'So racy as they were of the soil, it is in England that we are to look for the proper effect or development of Hobbes's ideas.' 1 The phrasing used by George Croom Robertson when he penned this judgement in 1886 may have dated quite rapidly (the Oxford English Dictionary defines 'racy of the soil' as 'characteristic of a certain country or people', giving examples only from 1870 and 1889), but the sentiment has not altogether disappeared. Anglophone scholars still tend to discuss not only the intellectual context of Hobbes's work, but also its influence and the responses it aroused, in a largely Anglocentric way. The fact that Leviathan is in English—a masterpiece, indeed, of seventeenth-century discursive and polemical prose—must be partly responsible for this; Hobbes's philosophy speaks the vernacular with such ease and such force that it may seem natural for any reader to assume that there is something peculiarly English about it. And from that assumption it is only a short step to supposing that continental readers must have found Hobbes's works somehow alien (even if they read them in Latin, or some other European language), and that they cannot have felt the impress of his arguments quite so deeply as those readers who were rooted in the same 'soil'. Samuel Mintz, in what is still the only general study of the early reaction to Hobbes's philosophy, commented especially on the power of Hobbes's English prose style; to the continental critics, who would presumably have been impervious to its attractions, he devoted just under three of the 156 pages of his text. 2
Yet it has long been known to Hobbes scholars that this English philosopher had a thoroughly European intellectual formation: he read widely in the universal language of European culture (Latin), he acquired a high level of competence in
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Publication information: Book title: Aspects of Hobbes. Contributors: Noel Malcolm - Author. Publisher: Clarendon. Place of publication: Oxford, England. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 457.
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