Spinoza. An unsigned review of The Oldest Biography of Spinoza, ed. A. Wolf
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56 ] Spinoza1 An unsigned review of The Oldest Biography of Spinoza, ed. A. Wolf London: Allen and Unwin, 1927. Pp. 196. The Times Literary Supplement, 1316 (21 Apr 1927) 275 The figure of Spinoza has been almost more important in the last hundred years than the philosophy of Spinoza. Few people have mastered the Ethics, but every one knows that Spinoza polished lenses; few people have read the Tractatus Politicus, but the whole world has been impressed by his excommunication from the Jewish Church.2 He has been almost a Saint of Deists; and even for those to whom he is hardly a “Saint” he is unquestionably a hero,asymbolicheroofmodernEurope.3 Sothatthecelebrationofthe250th anniversary has a different meaning from the anniversary of an Aristotle, an Aquinas, or a Kant; it is the recognition not so much of a philosophy as of a personality in which certain human ideals seem to be realized.4 The brief biography of which Professor Wolf has published the French text with his English translation does not bring to light any new facts of importance, but it helps to convince us that there are no facts to bring to light.5 It reads like a kind of funeral oration rather than a biography; and it shows that a third-rate French disciple got from his personal acquaintance with Spinoza essentially the same impression that we get, after 250 years, from his works and from the few meagre facts generally known. Here and there is an anecdote; but all anecdotes of Spinoza are essentially the same, in that they all illustrate the same attitude of that composed mind. It is pleasing to read that Spinoza “was extremely tidy, and whenever he went out there was something about his clothes which usually distinguishes a gentleman from a pedant” [63-64]. Professor Wolf in his introduction gives reason for believing that this biography was written about 1688.6 It was first published in 1735. It has been attributed to one or the other of two French refugees in Holland, M. de Saint-Glain and Jean Maximilian Lucas.7 Mr. Wolf gives good reason for believing the latter to be the author. The chief importance of this biography is due to the probability that it is the [ 57 Spinoza first account of Spinoza ever written. Until recently it has been supposed that the first biography of Spinoza was that of Colerus, which was published in 1705.8 The chief interest of this early biography of Spinoza by a mediocrity who knew him, but who could hardly have appreciated him,9 is that it shows that Spinoza had already become at his death a symbolical figure, without being in any way a myth. He was a man of the greatest reticence, but with nothing to conceal; a man of intensely “private life,” but wholly transparent. Professor Wolf, in making a book of this very short treatise, has given in addition to text, translation, and introduction, several extracts of later biographical matter, including one from Bayle’s Dictionary.10 It would have been interesting if Mr. Wolf had shown the later developments of Spinoza worship by a series of extracts from the criticism of the nineteenth century beginning with the German philosophers and Goethe, and including such critics as Renan and Matthew Arnold.11 Such a survey would show the confluence of a stream of influence from Spinoza with the stream of influence from Rousseau, affecting liberal theology. Notes 1.Composedafter11Mar1927,whenTSEwrotetoBruceRichmond,“Ihavealsojustreceived the Spinoza book, so that I have plenty to do” (L3 442). 2. Spinoza’s major works are the Tractatus theologico-politicus [Theological-Political Treatise] (1670), which examines the Scriptures as historical documents and makes a case for religious freedom, and the posthumously published Ethica [Ethics] (1677), concerning the nature of God,nature,humanemotions,andfreewill.HisunfinishedTractatuspoliticus[PoliticalTreatise], also 1677, covers much the same ground as his earlier treatise on politics but is focused more on the organization of the state and addressed to philosophers rather than to Christian theologians. TSE read the Ethics at Harvard and discussed Leibniz’s response to Spinoza in “The Development of Leibniz’s Monadism” (1916) (1.440); his library included an annotated copy of Spinoza’s Ethics in English and the Latin Opera [Works], including the Tractatus politicus. See “Humanist, Artist, Scientist” (1.36, n.9). 3. In “Hooker, Hobbes, and Others,” TSE remarked that “while Spinoza was certainly, as Dr. Lindsay says, ‘a great and good man,’ it is perhaps permissible to suggest that...