Pierre Desmaizeaux

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Pierre Desmaizeaux lived and worked in England as a cultural translator and correspondent for scholarly Franco-Dutch periodicals. He edited the works of John Locke and translated the works of Pierre Bayle and Saint-Évremond into English. See: Almagor, 1989.

Desmaizeaux wrote about the relationship between Saint-Évremond and Spinoza. The French libertine claims to have been in some regular contact with Spinoza and he puts forward details about their friendship (if any) in two of his testimonies recorded by his biographer, Desmaizeaux.

The account in ‘Vie de Mr. De St.-Evremond’ reads thus:

Mr. Saint-Évremond had also a pleasure to see several savants and some celebrated philosophers, who were also in The Hague, and particularly messrs Heinsius, Vossius and Spinoza. ‘The last, he [Saint-Évremond] told me one day, had a mediocre size and a pleasant physiognomy. His knowledge, his modesty and his indifference was appreciated and sought after by all the kindred people who resided at The Hague. It never became evident in his ordinary conversations that he had the sentiments which one can subsequently find in his ‘Posthumous Works’. He acknowledged a distinct being apart from matter, who operated miracles through natural ways, and who ordained religion to observe justice and charity, and to call for obedience. It is also, adds mr. Saint-Évremond, with what he subsequently tried to prove in his ‘Political Theology’ [the ‘Theological-Political Treatise’]. It seems effectively that this was the principle goal of this book, but if one looks closely it quickly shows will that the author takes on religion itself.  Spinoza had not uncover himself at once. He withheld his considerations also when mister Saint-Évremond was in Holland. But if one may believe mister Stouppe, several years later he [Spinoza] haughty expounded in his discourses: that God was not endowed with intelligence, infinitely perfect and happy as how we imagine him, but this is nothing else than this virtue of nature which is extended in all creatures. The same attitude can be perceived in all his works. His ‘Political Theology’ holds the seeds of his atheism, but in a disguised manner, and it is firstly in his ‘Posthumous Works’ that he makes known his true feelings.

Source: Saint-Évremond, 1740, vol. 1, pp. 87–9; quoted in Walther and Czelinski, vol. 1, p. 405). See also: Cohen, 1925–6, p. 59, no. 6.

The second testimony of Saint-Évremond was only recorded by Desmaizeaux in November 1701 and reiterates some details from the first testimony (cf. Ternois, 1965, p. 4.). The account report reads the following:

Mr. Saint-Évremond had the occasion to see Spinoza often because he sometimes went to dinner with mr. … where mr. Saint-Évremond lodged and he has assured me that in his conversations he never showed that he was an atheist, nor in his book (‘Tractatus theologico-politicus’), that he acknowledged a distinct being from matter and that he believed that he operated miracles but through natural ways, and that he only ordained religion to observe justice and charity to call for obedience. Spinoza had a mediocre size and had nothing unpleasant. He was not rich and prominent people often bought him a meal, more particularly to have a conversation with him than to do something good to him. He spoke Latin fluently, but not very elegantly.

Source: Saint-Évremond, 1740, vol. 1, p. 110; quoted in Ternois, 1965, p. 4). See also: Cohen, 1925–6, p. 59, no. 6.

Furthermore, a physician named Henriquez Morales put forward an account about Spinoza’s visit to Utrecht. He provided Desmaizeaux with his testimony about it. What is known, though, about Morales’s account on Spinoza’s trip to Utrecht is that is historically not accurate. In [early 1706], Desmaizeaux published the account (May 1706) in a review of the French translation (1706) of Colerus’s biography of Spinoza in Mémoires du trevoux. The testimony was re-edited by Desmaizeaux in the third volume of Lettres de mr. Bayle (1729) in a note to a letter of Bayle (Rotterdam, April 1706). The account (‘Lettre CCLXXXII. A Mr. ***) reads thus:

As mr. Morelli [Morales] … knew Spinoza and [he] told me [Desmaizeaux] various details. I consulted him on that fact and this is what he [Morales] answered me: ‘I knew particularly mr. Spinoza quite well. He has told me on more than one occasion that when he [Spinoza] was in Utrecht he met mr. the Prince of Condé and after he discoursed with him, this Prince made great efforts to engage him to follow him to Paris and to stay in his company. He added to this that in addition to his protection, on which he could count, he would have lodgings close to the court, and a pension of thousand écus. To that, Spinoza answered that he pleaded his Highness to consider that not all his powers would protect him against the bigotry of the Court. His name had already been strongly decried by the ‘Tractatus theologico-politicus’ and that therein was no surety for him or satisfaction for his Highness, because the priests being hostile and judge all people who think and write freely about religion. But he was ready to accompany his Highness in his armies, to entertain him if he would be able to do so and distract him from his military duties. Mr. the Prince approved these reasons and thanked him.

Source: Bayle, 1729 , vol. 3, pp. 1081–2, n. 5.

In [early 1706], Paul Buissière set forth the following about the Utrecht trip. Desmaizeaux also recorded Buissière’s testimony in Mémoires du trevoux in May 1706. The account can also be found in the aforementioned Lettres de mr. Bayle:

I [Desmaizeaux] have also consulted mr. Buissière, who was also in Utrecht in the capacity of physician to the hospital of the army. He assured me that he had seen Spinoza entering the apartment of mr. the Prince of Condé several times. Therefore, there can be no reason to doubt that the Prince had actually conversed with this philosopher.

See: ODNB.

Finally, another testimony made by Saint-Évremond in 1701 adds to the confusing complex of circumstances surrounding Spinoza’s death. The issue, not corroborated by any historical evidence, focuses on the question of how the dying philosopher was to assess religion and mortality in his last hours. According to the testimony, like many, Koenraad van Beuningen had been curious what a philosopher like Spinoza would have to say about all this. The account by Saint-Évremond reads:

Mr. van Beuningen, a man of spirit and erudition, assured mr. de Saint-Évremond that, when he was with the dying Spinoza—because he was curious, and also others had done the same thing—and asked him with which sentiments on religion he was to die, he [Spinoza] said to him: ‘That he put the care of his soul in the hands of God, that he had served him according to the knowledge he [God] had given him and that he had served him otherwise had he given him other [knowledge]’.

Source: Saint-Évremond, 1740, 1740, vol. 1, p. 110; quoted in Ternois, 1965, p. 4.


Henriquez Morales


Pierre Bayle


John Locke


Charles de Marguetel de Saint Denis Saint-Évremond, de


Paul Buissière