[blocks in formation]

No man in the history of thought has been more magnificently justified by his enemies than Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury. It would seem enough for one individual that he should have been the founder of a politics, an ethics, and a psychology, all of which merit the adjective "modern"; yet Hobbes was even greater in his foes than in his followers. During the century after the publication of his first work, there was no philosopher of moment who did not, to some extent, take his departure from him. Known to his generation as the Arch-Enemy, the Arch-Heretic, the Atheist, he became, even during his life, a legend, so that when he died. at the age of ninety-one (he was forty when Bacon died, and was but then entering on his philosophical work, yet he was still writing when Bacon had been in his grave for fifty years) ballad broadsides advertised the event, declaring:

Here lies Tom Hobbes, the Bugbear of the Nation,
Whose death hath frightened Atheism out of fashion!

1 The present paper is one of a series in which the author attempts to suggest Milton's intellectual relationship with various seventeenth-century philosophers. The first, "The Spirit World of Milton and More" appeared in Studies in Philology for October, 1925; "Milton and the Conjectura Cabbalistica" is forthcoming in the Philological Quarterly; a sequel to the present paper will attempt to suggest certain significant ways in which Milton fails to carry his premises to the conclusions of the English Platonists.


and uttering an epitaph succinct, though far from justified by the event of fame:

Here Matter lies-and there's an end of Hobbes! "

To his generation, the philosophy of Hobbes seemed to lead in a two-fold direction. It was, on the one hand, radical, the climax of Renaissance naturalism and of the method of the natural sciences; it was, on the other hand, reactionary, a reversion to an authoritarianism more limited and more dangerous than that of any mediaeval power. The first aspect his generation found in the frank egoism of Hobbes's system, which declared that the fundamental instinct of man is self-preservation, and drew up a consequent view of a "society "-originally bellum omnium contra omnes artificially founded by self-seeking men for their own preservation and for the furtherance of their own selfish interests. This side of Hobbes's philosophy was his inheritance from predecessors, most of all from Machiavelli's anti-Aristotelian separation of ethics and politics, and his attempt to ground political procedure upon an acceptance of man, not as he ought to be, but as he is; and from the anti-Stoical naturalism of the Renaissance, with its stress upon man as a creature of passion and instinct rather than reason. The second aspect of Hobbes's system his generation found in the arbitrary character of his morality. Radical through his method was, his attempt here was little more than a return to political and ethical authoritarianism. Starting from a limited view of human nature, Hobbes could find no inner principle in man or in society; the only possible check was external law, with its foundation in external authority. It followed that there was to him no fundamental and eternal principle of morality, no unchanging right and wrong in a universe constituted as was his universe; his right and wrong could be based only upon the arbitrary edict of supreme power.

From the point of view of the modern historian of ideas, there is little in the theories-though much in the method of Hobbes that was strikingly original; and, indeed, it is doubtful whether originality would have produced such a profound reaction. To the orthodox idealists of his day, Hobbes was expressing the climax

2 Cf. George Croom Robertson, Hobbes, Edinburgh, 1886, p. 207.



of all that was unendurable; none of his adversaries treat his doctrines as new"; they are to them the revival of ancient heresies, of the beliefs of Protagoras, Democritus, Epicurus, Carneades, Lucretius. The multitudes of replies are not ejaculations of men caught off-guard by novelty, but studied and profound marshallings of argument and learning by men whose fundamental opinions had stood firm against frequent attacks, less brilliant though not less real than this. Yet there is no question that Hobbes was to all his opponents the greatest and the most dangerous upholder of the ancient materialistic heresy; his frankness, his candor, his lucidity made him that. Even before the actual publication of his first work, his influence was felt and feared, as he himself tells us, and as his contemporaries agree. Before the Parliament of 1640 was dissolved, Hobbes wrote a treatise in English "wherein he did sett forth and demonstrate that the sayd powers and rights were inseparably annexed to the sovreignty which sovreignty they did not then deny to be in the King; but it seems understood not, or would not understand, that inseparability. Of this treatise, though not printed, many gentlemen had copies, which occasioned much talk of the author, and had not his Majestie dissolved the Parliament, it had brought him in danger of his life." It was as a result of the writing of this treatise that Hobbes fled to France; and it was this early treatise which he expanded, first into the De Cive (1642), then into the Leviathan (1651); all the important ideas of the later Hobbes are contained in it.

The outpouring of criticism which arose with the publication of the De Cive, and grew more intense with each succeeding work,"

Cf., for example, the first chapter of Cudworth's Eternal and Immutable Morality, where he traces this sort of "atheism " through Greek and scholastic philosophy, showing by quotations from the De Cive and the Leviathan that Hobbes is dangerous not because he is original, but because his is the last voice in an ancient heresy.

• Considerations upon the Reputation, Loyalty, Manners, and Religion of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, written by Himself. In Works (ed. Molesworth), IV, 414.

Actual evidence of the extent to which Hobbes provoked response during the quarter of a century following the production of these two works may be found in the "Vitae Hobbianae Auctarium," in Thomae Hobbes Malmesburiensis Opera Philosophica. Londini, MDCCCXXXIX, I. pp. lxixlxxx. The compiler gives three lists of works which had their origin, to

led in various directions. Hobbes, himself, in his satirical poem on his life, suggests the chief group who opposed him:

All men did scribble what they would, content
And yielding to the present Government;
My book De Corpore through this Liberty
I wrote, which prov'd a constant War to me.
The Clergy at Leviathan repines,

And both of them oppos'd were by Divines.

[blocks in formation]

The dispute in regard to Hobbes's mathematics, which began in 1654 with the Vindiciae Academiarum of Seth Ward and reached its height in the bitter controversy with John Wallis and Robert Boyle need not detain us here; nor is it necessary to stop over the strictly political arguments in which Hobbes found opponents in Sir Robert Filmer, Grotius, and Milton, since, for our purposes,

some extent at least, in the De Cive or the Leviathan. Of works which actually advertised themselves as anti-Hobbesian, thirty-four are listed, published between 1655 and 1679; the most important of these are by John Wallis, Seth Ward, Bishop Bramhall, Robert Boyle, Robert Filmer, Robert Sharrock, Richard Cumberland, John Eachard. Another list of authors who, while not directing their attacks entirely against Hobbes, yet clearly oppose his principles, includes, from 1652 to 1671, sixteen authors of twice as many works, numbering particularly Henry More, Seth Ward, James Harington, Samuel Parker Archbishop of Canterbury, and Joseph Glanvill. A third list mentions eleven works, published between 1657 and 1660, which in some measure either attack or uphold the theories of Hobbes. Statements of Hobbes himself in regard to the opposition he aroused may be found in the Considerations, etc., mentioned above, and in a humorous poem, written by him in Latin and translated into English under the title, "The Life of Mr. Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, written by himself in a Latine poem, and now Translated into English," London, 1680; this is contained in An Impartial Account of the Arraignment, Trial and Condemnation of Thomas Late Earl of Strafford, London, 1679. Much further evidence will be found in the volume containing the Bramhall-Hobbes controversy, mentioned below.

[blocks in formation]

7Cf. Leslie Stephen, Hobbes, p. 49. Hobbes thus pronounced upon the Defensiones of Salmasius and Milton: "They are very good Latin both, and hardly to be judged which is better; and both very ill reasoning, hardly to be judged which is worse-like two declamations, pro and con,

Hobbes's politics will be found implied in his ethics. Far more important is the controversy in regard to liberty and necessity which began in a conversation between Hobbes and Bishop Bramhall in 1645, as a result of which the Bishop set down his "Discourse of Liberty and Necessity," which he sent to Hobbes through the Marquis of Newcastle. Hobbes responded in a letter addressed to the Marquis, dated at Rouen, August 20, 1645, to which Bramhall replied again in another paper, "Defence of True Liberty from Antecedent Necessity" (1646). In some way Hobbes's letter was published, entirely without his knowledge, in 1654, and the Bishop, incensed at the evident disregard of his request for privacy, proceeded to publish the entire correspondence, and thus translated into a bitter public quarrel what had been a mere courteous private discussion. The controversy is of great importance in the history of seventeenth-century thought, affording as it does a clear statement of the general opinion of Hobbes's doctrines and their supposed dangers to orthodox belief. Hobbes has expressed the matter succinctly':


made for exercise only in a rhetorical school by one and the same man. So like is a Presbyter to an Independent! Cf. Robertson, Hobbes, p. 187 n.

An account of the whole matter may be found in The Works of Bishop John Bramhall, Oxford, 1844, the fourth volume of which is entirely devoted to the controversy with Hobbes. Bishop Bramhall's first publication consisted of the series of letters which had passed between Hobbes and himself, which he entitled, "A Discourse of Liberty and Necessity." This was followed in 1657-8 by the "Castigations of Mr. Hobbes," and in 1658 by the most important of the Bishop's papers, the full title of which indicates clearly the "orthodox" opinion of Hobbes: "The Catching of Leviathan or the Great Whale, demonstrated out of Mr. Hobbes his own works that no man who is thoroughly a Hobbist can be a good Christian or a good commonwealth man or reconcile himself to himself; because his principles are not only destructive to all religion, but to all societies; extinguishing the relation between prince and subject, master and steward, parent and child, husband and wife, and abound with palpable contradictions." Hobbes's reply to this paper was not written for ten years, and was not published until after the death of both writers: "An Answer to a Book published by Dr. Bramhall . . . . called the Catching of the Leviathan," 1682.

[blocks in formation]


« VorigeDoorgaan »