Oliver Doiley

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Oliver Doiley (fl.1671–94) received his formal education at Eton. He studied law in Cambridge and took out his doctoral degree in Law also there. He was vice-provost and Senior Fellow of King’s College. No original works of him are known.

Philippus van Limborch, either late in January or early February 1671, sent over acopy of the TTP to Cambridge. In a letter dated 23 January, he informed Oliver Doiley that a ‘concealed Amsterdam bookseller’ would on his behest soon forward to him a ‘pestilential’ book, called ‘Discursus Theologico-politicus’. In the same letter, the Dutch Arminian professor of theology also gives away that the author of that atheistically inclined book is someone named ‘Benedictus Spinoza’. Van Limborch particularly qualifies the book’s author as a Jewish apostate and a deist, but explicitly adds to this that the reckless author cannot seriously considered being a distinct atheist. After this cutting introduction, Van Limborch continues to expresses his personal abhorrence of the blasphemous contents of the work and its author. He terminates his remarks on Tractatus theologico-politicus with the explicit instruction to Doiley to have the book only be read by scholars and warns him not to show that treatise to uneducated people who are ‘unfit’ to read it:

This concealed Amsterdam bookseller will hand over to you on my behalf this ‘Discursus theologico-politicus’, whose supposed author is Benedictus Spinoza, a former Jew who became a deist, but not an atheist. I cannot recall having read so pestilential a book. He ridicules the prophets and apostles and according to him no miracles took place or ever can. There is a fate and even God is bound to it. He describes God in such a way that he seems to destroy him. I send it to you as a learned man of trained judgement, so that you know what monsters are produced in our United Provinces. Such men touch not a specific article [of faith], but the very soul of religion. You ought to show this work not to anyone, but only to the learned, who have an experienced ability to distinguish between good and evil.

Quoted in Freudenthal, p. 292.

Doiley replied to Van Limborch’s letter of 23 January 1671 on 28 February/10 March. He responded to his gift by sending to him a copy of De legibus naturae disquisitio philosophica (London, 1672), a work by the philosopher and bishop Richard Cumberland (1632–1719), an ‘antidote to the poison of that Theological Political Treatise which is full of Hobbesian errors’ (cf. De Boer, 1916, p. 333).

Furthermore, Spinoza is reported of having been shocked by the fact that even someone illustrious as Boyle had responded contemptuously to the book. On January 9, 1675, Doiley wrote in a letter to Henry Jenkes:

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.

Jenkes, in turn, posted 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’.

Quoted in De Boer, 1916, p. 335.

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.


Henry Jenkes