Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview

17

THE SPREAD OF A
FORBIDDEN MOVEMENT

i. The Death of a Philosopher

After suffering for many years his sickness of the lungs, a form of tuberculosis or phthisis, Spinoza passed away quietly on a Sunday afternoon when much of the neighbourhood, in the centre of The Hague, was at church, aged 44 years and three months, on 21 February 1677. He died, leaving no written will, apparently not yet expecting to die, in the house of the artist Van der Spyck, a member of the Lutheran consistory of The Hague, the congregation which Spinoza's second biographer, Johannes Colerus, later served as preacher.1 The physician present at the end, according to Colerus, was Meyer, though other evidence suggests it was Schuller. Four days later his funeral procession, comprising six carriages and a substantial crowd, including friends from Amsterdam and not a few 'considerable persons', wound its way to the most handsome of the city's churches, the Nieuwe Kerk, where he was interred, the costs being paid by Rieuwertsz.2 In accordance with Dutch custom, friends and neighbours then returned to the house to talk about the deceased over some bottles of wine. Spinoza's life was over. But as some present that afternoon must have remarked, or at least reflected, his philosophy, for the time being at least, survived in the conversation and minds of others.

Surely already then began a debate concerning the circumstances of his demise which, remarkably, was to reverberate for decades not only within the 'Republic of Letters' but, in the Netherlands at least, also among elements of the common people. For despite the reputed obscurity of his philosophy, it soon emerged, and increasingly so over the next decades, that his image, and a kernel of his thought, also endured in the minds and hearts of some ordinary folk, a development regarded by most contemporaries with profound unease. According to Johannes Aalstius, writing in 1705, despite the austere, forbidding façade of Spinoza's geometrical method, his essential

1 The house had been built in 1646 and was originally owned by the great landscape
painter Jan van
Goyen, who had not lived there himself but hired it out from 1657 to a son of Jan Steen, who married Van
Goyen's daughter Margaretha; Blase, Johannes Colerus, 183; Suchtelen, Spinoza's sterfhuis, 7; Steenbakkers,
Spinoza's Ethica, 53, 55, 58; Nadler, Spinoza, 350.

2 Colerus, Vie de B. de Spinosa, 173–3; Monikhoff, Beschrijving, 213; Suchtelen, Spinoza's sterfhuis, 11; Nadler,
Spinoza, 349–90.

-295-

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