Nicolaas Heinsius Elder, the

First name
Nicolaas Heinsius
Last name
Elder, the
Date of Birth
Date of Death
Born in
Died in
The Hague

Nicolaas Heinsius the Elder was an expert in textual criticism. He was intelligencer and collector of manuscripts and books in the service of Christina Wasa. See: NNBW, vol. 2, cols 560–563; Blok, 1999, passim; DDP, vol. 1, pp. 407–8.

Shortly after the (undocumented) return of Spinoza from Utrecht to The Hague, on 23 August 1673, Spinoza goes to the house of The Elder, probably to deliver to him some books or a message of Graevius. Yet, he soon finds out that he is not at home. That can be inferred from the postscript to a letter that Heinsius dispatched to Graevius the next day (Leiden, UL, ms. ‘Brieven van Nicolaas Heinsius aan *Graevius; 1653–81’, BUR Q 17, fols 88v–89r). In the last portion of his letter of the 24th, he informs his Utrecht correspondent that someone had come to his house ‘in your name’. Unfortunately, Heinsius writes, I was out and was only informed about the visitor when on my return. At first, I was convinced, he proceeds, that the man at my doorstep was ‘the same man’ (a student of Graevius as it turns out) who usually brings me books, but I was later told that it was Spinoza. Heinsius had already finished his letter to Graevius, but before posting it off to Utrecht, he quickly added the postscript to it. Heinsius writes thus:

When I went outside yesterday, a man unknown to me came to see me at my house in your name, as he said. I think he is the same man you gave books to pass on to me. Good-bye, my dearest friend. The Hague, 1673, August 24.

The man who wanted to speak to me in your name was Spinoza, not that other student of yours whose whereabouts I can hardly determine.

As the matter now stands, the purpose of Spinoza’s unsuccessful visit to Heinsius the Elder is unknown. Moreover, Graevius in his reply of August 27 does not refer to the visit or mentions Spinoza’s name (cf. Burman, 1727, vol. 4, p. 196). If Spinoza later returned and spoke to Heinsius is also uncertain. Nonetheless, from the tone of the postscript to the letter of the 24th it can be inferred that the two men in any case knew each other personally. How and when their relations first emerged and if they were in some sort of a regular contact is undocumented. The fact that a copy of Renati Des Cartes Principiorum philosophiae pars I et II; Cogitata metaphysica is listed in the auction catalogue of the private book collection (some 13,000 books) of Heinsius the Elder proves that the scholar at least knew of Spinoza’s first published book (Bibliotheca Heinsiana, 1682, p. 226, no. 215). If there is perhaps a connection between Spinoza’s trip to Utrecht and his later visit to Heinsius cannot be told. Moreover, it also tempting to conjecture whether Heinsius played a role (if any) in directing Stouppe’s invitation to Spinoza, but of this there is no historical evidence.


Benedictus Spinoza, de


Christina Wasa


Adriaen Adriaensz Blijenburg, van


Johannes Georgius Graevius

Friend, Correspondent