ENGLISH DEISM AND EUROPE
It has perhaps never been sufficiently emphasized that in England and Ireland, where intellectual debate unfolded within a predominantly national context sometimes tinged with xenophobia, and with very few foreign writers being regularly cited, a pervasive, even at times obsessive, preoccupation with Spinoza persisted from the mid1670s throughout the rest of the early Enlightenment. Spinoza and his books were indeed discussed by an extraordinarily large number of British and Irish writers, including—leaving aside the deists—key scientists, such as Boyle and Nehemiah Grew, university dons such as Henry More, Ralph Cudworth, and Richard Bentley, and churchmen of many hues, ranging from High Church non-jurors such as George Hickes, William Carroll, and Matthias Earbery, via a host of middling and liberal Anglicans, including Bishops Stillingfleet, Kidder, and Berkeley, as well as Thomas Browne, Samuel Clarke, Francis Gastrell, John Harris, and Brampton Gurdon, to dissenting ministers such as Richard Baxter, John Wilson, and John Howe.
Admittedly, only two of these, Henry More and Samuel Clarke, showed much appetite for grappling with Spinoza's philosophy as such. Henry More (1614–87), ensconced at Christ's College, Cambridge, since 1631, and head of the so-called 'Cambridge Platonists', endeavoured to refute Spinoza twice in the late 1670s, first in his Epistola altera, against the Tractatus (1677), and, in 1678, following the appearance of Spinoza's Opera Posthuma, in his Confutatio, seeking to overturn two fundamental propositions from the Ethics which he termed 'two columns of atheism'.1 More tries to reconcile the claims of revealed religion with a philosophy of reason by postulating the existence of two basic substances in the universe, classifying these, not altogether unlike Descartes, as 'spirit' and 'matter'. These substances, he contends, have 'diverse, even contrary, attributes'.2 Where matter is 'discerptible and impenetrable', and devoid of motion, spirit as substance is 'indiscerptible and penetrable' and endowed with self-motion.3 Hence reality is a dualism of fundamentally separate spheres of being and occurrence, one mechanistic, the other spiritual. Scornfully repudiating
1 Colie, Light and Enlightenment, 74–42; Colie, 'Spinoza in England', 186; Jacob, Henry More's Refutation,
p. ix; Simonutti, 'Premières réactions anglaises', 131–1.
2 More, Confutatio, 64.
3 Ibid.; Colie, Light and Enlightenment, 84–43; Jacob, Henry More's Refutation, pp. xviii, xxi.
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Publication information: Book title: Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750. Contributors: Jonathan I. Israel - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2001. Page number: 599.
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