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

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview
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i. Frederik van Leenhof (1647–1713)

In 1710, crossing the Netherlands bound for England, the noted Frankfurt patrician bibliophile, Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach, stopped off in Zwolle to visit a 63-yearold preacher named Frederik van Leenhof (1647–1713), then about to be expelled from the Dutch Reformed ministry. Uffenbach admired Leenhof's collection of paintings but it was not for that he had interrupted his journey. He was motivated by curiosity to see the man who 'had made himself famous through the great controversy that arose over his book'.1 He was referring to Leenhof's Hemel op Aarde (Heaven on Earth) of 1703, which provoked an uproar about illicit ideas exceeded in scale only by the Bekker affair and unmatched for duration even by that commotion.

Leenhof is almost forgotten today, even in the Netherlands, and historians of the European Enlightenment rarely mention him. Yet there are excellent reasons for rescuing him from oblivion and paying attention to the massive disturbance he provoked. Fifteen years after Uffenbach's visit to Zwolle, Jacob Friedrich Reimann justly remarked that Leenhof generated nearly as much commotion as Bekker and, furthermore, that the outcome of the two episodes was not dissimilar.2 In fact, there can be no balanced account of the European Radical Enlightenment which does not take careful account of Leenhof and his 'universal philosophical religion'.

A Zeelander by origin, who studied theology in the 1660s, initially at Utrecht under Voetius, and then at Leiden under Cocceius, Leenhof began to be noticed in the Republic of Letters from the early 1680s when, as a still relatively young Reformed preacher at Zwolle, he emerged as a fervent Cartesio-Cocceian in the fight against Voetian fundamentalism.2 In 1684 he published a tract at Amsterdam, castigating the Frisian Reformed classis of Zevenwolden for their sweeping condemnation of

1 Uffenbach, Merckwürdige Reisen, ii, 368–70; Schröder, 'Spinozam', 165.

2 Reimann, Historia, 487–8; "Sewel", Twee-Maandelyke Uyttreksels 1704, 293; according to Vandenbossche
the scandal provoked was almost as great as that caused by the publication of Spinoza's TTP; see
Vandenbossche, Frederik van Leenhof, 4.


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