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SPINOZA AND OTHER MASTERS.
On the 22d day of February, 1677, in a A singular small hired chamber at the Hague, while the owners of the humble dwelling were at church, it being Sunday, a physician, having seen the tenant of that lonely room heave his last breath, and hastening to depart, took. to himself a little. money and a silver-handled knife, which lay on the table near the dead man's body, fearing that he might receive no other fee for his medical services. The man whose lifeless remains were thus deserted, to await the return of his simple host and hostess, was Benedict Spinoza. Not wishing to withhold from him any honor which is justly his due, but choosing that he should be overpraised rather than disparaged, I am willing to accept as historically true, all that his most ardent disciples or friends have said of him. The eulogistic account of Mr. Lewes, in his Biographical History of Philosophy,' shall be given,
death bed scene.
1 Accounts of the death of Spinoza, as of various events in his life, do not agree. Willis (Life, Correspondence and Ethics of Spinoza, London, 1870) differs from Lewes, whom I have chiefly consulted. Colerus, pastor of the Lutheran church at the Hague, who greatly admired Spinoza, and took pains to gather up all the local memories of him, is their principal authority; though they do not hesitate to question his veracity (especially Willis) when it conflicts with their own prejudices. 2 Appleton & Co., New York, 1857, pp. 456-469.
so far as my space will permit, with no tittle of abatement from its full meaning. Spinoza's
According to this writer, Spinoza died at the ligious refu- meridian of his manhood, being but forty-four
years and three months old. He was of Jewish parentage, and his father and mother resided in Amsterdam at the time of his birth. They had but recently come to this city of free Holland, escaping thither from their home in Portugal, where intolerance of the Jews would not suffer them to live. Their flight, it thus seems, was nearly in the same age, and for the same reasons, as that of the Pilgrim Fathers from England. They sought an asylum from religious oppression. This is a circumstance which should be noted, in sketching the life of Spinoza. If he had known Christianity as anything but a persecuting power, he might, upon renouncing Judaism, have embraced something better, possibly, than the dream which he himself dreamed in his solitude. But for this hereditary prejudice and hatred, which we all can understand, he might have made the choice of a Paul or a Neander. He
seems, however, when he forsook the national faith, to have seen no alternative but to invent a religion of his own.
Benedict, or Baruch, as he was called before
he forsook the religion of his people, is described as a remarkably active boy, though lacking in physical robustness; fond of playing, with his sisters Miriam and Rebecca, about the squares and wharfs of the city. He was remarkable for his bright, quick, and penetrative" eyes; and for his dark hair, which floated in “luxuriant curls over his neck and shoulders.” His father is represented as a successful merchant, who hoped that this only
son would choose the same occupation. But a passion for study which showed itself very early, together with a slender constitution, daily growing more slender through devotion to books and meditation, induced the parent to change his purpose. The beloved son,
, already "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,” was allowed to enter upon a course of the higher Hebrew learning. He gave himself to his studies with the greatest enthusiasm, and with astonishing success; so that when he was only fourteen years old, hardly a doctor or rabbi, in the whole country, surpassed him in amount and accuracy of knowledge. Very high hopes were entertained of him, among adherents to the Jewish faith. His teacher, Saul Levi Morteira, a zealous Israelite, looked on him with feelings of pride and admiration. Wė may easily judge, therefore, how great were the disappointment and alarm of his friends, when they found him pushing his inquiries beyond the limits of the Old Testament and the Talmud, scattering the arguments of the rabbis with his nimble logic, and proposing to them a multitude of very plain questions which they saw it to be for their interest not to attempt to answer. Two young men, nearly of his own age, are mentioned as courting his intimacy at this time,' and urging him to divulge his opinions, under a pretence of discipleship; though, as he suspected, with the purpose of betraying him to the Jewish elders. He was so reticent to these young men respecting his new views, that whatever they may have at first designed, they took offence at his reserve, and reported him as one who was secretly undermining the ancient faith. Straightway he
1 Willis, pp. 31, 32.
was summoned before the leaders of the synagogue, whose minds were already beginning to turn against him. This peremptory demand made him feel, no doubt, the great inconsistency of his people, in refusing him the freedom of opinion which they had gone into exile to secure. He appeared, however, in answer to the requirement; and that, too, so promptly and willingly as to raise strong hopes, among his relatives and friends, that he would deny or
retract the opinions which had been charged
against him. Yet in all this he was consistent with himself. Though he would not have his sentiments drawn out of him and stated in court by others, he shrank not from the opportunity thus to state them with his own voice and in his own language. He therefore eagerly obeyed the summons. He gave a frank account of his heresies to the proper tribunal. His bearing was so easy, and without apparent concern for himself, in the presence of his judges, as to amount to a kind of “gay carelessness," says one writer. He refused to take back what he had now asserted openly, unless he should be convinced of his error by sound argument. He defiantly but coolly confronted the accusers who appeared against him; and when his judges threatened him with excommunication for his obstinacy, though he answered them respectfully, there
was something in his voice and manner which
betrayed a deep contempt for both their office and themselves. His old teacher Morteira, grieved that his brilliant pupil should be lost to Israel, pleaded and kindly remonstrated; but these failing, he, too, joined in the attempt to oyerawe the heretic. But threats had no power to intimidate the youthful thinker. From whatever
source coming, so long as he saw no reason in them they only awakened his proud disdain. His was one of those natures, often found in feeble bodies, which are incapable of fear. The more he was threatened the less disposed was he to be terrified; and when it was finally resolved to cut him off from the Jewish church, in the awful manner which the rules of the synagogue prescribed, it is said that he anticipated the sentence by publicly declaring himself no longer a Jew in faith. That sentence, read forth at night in the synagogue, amid doleful wailings, His excomand under lights which went out one by one till they left the congregation in utter darkness, was as follows : “ With the judgment of the angels, and the sentence of the saints, we anathematize, execrate, curse, and cast out Baruch de Spinoza, the whole of the sacred community assenting, in presence of the sacred books with the six hundred and thirteen precepts written therein, pronouncing against him the anathema wherewith Joshua anathematized Jericho, the malediction wherewith Elisha cursed the children, and all the maledictions written in the book of the law. Let him be accursed by day, and accursed by night; let him be accursed in his lying down, and accursed in his rising up, accursed in going out, and accursed in coming in. May the Lord never more pardon or acknowledge him; may the wrath and displeasure of the Lord burn henceforth against this man, load him with all the curses written in the book of the law, and raze out his name from under the sky; may the Lord sever him for evil from all the tribes of Israel, weight him with all the maledictions of the firmament contained in the book of