Henry Jenkes

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Henry Jenkes was Fellow of Gonville and Caius College (Cambridge). He was an inactive Fellow (1674) of the Royal Society, and published a guide to Christian morality, called The Christian Tutor, or, a Free and Rational Discourse of the Sovereign Good and Happiness of Man …, London, 1683. See: ODNB.

On January 9, 1675, Oliver Doiley sent out a letter to Jenkes to inform him that he had been acquainted with the fact that ‘Spinoza, the author of the impious Tractatus theologico-politicus’ had reacted most disappointedly when hearing that his treatise was the object of careful condemnation in England. Apparently, Doiley writes to Jenkes, Spinoza is reported of having been shocked by the fact that even someone illustrious as Boyle had responded contemptuously to the book:

I have learned that Spinoza, the author of the impious ‘Tractatus theologico-politicus’, has heard not without surprise and confusion that in England his tract is unanimously rejected by all. He thought it especially unpleasant that the renowned philosopher Robert Boyle judges unfavourably about his treatise. Apparently, he had foolishly counted on the applause of eminent philosophers. We truly congratulate England that it generates and breeds no profane philosophers, but Christian [philosophers] for who we pray all the best from the father of lights.

Source: Doiley to Jenkes, 9 January 1675; quoted in De Boer, 1916, p. 334.

If Spinoza ever made such a bitter comment about the over-all negative reception of his treatise in England, especially by Boyle, either in a personal encounter or in a written communication to someone, is unknown. In any case, Jenkes post off a reply to Doiley’s letter (30 December 1674/9 January 1675) in reaction to his remark about the general disapproval of Spinoza’s treatise in Britain. He fully agrees with his correspondent that the book encounters broad resistance and adds to this that he is not at the least surprised to learn about Spinoza’s utter disappointment about the rejection of his work. The book, Jenkes comments, met with fierce opposition ‘in our Academy’ (Gresham College presumably) and there as many observant adversaries to it as it has pious Christian readers. He also tells Doiley that he had tried to read that ‘infamous book’ without any prejudice, but that he only had discovered in it a cleverly masked concept to bring down the foundations of religion. Since the author had professed himself once as a ‘Cartesian scientist’, Jenkes argues, I hope for him that he realises his grave errors:  

Regarding the author of the ‘Theological-Political Treatise’, B. Spinoza, it does not surprise me that he takes it ill, that his book is not valued at all. It is certain in what you write, because the work has in our academy as many adversaries as it has pious and sincere Christian readers. I have at least, although I read his infamous book with the greatest attention, without prejudice or evil will, found nothing else than an ongoing effort (albeit cunningly) to undermine and tear away the foundations of revealed religion. But it all in vain. May the God of light the eyes of his mind, that he sees his errors and come to his senses. Because he once used to declare himself a Cartesian scientist I cannot refrain from wishing him a better mind. Was he but a Christian, or that he never had become the author of ‘Theological-Political Treatise’.

Source: quoted in De Boer, 1916, p. 335.


Oliver Doiley