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The Christian Examiner
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THOS. B. FOX,
MAY, 18 6 3.
Art. I. – BENEDICT SPINOZA.
Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. A Critical Inquiry into the History,
Purpose, and Authority of the Hebrew Scriptures, with the Right to Free Thought and Free Discussion asserted, and shown to be not only consistent, but necessarily bound up with true Piety and good Government. By BENEDICT DE SPINOZA. From the Latin, with an Introduction and Notes by the Elitor. London: Trübner & Co. 1862. 8vo. pp. 359.
This first attempt to present in English, with any fulness, the very thought of one of the most marked representative minds in modern metaphysics, gives evidence that the name of Spinoza is still a living power among men, and offers a fit opportunity for a sketch of his life and writings, derived from other and wider sources.* His name has generally been used merely as the symbol of a controversy on the loftiest and abstrusest topics of human speculation. We hope to show that it deserves honor, likewise, for the noble human qualities it
* We subjoin a list of the publications which will prove most valuable to those who desire to study our subject in greater detail:
B. con Spinoza's Sämmtliche Werke aus dem Lateinischen mit dem Leben Spinoza's. Von BERTHOLD AUERBACH. 5 Bände. Stuttgart. 1841.
B. de Spinoza Opera quce supersunt omnia. Er Editionibus principibus denuo edidit & præfatus est CAROLUS HERMANNUS BRUDER. 3 vol. Lipsiæ. 1843 – 46.
B. de Spinoza Tractatus de Deo et Homine ejusque Felicitate Lineamenta atque Annotationes ad Tractatum Theologico-Politicum ed. et illus. EDVARDUS BOEHMER. Halæ ad Salam. 1852
Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik. Neue Folge. 36mten Bandes. 1 stes Heft. Halle. 1860. Art. Spinozana, von Ed. Böhmer.
VOL. LXXIV. — 5TH S. VOL. XII. NO. III.
betokens, and for the singular place it holds in the history of intellectual liberty.
The Portuguese Jews, from whom Spinoza was descended, came first into Holland in the year 1603. Persecutions had pressed hard upon them; they had been outlawed, tortured by the Inquisition, compelled to the abjuration of their ancient faith, banished. Driven from Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, great numbers of them sought refuge in Portugal, only to be driven thence in turn by fresh cruelties of persecution. Holland had achieved independence of Rome and the Spanish yoke, had become republican, and extended free toleration to the diversities of belief and worship. Hither flocked the oppressed of all lands, and hither came these outcasts seeking rest for the sole of their foot.
They proved a valuable accession to the new republic. They had intelligence, material resources, and business enterprise, while in point of literary and social culture they were far in advance of their fellows elsewhere. This superiority, together with a certain pride of birth, — for they accounted themselves descended from the royal tribe of Judah, — was the occasion of their assuming an attitude of exclusiveness towards their brethren of other lands; and to this day it is said to be very rarely that a Portuguese Jew allies himself by marriage or otherwise with one of German or Polish extraction. They entered with interest into the commercial enterprises of the time, and what with their industries and wealth, they added materially to the growth and prosperity of their adopted country.
For the rest, they were zealously devoted to the faith of their fathers, and assiduously cultivated its rites, - all the more, probably, that they had been long forbidden its profession and observance. The Law and the Talmud were the great matters of study with them. Very learned doctors were devoted to the exposition of them, and they were carefully inculcated upon the minds of the youth. The Aristotelian era of Jewish philosophy, under Aben-Ezra and Maimonides, corresponds nearly in date, as in character, with the Schoolmen's attempt to reconcile faith with reason, to wield logic for the Church.
In the family of one Spinoza, Spinosa, or Espinoza, an Israelitish name already of some note in Spain and Italy, was born in Amsterdam, November 24th, 1632, a son called of his parents Baruch. He was the third child in the family, the two others sisters, named respectively Rebecca and Miriam. The parents were in comfortable circumstances, not wealthy, the father a respectable merchant of Amsterdam, and residing on the Burgwal, near the Synagogue.
Left very early an orphan, little Baruch was destined for the Synagogue, and his training for that end was after the most thorough rabbinical methods. His chief teacher was Rabbi Saul Levi Morteira, a name distinguished in that time for learning and polemic ability.
The course of study was curious. An old Jewish work of this century thus describes it :
“ Each school is divided into six classes; to each class a separate instructor. In the first, the children learn to read Hebrew; in the second, the five Books of Moses, with the usual recitative exercises thereon; in the third, they translate the five Books, with the commentary of Raschi ; in the fourth, they learn the historic and prophetic Books in course, with oral recitation ; in the fifth class the boys are habituated of themselves to read and take the meaning of the statutory portion of the Talmud (Halacha), speaking only in the Hebrew tongue, studying also grammar, and a daily exercise from the Gemara; also, in the time of a Feast, the rules of this Feast in the ritual-book. Hence the pupils come into the sixth class, in the High School under charge of the President of the Rabbinical College. They here learn daily a section in the grammar and in the different commentators, hold disputations upon Maimonides and other doctors, have free access to a very copious library, &c. At home they have at the same time a teacher who instructs them in reading and writing the language of the country, also in writing Hebrew."
Baruch was an apt boy, frail in structure and of delicate health indeed, but exceedingly keen and penetrating, ardently devoted to acquisition, and by his fifteenth year had become a very accomplished Talmudist, equal, for that matter, to the best of the rabbis. Morteira took great pride in his pupil, and doubtless high hopes were cherished of him in the Synagogue.
But here was a mind not to rest in rabbinical dreams or