Jacob Gronovius

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Jacob Gronovius was a Dutch classical scholar and theologian, who studied in Leiden, Oxford and Cambridge. He was professor of history and Greek language (1679) and of rhetoric (1692) at Leiden University. Gronovius entertained a large correspondent network. As a writer, his fame mainly rests on Thesaurus antiquitatem Graecarum (Leiden, 1697–1702), a thirteen-part work devoted to classical literature and archeology. See: NNBW, vol. 1, cols 986–9.

Between early 1671 and late 1673, Gronovius made a Grand Tour in France, Spain and Italy. During his travels, he kept a two-volume private diary of his occupations, activities and contacts, called ‘Dagverhaal eener reis naar Spanje en Italien’ (Daily Report of a Journey to Spain and Italy (Leiden, UB, ms. Ltk. 859, fol. 26). In the first volume (37 folios) of this jotter, covering the period 1 June to September 1672, Gronovius also wrote down a biting entry on Spinoza. In this account, he also relays a brief account of the vituperation of a book by Spinoza by an otherwise unnamed man of stature, ‘syn Exc.’ (his excellency) in an erratic mixture of Latin and Dutch. When Spinoza learned about the book’s disapproval, Gronovius writes in the journal, he sent someone over to that person to seek on his behalf an audience. The only reply, Gronovius proceeds, was that the individual decidedly turned Spinoza’s offer, informing the intermediary ‘dat syn Exc. sulck een man niet begeerde over syn dorpel te syen’:

All atheists deserve to be jailed, like Spinoza. I will however fight fervidly that those are excused, who do believe in punishment and reward after this life. Clearly, this chain should not be broken. When Spinoza heard that his excellence had disapproved of his book, he sent someone over to his excellence to talk about it with him, [but] he was answered that his excellence did not want to receive such a man on his doorstep.

Source: J. Gronovius, ‘Daghverhaal’; quoted in Klever, 1993a; see also Walther and Czelinski, vol. 1, p. 408).

An important, but unanswered issue concerns the question to which of Spinoza’s books Gronovius actually refers to. It is tempting to assume that the work was Tractatus theologico-politicus, but he may also hints at Spinoza’s radical neo-scholastic remarks on metaphysics in Cogitata metaphysica (‘concerning Being and its Affections’ (Part 1) and ‘about God, his Attributes, and the human Mind’ (Part 2)) left aside by Descartes in the 1644 ‘Principles of Philosophy’. Now, one the other key questions relating to the entry concerns the identity of the individual professor Gronovius had in mind when writing in his diary about the obstinate refusal of this ‘excellency’ to receive Spinoza. Obviously, that person was a prominent man of high social status, someone with prestige, power and honour and probably firmly rooted in the nobility or from patrician stock in the magistracy. Nevertheless, the reference in the entry could also easily refer to a prominent individual who only was visiting the Netherlands. Spinoza however was not and had never been particularly keen to discuss his philosophical viewpoints openly. If however there is truth in Gronovius’s entry, the person indicated by him as ‘his excellency’ was apparently important enough for the philosopher to seek an audience and explain to him the contents of ‘his book’.