approach of death, . . . and having drawn the curtains of his bed, fell into a deep sleep, losing consciousness, and thus passed from this life into eternity." Even the worthy and usually scrupulous Colerus cannot refrain from contributing a glimmer of lurid fancy to the scene; and allows his dislike of Ludwig Meyer's opinions to draw him into writing that no sooner was Spinoza dead than he "seized a ducat, some small money that the deceased had left on the table, and a silver-handled knife, and retreated with his booty." Colerus himself has thoroughly demonstrated the falsehood of all of these absurd stories, except the last, which may fairly enough be written down as too absurd to need refutation. It is possible, as suggested by the writer of Muller's manuscript, that Spinoza in his last moments may have given his old and tried friend some small articles as keepsakes; and that this may have been the germ from which the libel grew.
Let us sum up. Spinoza was no abstract pedant, susceptible of being fully described by the statement of a handbook of literature that he was a "mathematician and metaphysician," and lived "from such a date to such a date, in such and such places;" on the contrary, he was largely and eminently human. There are two natures in Spinoza, that of the man of quick, wide sympathies, to whom nothing that is human is foreign, as well as that of the mystic, extra-mundane reasoner. In the early years of his life we can trace, with considerable sureness, the quick flashes of the fiery southern blood that fed his veins. He was never wanting in impulsiveness, but impulse in him was always more or less controlled by reason; and the control of reason grew through the lifelong practice of reflection and restraint into an ever more perfect mastery. The grandeur and the majestic pride of the Portuguese he retained to the last. His Jewish descent appears in the lofty confidence that enabled him to stand fast in the isolation of his philosophic vision, withdrawn from fellowship with the thoughts of men; alone, like the Hebrew prophets of old time, with God. Laboring unremittingly in the practice of piety, he succeeded in moulding his soul at length into a form of consummate moral beauty. He has been accused of pusillanimity, we have found him constantly brave; of bitterness, and we have met with the greatest sweetness of disposition and of behavior everywhere in his life; of sensuality, and we have found every reason to believe that his life was one of perfect purity. We have seen him to have been totally devoid of ambition, that so general concomitant of genius; in all relations of life we have found him surpassingly modest, affable, sincere, and generous. In his contempt, not only of riches, but even of comfort, he was almost quixotic. He loved truth passionately, and with perfect disinterestedness. To the preservation of the independence and integrity of his soul he made unheard-of sacrifices, and it is by his splendid solution of this thorny practical problem, more than for aught else that he has wrung from us our unbounded admiration and our unbounded gratitude. Let us not fall short of the truth through fear of falling into exaggeration: Spinoza's life was of a beauty to which history can hardly find a parallel; on that Sunday afternoon of the 21st of February, two hundred years ago, there cracked as noble and as sweet a heart as ever beat in human breast. Arthur Bolles Lee.
- See Van Vloten, Ad Benedicti de Spinoza opera quæ supersunt omnia Supplementum, p. 289.
- See Van Vloten, op. cit., p. 290.
- The theatre, according to Bayle. Mr. Lewes thinks Bayle must be right, Spinoza having ceased to frequent the synagogue. But he may have gone there to hear some of the suggestions for a compromise that were doubtless made to him during this time by the rabbins, and Colerus is very explicit in his statement that it was the synagogue.
- That schofar is indeed a tragic goat's-horn. "I have read," says Heine, "in the life of Solomon Maimon, that the rabbin of Altona undertook one day to convert him, disciple of Kant though he were, to the faith of his fathers, and, as he persisted in his philosophic heresies, the rabbin menaced him, and pointed to the schofar, saying in a solemn voice, 'Knowest thou this?' And the disciple of Kant having very quietly answered, 'I know that it is a goat's-horn,' the rabbin fainted with horror."
- Cf. Ginsberg, op cit.
- On which occasion Spinoza is said to have shed tears. He himself related that he was on the point of sallying out to affix in the streets at the spot of the massacres a placard with the words, "Ultimi barbarorum." His host was obliged to employ force in order to keep him within doors.