The Correspondence of Baruch Spinoza

Primary Contributors:

Cultures of Knowledge


Portrait of Baruch de Spinoza, by an unknown artist. c. 1665. (Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, Germany; source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677)

Born on 24 November 1632 into a family that formed part of the Portuguese-Jewish community in Amsterdam, Baruch [Bento; Benedict] Spinoza was the middle son of Michael d’Espinosa (d. 1654) and his second wife, Hanna [Aba] Deborah (d. 1638). Following an education — which appears to have been cut short — at the Ets Haim school, he began work in his father’s import-export business. From 1653 he studied Latin as a pupil of Francis van den Enden, a former Jesuit and philosopher.

On 27 July 1656, at the age of twenty-three, Spinoza was banned by the Sephardic community of Amsterdam for the practice of ‘abominable heresies’ and ‘monstrous deeds’. By the time he moved to Rijnsburg, near Leiden, in 1661 he seems to have taken up lens-grinding as an occupation; just two years later he settled in Voorburg. Spinoza’s early work, the Korte verhandeling van God, de mensch en deszelvs welstand [Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-Being]was written before he left Amsterdam, although it was not published during his lifetime. His critical work Renati Des Cartes Principiorum philosophiae on Descartes’s Principia philosophiae was published in 1663, and during these early years he worked on what would become the Ethica. From 1665 he worked also on his Tractatus theologico-politicus. In February 1673, Johann Ludwig Fabricius wrote to Spinoza on behalf of Karl Ludwig, Elector of Palatine with the offer of the chair in philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. Fearing his acceptance would curtail his ‘freedom to philosophize’, Spinoza declined.

Spinoza had many admirers among Europe’s intellectual elite: men like Jan Hudde, Christiaan Huygens, and Johan de Witt, as well as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who visited him on his return journey to Germany from England in 1676, and Henry Oldenburg who was one of Spinoza’s main correspondents. However, such was Spinoza’s association with philosophical ideas countenanced by many as dangerous — a thoroughgoing determinism, his identification of God and nature — that few sought a close association with him.

Spinoza died alone in The Hague in 1677. He left no will. The manuscripts of his unpublished works, including the Tractatus de intellectus emendatione (his first work, written during the 1650s), the Ethica, his Hebrew Grammar, and his unfinished work Tractatus politicus, were removed by friends, edited, and handed to the publisher Jan Rieuwertsz in Amsterdam where they appeared in print (together with a number of his philosophical letters) as B. D. S. Opera Posthuma. Spinoza was buried on 25 February in a rented vault in the Nieuwe Kerk, The Hague, close to the grave of Johan de Witt. Sixteen months later, the Opera Posthuma was banned by the States of Holland.


Partners and Additional Contributors

The metadata for this calendar of Spinoza’s correspondence was collated for the Cultures of Knowledge project by EMLO Digital Fellow Lucy Hennings. The foundation records were released in 2016 with the metadata collated from the A. R. Hall and M. B. Hall edition for the correspondence of Henry Oldenburg. Thanks are due to Editorial Assistant Charlotte Marique, who helped to insert the related resource links from EMLO to catalogue records at the Spinoza’s Web project in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Utrecht University. Spinzoa’s Web was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and further details about the project and its aims may be found in the introductory pages to The Spinoza Web database.

The editorial team at EMLO would like to thank Sir Noel Malcolm for the loan of two invaluable editions during the period in which the metadata were in preparation for upload to the union catalogue.

 


Key Bibliographic Source(s)

B. de Spinoza, Opera Posthuma (Amsterdam, 1677).

B. de Spinoza, Opera, im auftrag der Heidelberger akademie der wissenschaften herausgegeben, ed. Carl Gebhardt, 4 vols (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1925), vol. 4, Epistolae.

The Correspondence of Spinoza, ed. and tr. A. Wolf (London, 1966).


Contents

Just eighty-eight letters written by and to Spinoza survive, although basic details for a few that were known to have been written may be added to the calendar. With a handful of rare exceptions, the manuscripts of the letters taken to Amsterdam for printing in the months after Spinoza’s death have been lost.


Further resources

The Spinoza Web (Utrecht, Spinoza’s Web Project, 2016, beta).

Korte verhandeling van God, de mensch en deszelvs welstand, manuscript copy on Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.

Renati Des Cartes Principiorum philosophiae, printed copy on Bibliothèque nationale de France [BnF].

B. D. S. Opera Posthuma, printed copy on Google Books.

Bibliography

B. de Spinoza, Opera Posthuma (Amsterdam, 1677).

B. de Spinoza, A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works, ed. and tr. Edwin Curley (Princeton, 1994).

B. de Spinoza, Opera, im auftrag der Heidelberger akademie der wissenschaften herausgegeben, ed. Carl Gebhardt, 4 vols (Heidelberg, 1925), vol. 4, Epistolae.

B. de Spinoza, The Correspondence of Spinoza, ed. and tr. A. Wolf (London, 1966).

 

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