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Notes and Documents LEIBNIZ AND THE QUAKERS By Nicholas Rescher* Early in the life of the Society of Friends, within a decade of George Fox's death, a keen and profound mind passed critical judgment upon Quakerism. A notice was written and was filed away amidst a mass of personal papers to pass — almost — into oblivion. Its author was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Leibniz was born in 1648, the son of a professor of law at Leipzig in Germany. His adult life was spent in the service of the court of Hannover, as diplomat, courtier, official historian, and royal librarian. This minor civil servant was the foremost man of learning of his day and one of the greatest minds of all time. Among his contemporaries only Newton rivaled him as mathematician and only Spinoza as philosopher. Co-inventor of the calculus and author of the system of monads, Leibniz was a truly universal genius. He wrote a history which drew praise from Gibbon, constructed a calculating machine, wrote one of the first systematic treatises on geology, fathered an abortive but influential project for the reunion of the Catholic and Protestant Churches, anticipated the Principle of Least Action in physics, and instigated the founding of the Prussian Academy of Sciences at Berlin. Leibniz thought pen in hand. When a new idea came, he made a memorandum; when he cogitated, he wrote drafts; when he read, he made notes. And it has been truly said of him that he was unaware of the function of a wastebasket. He could not bring himself to discard any piece of paper that bore writing. Leibniz's papers — largely unpublished to the present day — were preserved in the Royal Library in Hannover. In sheer magnitude they would, if printed in entirety, amount to roughly half of the Encyclopedia Britannica. * Nicholas Rescher of Pacific Palisades, California, is the author of a Princeton Ph.D. dissertation on the relation between Leibniz's scientific work and his philosophy. 100 Notes and Documents101 Thanks to this combination of circumstances, we are in an unique position as regards Leibniz's ideas. There is no thinker of note whose thought-process can be traced in comparable detail, or whose views regarding any matter within his notice can be as readily determined. In particular, we owe it to Leibniz's unique literary habits that we are able to determine his view regarding the Society of Friends. In 1677 George Fox, William Penn, Robert Barclay, George Keith, and some others undertook a journey through Holland and Germany to "publish truth" on the Continent. In consequence of this journey, copies of Barclay's Apology (in the Latin version printed at Amsterdam in 1676) were distributed among the peace negotiators then meeting at Nijmwegen to end the war between Holland and France. Leibniz—following developments at this conference with a view to Hannoverian state interests—thus became acquainted with Barclay's book. He read it, and, as was his wont, prepared a brief précis. This reading of Barclay's Apology was, in all likelihood, Leibniz's first contact with Quakerism. In Germany, the Quaker visit of 1677 bore fruit. Interest and enthusiasm were generated. The Countess Palatine Elizabeth (sister of Leibniz's patron, the Electress Sophia of Hannover) commented to Penn that history was repeating itself and that Germany was once again being Christianized from England. Her foundation at Herford became a Quaker center. Leibniz was aware of these happenings, for he followed the religious developments of his day with interest and care. Thus he read Penn's Account of . . . Travails in Holland and Germany (1694) not long after its appearance. As was his habit, he wrote out his reflections in a French commentary, of which he made several drafts, a practice not uncommon with him. These were preserved among the Leibniz papers at Hannover, resting unheeded for some two and one-half centuries. In 1948 they were printed in an edition of hitherto unedited Leibniz material published by the French scholar Gaston Grua.1 An English version of the most extensive draft of Leibniz's comments on Penn's Account has been appended at the end of this article. For proper understanding of this commentary...


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