James Anthony Froude (1818 - 1894) schreef in 1854 "the best general view of Spinoza"

Dit vond althans Frederick Pollock in zijn Spinoza: His Life and Philosophy in 1880 waar hij schreef [op p. xxxv]: "In English the best general view is still given by Mr. Froude's essay [in] the Westminster Review."
Zo horen we deze getuigenis van hem die zelf in latere jaren door velen lange tijd als de schrijver van het beste Engelstalige boek over Spinoza werd beschouwd. Pollock noemde Froude en niet George Henry Lewes die al eerder, meest anoniem, essays over Spinoza schreef in diverse bladen en een relatie kreeg met de schrijfster George Eliot, de vertaalster van de TTP en de Ethica.

Rond het midden van de 19e eeuw was er in Engeland een nieuw oplevende belangstelling voor Spinoza ontstaan, met name in de Westminster Review van Jeremy Bentham en James Mill, waarvan George Eliot in die tijd redacteur was. 

Deze Froude was een Engelse geschiedkundige, biograaf, schrijver en redacteur van Fraser’s Magazine die zeer ontevreden was over de ontwikkeling van de protestantse godsdienst van zijn tijd en daarom grote belangstelling kreeg voor denkers en auteurs als Spinoza, David Friedrich Strauss, Emerson, Goethe, en vooral Thomas Carlyle [cf. wiki].

Met zijn belangstelling voor Spinoza was Froude niet de eerste. Coleridge en Carlyle waren hem voorgegaan. En de al genoemde G.H. Lewes had in 1843 een algemeen essay over Spinoza laten verschijnen. Het was vooral Spinoza's kritische bijbelexegese die in die tijd met grote interesse werd opgepakt. Lewes verwierp Spinoza's claim dat onze geest een spiegel van de realiteit zou zijn - we konden volgens hem niet zonder geloof. Froude verwierp Lewes' afwijzing van Spinoza's determinisme, maar deed dat op een tamelijk bescheiden wijze in het artikel "The Life of Spinoza," in: The Oxford and Cambridge Review, and University Magazine (1847)

Het was dan wel Spinoza's pech zijn filosofie binnen de Cartesiaanse methode ontwikkeld te hebben, waarin hij nu eenmaal ondergedompeld was, maar de essentie van het Spinozisme zou niet in z'n methode of z'n vorm zitten, maar in z'n aspiraties. Net als alle grote filosofen en religiestichters worstelde Spinoza met dé tendens van dé menselijke geest. Niet de inhoud van de gedachten, de door hem bereikte resultaten, was waar het om ging, maar om de zichzelf opofferende consequente geest - z'n biografie kortom was het die bewondering verdiende. Froude maakte in dit eerste artikel Spinoza tot bijna een heilige: “a very great man, one of the very greatest men.”
Hierna liet hij een veel diepergravend artikel verschijnen:

J.A. Froude, “Spinoza.” In: Westminster Review, 1854. Zie hieronder het overzicht van de reprints die dat stuk kreeg. Het verscheen o.a. in

J.A. Froude, Essays in literature & history [Series: Everyman's library. Essays and belles lettres -- no.13]. Published 1906 by Dent, Dutton in London, New York. Spinoza op pp. 224-272 gedigitaliseerd op archive.org – cf. ook books.google.

Op Gutenberg is zijn Short Studies on Great Subjects [1867] te vinden, waarin ook zijn Spinoza-artikel was opgenomen.

Het artikel begint met het noemen van de editie van de toen pas ontdekte Korte Verhandeling waarvan dr. Ed. Böhmer in 1852 een Latijnse vertaling verzorgde. Het leek daardoor als een review te beginnen, maar daar steeg het essay toch ver bovenuit.

Froude was van mening: “We may deny his [Spinoza’s] conclusions; we may consider his system of thought preposterous and even pernicious, but we cannot refuse him the respect which is the right of all sincere and honourable men.” [p. 276]  En hij schreef:

“Spinoza's influence over European thought is too great to be denied or set aside, and if his doctrines be false in part, or false altogether, we cannot do their work more surely than by calumny or misrepresentation a most obvious truism, which no one now living will deny in words, and which a century or two hence perhaps will begin to produce some effects upon the popular judgment.”

In het volgende neem ik graag de fraaie analyse van deze zoveel herdrukte tekst van Froude over (zonder de noten) uit Ciaran Brady, James Anthony Froude: An Intellectual Biography of a Victorian Prophet (2013, cf. onder), waaruit het grote belang ervan helder tevoorschijn komt.

Het zou me niets verbazen als de schrijfster George Eliot zich sterk door zijn visie heeft laten beïnvloeden. Maar daarover lezen we niets bij Moira Gatens's, Benedict Spinoza and George Eliot: Daniel Deronda as Heretical Text. Mededelingen 99, uitgeverij Spinozahuis, 2015, die we onlangs ontvingen. Maar dit terzijde..

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Subsequently recognised as an exposition of remarkable quality, Froude's second essay on 'Spinoza' (written around 1852 but not published until 1855) supplies a rare demonstration of his capacity as a philosophical analyst. Far from being wholly admiring, as he was in his earlier essay, Froude now offers a critical account of Spinoza's entire system of thought of considerable subtlety and acuity. Toward the close of his demonstration Froude acknowledges that while Spinoza's message 'is singularly beautiful', it is developed at a level of abstraction that few 'Englishmen' would be prepared to follow it. But

even if we cannot believe Spinoza's system taken in its entire completeness, yet we may not blind ourselves to the disinterestedness and calm nobility which pervade his theories of human life and obligation.

This assertion comes, however, after an exposition in which he claims to demonstrate that

Spinoza is, after all, but stating in philosophical language the extreme doctrine of Grace; and St Paul ... may be accused with justice of having the same opinion. If Calvinism be pressed to its logical consequences, it either becomes an intolerable falsehood, or it resolves itself into the philosophy of Spinoza.

This is sly. Spinoza has rescued right-thinking Christians by demonstrating that, despite the damage done by the biblical critics, the essence of the Christian view of the world could be recovered and defended philosophically. Yet he had done so in a way which remains unacceptable to English minds not only because of its abstractions, but because of its questionable a priori assumptions.Yet his reconstruction still contained a profound problem that lay also at the heart of Christian—or at least of Pauline—teaching. This was the question of human responsibility for sin: the terrible implication that, as creatures of God, 'we should be without power to obey Him with-out his free grace, and yet be held responsible for our failures when that grace is withheld'.

`It is idle to call a philosopher sacrilegious', Froude goes on,'who has but systematized the faith which so many believe, and cleared it of its most hideous features.’ Having thus steeped his readers in such a quandary, Froude proceeds to work a way out through an even more detailed analysis of Spinoza's own address to the problem of human freedom in which he shows that in practical terms an active commitment of humans to know the good and to act upon it is a necessary component of the whole divine plan. The human mind, says Froude expounding Spinoza, has been invested with capacity to actively seek out the good through the contemplation of ideas that are 'adequate' (that is, founded upon demonstrable laws of creation as revealed in Spinoza's system), and the ability to reject 'inadequate' ideas based on our subjective and defective experience. By rigorously pursuing the former and rejecting the latter through continuous and self-conscious discipline, we become free:

So far ... as we know clearly what we do, as we understand what we are, and direct our conduct, not by the passing emotion of the moment, but by grave, clear, and constant knowledge of what is really good, so far ... we are ourselves the spring of our own activity—we pursue the genuine well-being of our entire nature.

To Froude this is inspiring; but it is also a counsel of perfection. He sees, in his self-consciously 'English' manner, two related objections. The first concerns the practical inequalities that obtain between different individuals: not all men can be artists or saints, not all can be held equally responsible for acts of sin, crime, or folly. Everything depends on contingent matters of inheritance, opportunity, and experience. This inequality of capacity and opportunity which is demonstrable throughout humanity's history is discounted by Spinoza—Froude's second objection—because in his metaphysical preoccupations he has neglected the reality of historical change as it is experienced by human minds. Although geometric propositions may be stated in present or future tenses without significant difference, in the sense that 'if two lines in a circle cut each other, the rectangle under the parts of one will equal that under the parts of the other', the same does not apply to historical propositions.

Allowing ... as much as we please that the condition of England a hundred years hence lies already in embryo in the present in existing causes, it is a paradox to say that such conditions exist already in the sense in which the proper-ties of a circle exist.

This is, in fact, Spinoza's position, and though he allows elsewhere that Tor practical purposes we are obliged to regard the future as contingent, and ourselves able to influence it', he never really addresses this fundamental tension in his system.

Thus, while Spinoza's philosophy may be the best possible approximation of the nature of divine Creation available to our limited minds, it is in practice of very limited value to us as we attempt to make sense of our existence and seek to act properly upon that sense. This is a chasm that only a contemplation of human history can bridge, for in its recurring revelation of general human weakness, ignorance, courage, and conviction, in its assessment of the individual sources of such apparent vices and virtues, and most importantly in the delineation of their consequences in particular times, places, and circumstances, history fulfils a vital purpose. It is the only true means by which our minds can secure even a fleeting sense of our individual place, and that of our fellow creatures, in the vast schema of Creation.

It was this acute reformulation of the needs of his audience that brought sharply into focus a literary genre alternative to criticism, philosophy, and fiction which even at the time that he was writing on Spinoza was also beginning to attract Froude's attention: the writing of English history. [p. 186 – 189].

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En het was volgens mij in deze geest, in de richting die Froude met zijn artikel wees, dat George Eliot haar romans ging schrijven.
["The value of Froude's essay was acknowledged by George Eliot; see Gordon Haight (ed.), The George [Eliot] Letters...," aldus voetnoot 68 in Ciaran Brady's Froude-biografie.]

           

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Bronnen en noten

NB Ciaran Brady vermeldt als datum van publicatie van Froude’s “Spinoza” op alle plaatsen 1855. Verder kom je steeds 1854 tegen (b.v. in Wayne Boucher’s Spinoza in English. A Bibliography; in de Duitse Spinoza-bibliografie, en elders).

 [cf. books.google]

 

Ciaran Brady, James Anthony Froude: An Intellectual Biography of a Victorian Prophet. Oxford University Press, 2013 –books.google

 

Joe Hughes, “The Impious Specter of Spinozism:” Spinoza in England 1738Ā]1854” [PDF]

 

Openlibrary.org met Froude, James Anthony, Essays in literature history