Frames /sing

kvond

Monthly Archives: August 2008

Govert Bidloo, A Spinoza Microscopist?

[Addendum, September 10th: in looking at the full text of the letter referenced below, indeed Bidlow did NOT use a Spinoza microscope, but was only referencing Kerckring's use as well as his observations on the limitations of the microscope. I keep the post up though, to preserve the thought process of a deadend of research, for whatever that may be worth, as well as for the value of Bidloo's citation of Spinoza at a near near the death of his friend Eric Walten: Govert Bidloo’s 1698 Refference to a Spinoza Microscope ]

Physician to the King and Another Spinoza Microscope?

[The arguments below I present prospectively, waiting for a confirmation of the source]

I stumbled upon some evidence that there is a second Spinoza microscope in the historical record, and it is my hope that this glass may bring to view more of the details for which I have been straining. Thus far, the only first hand report we have is from Spinoza’s fellow Latin student, and possible van den Enden disciple, Theodore Kerckring, who in his Spicilegium anatomicum  (1670), describes how with Spinoza’s glass he had seen a “infinitely minute animalcules” teeming upon the viscera. This description is to be questioned, firstly, because Kerckring himself warns us a few sentences before, that all observations of microscopes have to be doubted; but also because Kerckring reported elsewhere some microscopic observations which plainly come from the imposition of fantasy upon sight.

In this case the account may be more sobering and exact, though I have yet been able to actually assess the content of the claim. The report comes apparently from Govert Bidloo, and man of fairly high standing, and apparently connections to Spinozist political movements of his day. In 1694 Bidloo was appointed professor of anatomy and medicine at the university of Leiden, a post to which he was not able to well-attend due to also becoming the personal physician to stadholder William III, who would die in his arms in 1702. If indeed Govert Bidloo did use and favor a Spinoza microscope, he was a well-connected anatomist and physician, and public champion of microscopic investigation.

Collaboration with van Leeuwenhoek: Parasitic Protozoon

The fact of Bidloo’s use of a Spinoza microscope is at this point circumspect, as for the moment I have only a summary of the mention of praise for a Spinoza microscope-glass (vergrootglass), in a memoir-letter written to the famed microscopist Antony van Leeuwenhoek, subsequently published in the same year, 1698. I do not read Dutch, so I had to rely upon the summation of a website owner to understand its content.

“Passage from a letter of Govard Bidloo (Henrik van Kroonevelt Ed., 1698, page 27) a memoir to Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, about the animals which are sometimes found in the liver of sheep, on the etiology of diseases (the Plague) and referring to remarks of scientists abroad on his work, and quoting the quality of the Magnifying glass made by Benedict de Spinoza.”

This is found here. The citation given, aside from the letter itself, is not traceable. Perhaps it is a television production: [52] “Cells of Spinoza”: Tetsuro Onuma, Representative of Yone Production Co.Ltd. (2002).

The phase “quoting the quality of the Magnifying glass” I assume probably means “citing the quality”. Because the context is missing for me, there is no way to affirm what I would suspect, that Bidloo is writing to van Leeuwenhoek about his observations of small parasites and their eggs, as found in the liver of sheep, and it is by virtue of the excellence of Spinoza’s glass that his observations are assured. This is somewhat also how Kerckring references his Spinoza microscope.

Historical Context For Bidloo’s Letter to Van Leeuwenhoek 

Two decades before Bidloo presented his findings to van Leeuwenhoek, in 1674 van Leeuwenhoek was startling the world as he peeled away the curtain of the microscopic, revealing to a new level of exact description and illustration, a world of minute animals and structures. Under his tiny, spherical lenses the first bacteria and protozoans were coming to life, and he began letting the world know about in through letters written to leading scientists in London. And in October ’74, he wrote to the Royal Society about his discoveries of “globules” and “corpuscles” in the bile of domesticated animals, the first Sporozoa and parasitic protozoon. It would be as an expansion upon these observations that Bidloo would conduct his own microscopic examnations. I quote here from Dobell’s excellent book in van Leeuwenhoek to give a sense of the early material and Bidloo’s connection to it, first from the letter, and then from Dobell’s commentary:

…in the bile of suckling lambs there are very little globules, and some, though very few, bright particles. which are a bit bigger; besides irregular particles, of divers figures, and also composed of globules clumped together.

The bile of yearling sheep I find to be like that of suckling lambs, only with this difference, that in this bile there are also oval corpuscles of the bigness and figure of those I remarked in ox-bile. (Letter 7 to the Royal Society, October 19th 1674).

I think there can be no doubt that the “oval corpuscles” – called eijronde deeltgensin the original – which Leeuwenhoek discovered in the gall-bladder of one of his “three old rabbits,” were the oocysts of the coccidian Eimeria stiedae; while the comparable structures which he found in the bile of sheep and oxen were, equally certainly, the eggs of trematodes [Dobbell notes: Fasciola hepatica- the worm itself -was well known to L.; for the Dutch anatomist Bidloo (1649-1713) dedicated a little memoir to him, in 1698, in which it was described and figured. If my interpretations be correct, the foregoing extract records the first observations ever made upon the Sporozoa or upon any parasitic protozoon (200)

Antony van Leeuwenhoek and his ‘Little Animals’

Eggs and the Source of Disease

It is regarding these Fasiola hepatica that Bidloo is writing to van Leeuwenhoek in 1698, apparently part of a collaboration of observations between the two microscopists. This is how Frank Egerton sums up the correspondence in his article for the Bulletin for the Ecological Society of America : 

Leeuwenhoek examined flatworms (flukes) from the livers of diseased sheep under a microscope and suspected that the sheep got the worms from drinking rainwater that collected in fields (21 February 1679, Leeuwenhoek 1939-1999, II:417-419). He pursued the subject no further until 1698, when he and Professor of Medicine Goderfridus Govard Bidloo (1649-1713) of Leiden University (van der Pas 1978) discussed liver flukes in sheep. Boththen wrote up their observations for publication, with Leeuwenhoek sending his to the Royal Society and Bidloo sending his to Leeuwenhoek, who had them published in Delft. Bidloo sent with his letter an overly precise drawing of a fluke, which shows two eyes, a heart, a circulatory system, and intestines that existed only in his imagination. Nevertheless, Bidloo did recognize the eggs and concluded correctly that the species is hermaphroditic. He also generalized from his observations that these worms seem to cause disease in sheep and that worms probably also cause disease in humans (Bidloo 1698, 1972). Leeuwenhoek went out and attempted to find fluke eggs in fields and ditches, where they might have been deposited in sheep feces (2 January 1700, 1939-1999, ?), but he had no way to identify them if he had found them. The fluke life cycle is so complex that it was not fully understood until the mid-1800s (Reinhard 1957). (53)

“A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 19″

Indeed, the lifecycle of F. hepatica is quite complex, as it relies upon a symbiont aquatic snail, something no microscope would reveal to these men, but it is good to note that Bidloo’s microscope and analysis did properly identify the eggs of F. hepatica, something which may give clue to the magnification of his glass. It would appear that the two men were operating under at least remotely similar powers of glass, and at this point van Leeuwenhoek had achieved magnification really beyond compare for the century.  

Bidloo's illustration of the flatworm F. hepatica

The size of the eggs in question may be in order. They come in the thousands, so together are visible to the naked eye, but the eggs themselves are microscopic, measuring approximately 130-160 µm, or 130/1000th of a millimeter:

According to their optical appearance and approximate measurements, we isolated about 1,300-1,500 ‘large’ eggs from a fairly large quantity of sheep faeces. Of these, 300 were measured and their average size was found to be 154 (143-180) x84 (75-102) µm. Fasciola eggs of normal size found in the faeces of the same sheep measured 129 (107-162)x 71 (61-79) µm.

“Unusually Large Eggs of a Fasciola hepatica Strain” (1982) D. Duwel

As I have not read Bidloo’s account, I as yet cannot tell if his glass resolved such detail, but van Leeuwenhoek’s description of “oval corpuscles” must have. And we should keep our mind open to this possibilities.

If we are to speculate, having identified what Bidloo saw and concluded, and assumed that he used a Spinoza made glass, what was the nature of Spinoza’s “vergrootglas”? Literally, this word means “magnifying glass”, something distinct from the word for microscope. It is the same word used to describe the instruments sold from Spinoza’s estate at auction on November 4th, 1677. (It is even conceivable that this was one of those instruments.) A vergrootglas could be anything from a swivel-armed spectacle glass used for dissection and study, to the very powerful simple, single-lens microscopes that Swammerdam and van Leeuwenhoek used. Aside from the more famous Leiden anatomists who used a simple microscope, we are told that Bidloo’s successor to the university position, Boerhaave, used a lens as small as a grain of sand (Ruestow 95). But the story is unclear. Bidloo was a student and friend to Ruysch, a fellow student and associate of Kerckring from ’61 onwards, who used magnification quite sparingly, and would have had no need of such an intense and difficult lens.

Devils and Parasites

There is another interesting point of about Bidloo’s biography which makes his 1698 reference to Spinoza’s lens more than a point of curiosity. It is twenty-one years after Spinoza’s death, but something more than simply the persistence of the efficacy of Spinoza’ instrument forces his name into consciousness. Bidloo, the physician of William III, was apparently a political activist of a sort, a champion of republican values. And just the year before his rather vociferousfriend Eric Walden had died in prison, perhaps by suicide following a series of failed suits for his freedom, under the general accusation of being a Spinozist-atheist. Walten’s escalating pamphleted attacks against the Dutch Reformed Church, in defense of Bathasar Berkker’s “The World Bewitch’d”, were fierce and reminiscent of Spinoza’s friend Koerbagh, who also died as a political prisoner. Berkker had maddened the religious in his Cartesian-like argument that because their could be not causal interaction between Spirit and Matter, devils and angels could have no effect on this world. This denial of both the miraculous and the diabolical enraged the pious, and when Walten wrote on Berkker’s behalf, the ire came to be directed towards him, eventually with legal consequence. This connection between Bidloo and Walten I find, thinly, but indicatively here:   

In 1688 he took up the cause of William III against James II and showed himself to be a staunch defender of popular sovereignty and the elective nature of monarchy. Next, he turned to the question of the civil rights of governments over the church, and two local disputes, one concerning the privileges of the regents of Amsterdam, and other Rotterdam tax upheavals. [note, after "regents of Amsterdam": It is unclear which pamphlets in this particular row were written by Walten and which by his friends Govert Bidloo and Romeijn de Hooghe, the famous engraver. See Knuttle, "Ericus Walten", p. 359-383.] (44)

“Eric Walten (1663-1697): An Early Enlightenment Radical In the Dutch Republic”, by Wiep van Bunge, in Disguised and Overt Spinozism In and Around 1770

Whether Govert Bidloo used Spinoza’s microscope in his observations on the hepatica or not, I cannot say for certain now, but his reference in the published memoir, in the context of his observations on parasites of the body and a suspicion that they lead to human illness no doubt reflected to some degree the events that of the years previous, and the sourness of the death of Walten in prison. What comes to mind is Spinoza’s reflection to Oldenburg so many years before, that we are like a worm in the blood, how our perceptions are only most often local to what jostles us, itself a reflection on Kircher’s microscopic discovery of worms in the blood of plague victims. (Some thoughts here:  A Worm in Cheese ). One must remember that this was not only a time of political and religious upheaval, but also a time of plague. The clearness of Spinoza’s glass no doubt, in the minds of his admirers, expressed the clarity with which the political body must be examined. Bidloo’s study of the bile of sheep, in search of parasites with Spinoza’s glass either in hand or in mind, surely struck him as fitting.


Simple or Compound: Spinoza’s Microscopes

Smaller Objective Lenses Produce Finer Representations

A very suggestive clue to the kinds of microscopes Spinoza may have produced is Christiaan Huygens’ admission to his brother Constantijn in a May 11 1667 letter that Spinoza was right in one regard, that smaller objective lenses do produce finer images. This has been cited by Wim Klever to be a sign of Huygens making a concession to Spinoza in a fairly substantial question of lensed magnification:

After some disagreement he had to confess in the end that Spinoza was right: “It is true that experience confirms what is said by Spinoza, namely that the small objectives in the microscope represent the objects much finer than the large ones” [OC4, 140, May 11, 1668]

Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, Wim Klever, “Spinoza’s Life and Works” (33)

And this is how I have read the citation as well, not having access to the original context. But some questions arise. Does this admission allow us to conclude that Spinoza was specifically making compounded microscopes, the kind that Huygens favored? Or are “objective” lenses to be understood to be lenses both of single and compound microscopes. What makes this interesting is that if we accept the easiest path, and assume that Huygens is talking about compound microscopes, then there may be some evidence that clouds our understanding of what Huygens would mean.

Edward Ruestow tells us that be believes that Christiaan Huygens in his 1654 beginnings already had experience constructing microscopes using the smallest lenses possible. If so, Spinoza’s claim regarding compound microscopes would not be new to him (or his brother). Ruestow puts the Huygens account in the context of the larger question of the powers of small objective lenses:

It was not obvious in the early seventeenth century that the smaller the lens – or more precisely, the smaller the radius of its surface curvature – the greater its power of magnification, but smaller and more sharply curved lenses were soon being ground as microscope objectives, at first apparently because, with their shorter focal lengths, they allowed the instrument to be brought closer to the object being observed. The curvature of a small cherry ascribed by Peirsec to the objective of Drebbel’s microscope was already a considerable departure from a spectacle lens…

Whatever the intial reason for resorting to smaller objective lenses, however, it was not such as to produce a continuing effort to reduce their size still further. (A lens, after all, could come too close to the object for convenience.) In 1654 a youthful Christiaan Huygens, already making his own first microscopes or preparing to do so, appears to have ordered a lens as sharply curved as a local lens maker could grind it, and it may indeed have been a planoconvex objective lens with which he worked that year whose curvature, with a radius of roughly 8mm, was still to that of Drebbel’s (i.e. to the curvature one might ascribe to a small cherry). Fourteen years later, however, Christiaan was inclined to lenses with a focal distance of roughly an inch, and he pointedly rejected small lenses as objectives – primarily it seems, because of their shallow depth of focus…In 1680 members of the Royal Society were admiring a biconvex lens no more than one-twentieth of an inch in diameter, and Christiaan Huygens, now with a very altered outlook, would write that the perfection of the compound microscope (of two lenses) was to be sought in the smallness of its objective lens. He claimed at the end of his life that the magnification such instruments could achieve was limited only by how small those lenses could be made and used [note: On the other hand, he also recognized that there was an absolute limit for the size of any aperture, beyond which the image become confused.] (13)

[Ruestow footnotes that the 1654 microscope described as constructed by Christiaan above, is thought by J. van Zuylen is rather the Drebbel microscope purchased by Christiaan's father, Constantijn Sr.]

The Microscope in the Dutch Republic, Edward G. Ruestow

Not only is Huygens’s turn around described, no doubt fueled by his own famed success with the single lens, simple microscope, just after Spinoza’s death, but also Ruestow suggests that Huygens indeed already knew what Spinoza’s claimed, that smaller objectives indeed do make larger magnifications, his objection being not that the magnification is inferior, but simply that the depth of field makes observation problematic. It is unclear if Ruestow’s reading of the 1654 for is correct, so we cannot say for certain that Huygens had this experience with smaller objectives, but it is interesting that Ruestow cites the same year as his concession to Spinoza, (1668, “fourteen years later” without direct citation), as the year when Huygens makes clear what his objection to smaller objectives is. This raises the question: Is the “confession” in context part of an admission of the obvious between Christiaan and his brother, something of the order, “As Spinoza says objectives represent objects with greater detail, but the depth of field is awful? (Again, because I do not have the text I cannot check this.) 

Or, does Ruestow make a mistake? Is it not letters written 14 years, but only 11 years later, when Huygens in his debate with Johannes Hudde seems to have readily accepted the possibility of greater magnification, but makes his preference in terms of depth of field. As Marian Fournier sums: 

Hudde discussed the merits of these lense with Huygens [OC5, April 5, 10 and 17 1665: 308-9, 318, 330-1], who declined their use. He particularly deplored their very limited lack of depth of field. He found it inconvenient that with such a small lens one could not see the upper and underside of an object, a hair for instance, at the same time. The compound microscope had, because of the much smaller magnification, greater defintion so that the objects were visible in their entirety and therefore the compound instrument was more expedient in Huygens’ view (579) 

“Huygens’ Design of the Simple Microscope”

It is important that Hudde is not only championing smaller objectives, he is attempting to persuade Huygens that the very small bead-lenses of simple microscopes are best. Hudde had this technique of microscopy from as early as 1663, perhaps as early as 1657, and he taught it to Swammerdam. In the context of these letters, apparently written just as Huygens and Spinoza are getting to know each other in Voorburg, Huygens’ 1668 brotherly admission reads either as a distinct point in regards to compound microscopes, or signifies a larger concession in terms of his debate with Hudde. There are some indications that Hudde and Spinoza would have known each other in 1661, as they both figure as highly influential to Leiden Cartesians in Borch’s Diary. And Spinoza was a maker of microscopes, as Hudde was an enthusiast of the instrument even then. It makes good that there would have been some cross-pollination in the thinking of both instrument maker’s techniques in those days, but of this we cannot be sure. 

Against the notion that Spinoza has argued for simple microscope smaller objectives with Huygens is perhaps the compound microscopes achieved by the Italian Divini. Divini, in following Kepler’s Dioptice, realizes a compound microscope whose ever descreasing size of the objective increases its magnification. I believe that there is good evidence that Spinoza was a close reader of Kepler’s (see my interpretation of Spinoza’s optical letters: Deciphering Spinoza’s Optical Letters ). If Spinoza was making compound lenses, and he had argued with Huygens that the smaller the objective the better, it seems that it would have been the kind of microscope described below, following the reasoning of Kepler, which he would have made. 

First, Silvio Bedini sets out the principle of Divini’s construction: 

Divini was an optical instrument-maker who established himself in Rome in about 1646 and eventually achieved note as a maker of lenses and telescopes. In a work on optics published in Bologna in 1660 by Conte Carlo Antonio Manzini, the author describes a microscope which Divini had constructed in 1648, based on Proposition 37 of the Dioptrice of Johann Kepler. This was a compound instrument which utilized a convex lens for both the eye-piece and as the objective was reduced so were the magnification and the perfection of the instrument increased (386).

Then he typifies a class of microscope of which Divini was known to have constructed with this line of analysis:

One form consisted of a combination of four tubes, made of cardboard covered with paper. Each tube was slightly larger than the previous one, and slid over the former. An external collar at the lower end of each tube served as a stop to the next tube. The ocular lens was enclosed in a metal or wooden diaphragm attached to the uppermost end of the largest tube. The object-lens was likewise enclosed in a wooden or metal cell and attached to the bottom of the lowermost or smallest tube. The rims of the external collars were marked with the digits I, II, and III, in either Roman or Arabic digits, which served as keys to the magnification of the various lengths as noted on each of the tubes. The lowermost of the tubes slid within the metal socket ring of the support and served as an adjustment between the object-lens and the object. The instrument was supported on a tripod made of wood or metal. It consisted of a socket-ring to which three flat feet were attached (384).

 And lastly he presents an example of this type, which he calls Type A:

(Pictured left, a 1668 microscope attributed to Divini):The socket-ring and feet are flat and made of tin, and the cardboard body tubes are covered with grey paper, with the digits 1, 2, and 3 inscribed on the collar tubes. The lowermost tube slides with the socket-ring for adjustment of the distance between the object-lens attached to the nose-piece in a metal cell, and the object. The ocular lens is enclosed in a metal holder at the upper end of the body tube. It consists of two plano-convex lenses with the convex surfaces in contact. The original instrument had a magnification of 41 to 143 diameters. The instrument measured 16 1/2 inches in height when fully extended and the diameter of the largest body tube was 1 1/2 inches. A replica of this instrument, accurate in every detail, was made by John Mayall, Jr., of London in 1888 (385-386).

“Seventeenth Century Italian Compound Microscopes” Silvio A. Bedini

 This 16 1/2 inch compound microscope indeed may not have been the type that Huygens’ comment allows us to conclude that Spinoza built, but it does follow a Keplerian reasoning which employed the plano-convex lenses that Spinoza favored in telescopes, one that imposed the imparitive of smaller and smaller objective lenses. It is more my suspicion that Spinoza had in mind simple microscopes, but we cannot rule out the compound scope, or even that he was thinking about both.

Futher, Spinoza’s favor of spherical lenses and his ideal notion that such spheres provide a peripheral focus of rays (found in letters 39 and 49), seems to be in keeping with the extreme refraction in smaller objectives in microscopes, although he attributes this advantage to telescopes. More than in telescopes, the spherical advantage in conglobed, simple lensed microscopes, would seem to make much less of the prominent question of spherical aberration. But in the case of either compounds or simples, the increase curvature, and minuteness of the object lens would fit more closely with Spinoza’s arguments about magnification, and Descartes’ failure to treat it in terms other than the distance of the crossing of rays.

Huygens’s Criticism of Descartes’ La Dioptrique

In order to understand Spinoza’s dissatisfaction with and objection to Descartes’ La Dioptrique  (found in letters 39 and 40 linked below), one has to understand the opinions of those contemporary to Spinoza. Below I post a selection from Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis comprehensive book on Christian Huygens, who is well-noted for having been Spinoza’s neighbor in Voorburg.  

La Dioptrique was written, Descartes said in the opening discourse, for the benefit of craftsmen who would have to grind and apply his elliptic and hyperbolic lenses. Therefore the mathematical content was kept to a minimum. Apparently this implied that Descartes need not elaborate a theory of the dioptrical properties of lenses. Descartes adopted the term Kepler had coined for the mathematical study of lenses. He had not, however, adopted the spirit of Kepler’s study. Dioptrice and La Dioptrique approached the telescope from opposite directions. Kepler had discussed actual telescopes and drudged on properties of lenses that did not fit mathematics so neatly. Descartes prescribed what the telescope should be according to mathematical theory. The telescope, having been invented and thus far cultivated by experience and fortune, could not reach a state of perfection by explaining its difficulties. Huygens was harsh in his judgement of La Dioptrique. In 1693, he wrote:

“Monsieur Descartes did not know what would be the effect of his hyperbolic telescopes, and assumed incomparably more about it than he should have. He did not understand sufficiently the theory of dioptrics, as his poor build-up demonstration of the telescope reveals” (OC10 402-403)

We can say that Descartes, according the Huygens, had failed to develop a theory of the telescope. He had ignored the questions that really mattered according the Huygens: an exact theory of the dioptrical properties of lenses and their configurations. La Dioptrique glanced over the telescope that existed only in ideal world of mathematics (37).

Lenses and Waves: Christiaan Huygens and the Mathematical Science of Optics in the Seventeenth Century, Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis

Here we get a sense of Spinoza’s complaint that Descartes may have avoided certain questions due to mathematical complexity, and that Descartes is not dealing with actual telescopes. It is significant to follow that indeed the analogical form of arguments in the La Dioptrique was designed to be in favor of the craftsmen and artisans who were meant to grind Descartes’ miraculous hyperbolic lens, while in life (and theory), it was the great tension with this human and technical reality that that produced the Cartesian telescope failure.

A line by line interpretation of Spinoza’s Optical letters: Deciphering Spinoza’s Optical Letters

Jerry Rothman’s website dedicated to Kepler’s Dioptrice: here

 

A 1940 Review of Theodore Kerckring’s “Spicilegium Anatomicum”

Spinoza’s Microscopist

I post here a link to a 1940 Canadian Medical Association Journal review of Theodore Kerckring’s “Spicilegium Anatomicum”, a work which contains specific reference to observations made with a Spinoza made microscope. Kerckring was a fellow student of Spinoza’s at van den Enden’s Latin school, and then studied anatomy at the University of Leiden when Spinoza was nearby at Rijnsburg, and was likely part of a Cartesian circle which both J. Hudde and Spinoza held some influence over. Wim Klever argues that he was a loyal follower of van den Enden, who he takes also to be Spinoza’s major philosophical influence. Kercking would marry van den Enden’s daughter.

       

by Albert G. Nicholls
To give context, here is an annotated, modern translation of Marcello Malpighi’s De Polypo Cordis, to which Kerckring is likely responding in his counter to the assertion that “polyps of the heart” develop in life. Kerckring corrects that what has been observed are post-mortum coagulations of blood. Aside from the issue of heart polyps, it was Malpighi’s microscope-aided, revolutionary observations of the fine organization of organ tissue in terms of “cells” which overturned the long-held view that organs such as the spleen, lungs or liver were simply colagulations (parenchyma) or a “confused lumps”, and Malpighi had responded directly to criticism : “De Polypo Cordis” (1666)
 

Line of Argument

The line of reasoning I will be following in this evidence might be called questions about the philsophy of seeing, as the dificulties of applying the microscope to anatomy attest, “seeing” is not a simple matter of “looking”. In order to assess how Spinoza concieved of the powers of the microscopes he built, one must take into view what micro-vision meant for those attempting it, in particular for those of a Cartesian conception of the world. Kerckring’s text gives a portal into the ambiguities of lensed vision, and the trust of observation.

A Sum on Spinoza Sugar

Spinoza at Sea

I’m waiting for Wolf’s book on the Canary Island Inquistion, so for now that should probably be all on the possible connections between the Spinozas and sugar production in Brazil and Barbados. It is my instinct that there is something there, that the bonds between the Amsterdam community and Recife, and also the wide-spread opportunity for short-term turn around would surely place some of Michael Spinoza’s investments in Brazil. It strikes me that the collapse of the Spinoza buisness upon Michael’s death is too immediate to not be due to either an erosion brought on by a decade of English harassment (as Jonathan Israel seems to suggest), or by Baruch’s incompetence. Rather, it would seem that as English naval attacks on Dutch shipping began in ’51, Michael had already secured himself a fall-back within London in the person of Antonio Carvajal who petitioned many times on his behalf. The confiscated Brazilian sugar seized by the English ship George, already consigned by the Spinozas to de Morais in Rouen, suggests a substantial connection to Brazilian sugar, London and Rouen. Remember, Carvajal had strong connections to the Rouen community. When the Portgugeuse would retake Recife and send the Amsterdam community into a chaos of exiled immigrants, Michael Spinoza died. Significant would be his debt to the same Rouen merchant de Morais, to whom he had consigned sugar shipments. It would seem that the collapse of Recife, Sephardic sugar signaled the collapse of the Spinoza firm, and that Michael had leveraged himself too far. Baruch’s charitable donation of 5 guilders to the Brazilian poor in Brazil, at a time of personal financial difficulty, suggests a family connection to that community which may very well have been an economic one. 

The relevance of this for anyone looking into the motivations and principles going through Spinoza’s mind at the time of his break with the community, and his subsequent stand in politics and arguments for freedom, is that there may have been a substantial experience of colonial collapse, with an attendant association of messianic Judaism (in the roles of the Kabbalist Aboab da Fonseca and the political envoy Menasseh ben Israel), which sprang Spinoza forwards. Sugar, with its highly problematic ethical question of slave labor, perhaps lies on a fault line in the fortunes of the Spinoza family, not to mention his community. It is interesting that Spinoza would continue this Jewish connection to the English in his correspondence with Oldenburg the Royal Society Secretary, a philosophical and scientific continuation of the economic and cultural advantages his father and Menasseh were carrying out at the time of his expulsion. As his brother Gabriel seems to have followed firm connections to London and trade in his immigration to Barbados, Spinoza was seeking another kind of sugar.

Some general thoughts on the matter.

The Number of Jewish Merchants in 17th Century Amsterdam

From Johanthan Israel’s Empires and Entrepots: The Dutch and the Spanish Monarchy and the Jews, 1585-1713:

The Number of Dutch Jewish Depositors with the Amsterdam Exchange Bank 1609-1674 (page 422)

One can see the post-1620 dip in investment which followed the renewal of the Spanish embargo on Dutch shipping to Spanish, Portuguese and Flemish ports. But to give a sense of the importance of merchantile buisness for a people debarred from guilded, retail buisness holdings, in 1620 the entire population of the Sephardic community in Amsterdam was a little over 1,000. This puts the number of depositors at approximently 10% of that population. And the Dutch Jewish population in Recife Brazil in the year 1644 was nearly 1,500, 150% of the Sephardic population of Amsterdam 25 years before.

Spinoza Doubt? The Sephardim and the Slave Trade

 

Spinoza Doubt

Working slowly along the edge of a soft hypothesis, one comes upon a curious aporia in history when looking into Brazilian and West Indies sugar, the Sephardim, and the slave trade. It is the movement away from share-cropping and indentured labor to imported, enslaved Africans that really fueled the dramatic rise of sugar plantation production; and the spread of these production techniques seems to fall heavily upon the same webbed, merchantile networks Sephardi Jewry had made in its New Christian, Marrano and Jewish forms, stretching across the Atlantic. Yet despite the thoroughly integrated place Sephardic Jews had in the sugar trade, during this document-rich time there is an absence of historical evidence of their direct role in the slave trade, at least for practicing Jews. New Christians, it seems, held the very lucrative slave licenses, and though a natural line of business would extend to family relations (unconverted), this was not the evidentury case. I look into this under the thought that Spinoza’s repulsion/explusion from both his community and the firm, may have had in some measure something spiritual-political-ethical to do with the firm’s sugar trade connections. This of course is very hard to assess from this distance, but like good 17th century telescopists, we have to make educated guesses at the specks seen through very poor glass, and it is worthwhile to at the least raise the question.

Below I post a lengthy selection from Bernardini and Fiering’s Jews and the Expansion of Europe 1450 to 1800. It sets the context of the question within a historical example. The relatively successful New Christian Slave trader Manuel Dias Henriques, as he returns to Amsterdam and Judiasm, once he arrives in Amsterdam apparently stops trading in slaves despite being well-connected to the sugar trade. 

From these sparse data alone we can glean that New Christians and SepharicJews appear to have played a direct role in developing at least 20 percent of Brazil’s sugar productive capacity. Substantial as that was, their role was greater still when we consider the New Christians’ financial of sugar cultivation through the slave trade. Slaves and slave labor were indispensable to the colony’s economy. Slaves not only cleared the land and planted, harvested, cultivated, and processed the sugar cane, but were also ubiquitous as domestic labor and were even represented in certain positions of skilled labor. In the early seventeenthcentury, Brazil’s merchants and sugar cultivators imported up to four thousand slaves annually. New Christians provided the bulk of these slaves. They contracted withthe Portuguese king to administer the slave licensing regime in Portuguese slave stations in Guinea and Cape Verdeislands, and in Angola. The contractor paid the Portuguese king a flat sum for the right to sell the licenses. Although New Christians certainly were not the only slave traders among the Portuguese, the evidence is conclusive that the contractors reserved the bulk of the licenses – and therefore the bulk of the slave trade – for their relatives and other New Christian associates.

At an average of 70 cruzadosa head delivered in Brazilian ports, the four thousand were worth 280,000 cruzados annually. Most would have been sold to lavradores and mill owers on credit. The parties typically drew up a bill of exchange or other evidence of debt providing for payment of the debt in Brazil at a certain future date when the year’s sugar production would have been available. Such financing enabled planters to expand cultivation and yet maintain the lavish lifestyles many were pursuing in the tropical colony.

It is noteworthy that there is little evidence that the Sephardim(what is, observant Jews) participated in the slave tradeof their New Christian relatives and associates, or did so on their own – at least not prior to the development of Dutch Brazil in the late 1630s and 1640s. This apparent lack of participation in the slave tradeis puzzling, since the New Christian role in the slave trade was so important and the Sephardim’scooperation withNew Christian merchants in trade was so intimate. This is particularly true when we consider that family ties were the only reliable vehicle for extended commercial operations and the only guarentee of reasonable transaction costs.

Take, once again, the example of Miguel Dias de Santiago and his couisn Manuel Dias Henriques. Bothlived for a period in Brazil as New Christians. Miguel resided in Bahia and traded with Portugal and Norther Europe between 1595 and 1615. Miguel’s account books from that period demonstrate his interest in the exchange of all manner of European and Asian commodities for sugar, but there is not one entry recording the exchange of slaves for sugar. When Miguel departed from Brazil, he settled in Antwerp and continguedtrading in association with Manuel Dias Henriques, who was established by the 1620s in Amsterdam and had assumed the name Matathias Aboab after he reverted to Judaism.

While still a New Christian, Manuel Dias Henriques had shuttled slaves between Angola and Brazil and had finally delivered slaves to Mexico and Guatemala in the early 1620s. He certainly acquired slaves under licenses obtained through another New Christian cousin, Duarte Dias Henriques, who held the slave contract for Angola from 1607 to 1614. Manuel departed suddenly in 1621, when the Mexican Inquisition initiated a manhunt for him in Guatemala. Manuel arrived in Amsterdam in 1626 (following his late cousin Duarte Fernandes, alias Josua Habilho, another associate in Atlantic sugar trading who had preceded him there by more than a decade). Once established in Amsterdam, it would have been natural for Manuel (now an observant of the “law of Moses”) to continue the slave trade he obviously knew from his earilierdays and to combine it with his cousin Dia’s sugar trading (now from Antwerp).

Why did Manuel cease slave trafficking when he arrived in Amsterdam? A personal moral aversion to slavery and the slave trade, after his experience in Atlantic slave trading, is possible in Manuel’s case. But why did other Sephardic merchants who has similar family commercial connections in Portugal, Spain and Brazil, and the Americas not participate in the slave trade? If the reversion to the Jewish faithwas a factor in the Sephardi avoiding the very profitable trade in human cargo, why did many of the Sephardim become slave owners and some SephardicJews become slave merchants later, beginning withthe development of the sugar industry in Dutch Brazil? Did the licensing regime for the introduction of slaves into Brazil precludeJews from the trade? If New Christians in Portugal and Brazil could includeJewish relatives in shares of sugar cargoes surreptitiously, why not includethem in licenses and cargoes for slave trading? Or did they obscure Jewish participation in the profitable trade so well that today no evidence has survived? We shall probably never have entirely satisfactory answers (476-477).

from Jews and the Expansion of Europe 1450 to 1800, Paulo Bernardini and Norman Fiering

History’s Aporia

For my part, Spinoza’s repulsion from slavery (given in the symptomatic dream-figure of the scabrous Brazilian) and his close proximity to ideal democratic and freedom solutions to the upheavals of the time (the tracts of his teacher Van den Enden are among the most radical in modern history), is suggestive. One cannot count out the idea that Spinoza in his break from his family firm was also from its likely, if only tangential, connection with sugar and the slave trade; his brother and partner Gabriel in a few years would move to trade in sugar in Barbados where he certainly would own slaves. This fit properly into a schism of consciousness within the Amsterdam Sephardic community itself. It was on the backs of human trafficking that wealth in the sugar trade was made possible, and a great number of Amsterdam Sephardim, or their relatives, lived the reality at Recife Brazil. Can one discount entirely that the rabbi that read Spinoza’s cherim(pronouncement of excommunitication), his boyhood school teacher Aboab de Fonseca, in Brazil must have been a slave holder, and the leader of that community which brought slaves? It is very hard to assess the feelings a community might have held regarding something as historically distant as the slave trade. Now, with it rightfully secured as the evil of that age, it is tempting and easy to project backwards and try to separate out the ethical wheat from the self-serving chaff. Sephardic Jews found themselves in a questionable, tenuous historical situation. Recently fled from physical and systematically psychological brutalities of the Inquisition which still actively shadowed them with spies to every corner of the world, their social standing in European communities was nearly entirely guaranteed through their successes in trade. They were a quintessential people of the margin, securing their place at the nexus-points of transit, while their own coherent identity rested upon the reclamation of the past religious, moral heritage. The messianic strain for fulfillment as millenarian Christians joined Kabbalists adventitious hopes, operated at the taut limit of these two factors: a horizontal spread across the globe, and a vertical ascension of the past. As Jews spread forth in an acceleration of the exile and fulfillment, the African followed them like their shadow, reminding them, manifesting their extreme subjection and near extinctionas a People. So as the Sephardim stretched out, so came with them their “Ethiopian” brothers, to whom it was nearly impossible to position themselves, either in embrace or rejection.

The absence of an evidentiary direct hand in the African slave trade by the Sepharidim is quite interesting in this overview. As the authors above suggest. At worse, it could have come from an imagined-to-be uniform, almost insidious, precision in cloaking their connection to slavery through name aliases and company share-holdings; at best it came from a natural aversion to human debasement, born from the Jewish conception of themselves as Jews, and their experiences in history. While Jews established their social efficacy by carrying for centuries the very serious stigma of money-lenders and interest chargers (a stain we cannot now viserally imagine), they would not do so as known slave traders.

There is something about this which is tremendous. To take an example: one can imagine the Sephardimdeparted across the Atlantic to fortify a tenuous Jewish community in Recife Brazil, built upon the onerous practices of sugar plantations. The numbers of Sephardim there would grow to nearly equal the number in Amsterdam. Their rabbi would be a Kabbalist. Their connections to Old Europe and their conditions of Self-identity must have fluctuated within a sphere of both moral and economic compass, thick with a sense of returning to a lost past and being on a literal cusp of civilization (how different Amsterdam was from remembered Portugal, or even cosmopolitan Amsterdam). There they would find Portuguese Catholics newly free from Spain’s yoke, Jews legitimately converted to Catholism, and practicing Jews. The encounter with the facts of African slavery must have been something of a morass, as realities of a Catholic embrace of slavery surely affixed themselves to the immigrants. But there seems to have been a split between a consciousness of working and living within a sphere of New Christian, Inquisition-fear, where slave-trading was a normative and indeed lucrative practice, and the social Jewish identity which distanced itself from such. As the authors above allow us to imagine, one might very well, even whole-heartedly, engage in such practices as a New Christian or a crypto-Jew, as an outright Jew this was to some degree shunned. As Jews shuttled between these two para-realities, so too their participation in slave trade seemed to.

What I suggest is that the question of slavery and sugar was not one that was unique to Spinoza, but rather part of an emblematic difficulty the entire Amsterdam Sephardic community struggled with, as again and again they had to position themselves between Empires that had every ideological reason to turn upon them. In a sense, the hands-off policy regarding slave trade (whether it be found only in book-keeping records, or in the conscience of the people), expressed the safe distance that needed to be kept from the moral ambiguities of trade itself. As Jews, perhaps, as the ultimate traffickers, it was necessary to keep clean of the ultimate traffic, so as to retain a moral and historical identity, for themselves, though as Brazilian colonists, they indeed bought and sold them at market (the market, I have read, closed on Jewish days of observance).

One wonders if, apart from so many other very significant factors, Spinoza in some way recoiled from the taint of what historical trade involved, both in its political manifestations, and is moral failures. The free exchange of ideas and reason that Spinoza would champion can be seen as abstracted from, and a rebellion to, the harsh actualities of what was traded, and as part of a merchant family, as a merchant himself, he knew this. He was excommunicated in an act said to be carried through the voice of the ex-sugar colonist and kabbalist rabbi Aboab, returned from Brazil. In a sense, it was out from the issue of Brazil that Spinoza’s excommunication came. The point certainly is not to frame Spinoza as a great moralist, or at that young age, as the great ethicist he would become, but rather to suggest that Spinoza’s excommunication from his community reads symptomatically upon it. One should not forget that he was a merchant, the son of a merchant, and that sugar, and thus the problematic of slavery, ran very deeply into the subsistence and psyche of that community, in particular as it came to grips with the ambitions and failures (political, economic, theological) of Recife Brazil.

When Spinoza writes in what is thought to be his earliest work,

I say “I resolved at length,” for at first sight it seemed ill-advised to risk the loss of what was certain in the hope  of something that seemed at that time uncertain. I could well see the advantages that derive from honour and wealth, and that I would be forced to abandon their quest if I were to devote myself to some new and different objective.

he sees his departure both from wealth itself, but also from the public esteem that stems from it. It is a break with the entire apparatus of human measure in which profit becomes symbolized instead of enacted. Spinoza seems to take the messianic and trade expansion in which his people were engaged in to entirely different magnitude of a universalized capacity to act, in which the incipient question of human slavery becomes broadcast large. It must be understood, I believe, not just metaphorically that Spinoza titles the Fourth part of his Ethics, “Of Human Bondage, or the Powers of the Affects”. It is on the question of Slavery and freedom that his entire ethical project turns. His divorce from wealth, for what he perceived to be another kind of wealth, must have in some sense come from a separation from the means of human wealth becoming proliferate at the time, certainly something he understood clearly as a merchant with ties to sugar and Recife. The distructive interventions of the Portuguese against Dutch and Sephardic interests in Brazil 1645 and 1654) were driving the community toward the British and with it, the West Indies, involving both slavery and sugar. His breach likely reflected a breach within the community itself.

Dealings In London, Evidence for Spinoza Sugar Trade Relations

Brazil Revisited

To begin, I must make this clear that I am not a historian. It is only that I have combed the historical record looking for facets others may not have considered in the making sense of Spinoza’s historical context and life decisions. Among the things that have been curious for me has been Spinoza’s dream of the scabby Brazilian, recounted for both solace and explanation in the letter to his friend Peter Balling (Letter 17, July 20th 1664). I have written about some hypothetical, let it be said, imaginative considerations already here:  Spinoza the Merchant: The Canary Islands, Sugar and Diamonds and Leprosy. In recently composing a historical time-line (Spinoza Sugar Time Table ) to gain at the least a perspective on the issue of possible Spinoza family relations to the sugar trade, several additional features have come to stand forth, and it is these I would like to string together for the reconsideration of the influences that trade have have had on Spinoza’s experiences and ideas.

Antonio Fernandes Carvajal

Among the various seemingly mundane details of Michael Spinoza’s merchant dealings unearthed by Vas Dias are the traces of a substantial trade relationship with Antonio Fernandes Carvajal. Carvajal most notably is a Jew living and doing business in London, under the “cover” of being technically regarded as a Spanish subject, at a time when Jews are barred from the land (expelled in 1290, not be loosely readmitted until 1655-56). Carvajal is a covert but central figure of a small Sephardim community there, yet a man of notable power. 

We know him to have come the Canary Islands where there had been an enclave of refugee Sephardim families dating back before even 1492. There, these Jews lived the life a New Christians, for the most part outward Catholic practitioners, keeping for a time beyond the investigative grasp of the mainland’s brutal Inquisition. These small islands off the coast of North Africa proved to be an unexpected source of great wealth and opportunity. As the site of the first owned Spanish sugar plantations, they had suddenly been dominated by the sugar trade at the end of the 15th century, something which would eventually fatigue the land and nearly exterminate the native Gauche;but then as the price of sugar crashed due to the successes in the New World, the island exported its sugar plantation techniques, and turned to the production of sweet wine for the English; and all the while the European Canarians would benefit from the island’s stepping-stone place upon the transAtlantic sea-lanes, becoming not only an intermediary provision stop and intelligence exchange, but also a hub for pirate activities as they lucratively harassed Portuguese ships on their return from trade. The Canary Islands were of all things..connected.

This how Edgar Samuel describes Carvajal:

In 1635, Antonio Fernandes Carvajal (or Carvalhal) settled in London. He was born in Fundão in Portugal, lived for a long time in the Canary Islands and then settled in Rouen, until he was obliged to leave. He lived in London as a Catholic and built up a considerable business as the London agent of Jorge de Paz, Baron de Silveiraof Madrid, who was the largest contractor for shipping bullion to the Spanish army in the Netherlands. He was also a major importer of Canary Wine. In 1654, when war was declared with Spain, Carvajal renounced his Spanish nationality. He and his sons took English nationality and at the same time converted openly to Judaism. He was to be the founder of the first post-expulsion London Synagogue in 1656. – The Portuguese Jewish Community in London (1656 – 1830)

Cecil Roth in his book A History of the Jews in England (1949) reveals much more of Carvajal’sextensive trade practices and political heft. He is not just a wine importer, and agent, but a significant trader withthe East and West Indies, owning ships, conducting heavy arms dealings, bullion trade and having connections which make possessions immune to confiscation, despite his pseudo-standing as a Spanish agent.

 An impetus was given to the process in 1632, when in consequence of internal dissension; the crypto-Jewish congregation, which had sprung up, at Rouen was denounced to the authorities and temporarily broken up. One of its principal members had been Antonio Ferdinando Carvajal, a native of Fundão in Portugal, but long resident in the Canary Islands. He, with perhaps one or two others, had settled in London. Notwithstanding at least one prosecution for recusancy owing to his failure to attend Church, it did not take him long to establish his position in his new home. Before many years had passed, he was amongst the most prominent merchants in the City. He possessed his own ships, trading withthe East and West Indies, as well as the Levant, in a large variety of commodities. He imported gunpowder and munitions on an extensive scale, brought large quantities of bullion from abroad, and during the Civil War was grain contractor for Parliament. When in 1650 informal hostilities began with Spain his goods were expressly exempted from seizure by the Council of State, and he was given facilities for continuing his commercial operations.

These details drawn from this internet source.

So letus return to Michael Spinoza. There are multiple points of interesting contact between Michael and the powerful Carvajal. Firstly, it is reported by Vas Dias that in 1644 Michael with his wife’s cousin, the significant Amsterdam figure, Abraham Farar, forms a contract with Carvajal:

1644 April 25 Michael makes a contract concerning “various trading matters” with the cousin of his wife Esther, Abraham Farar, concerning the contact Antonio Fernandes Carvajal, an illicit Jewish merchant of London.

But this may not have been the first substantial contact between Michael and Carvajal. As Samuel tells us, the gunpowder and munitions importer Carvajal established his buisness primarily as the “London agent of Jorge de Paz, Baron de Silveira of Madrid, who was the largest contractor for shipping bullion to the Spanish army in the Netherlands: (citing James C Boyajian, “Portuguese Bankers at the Court of Spain 1620-1650″). As I have pointed out elsewhere the credit records of Michael’s firm in the year of 1641possess as debtor the name of a prominent arms dealer LopoRamirez (for a sum of 1108 guilders), who had in that concluded an enormous deal for arms with the new Portugues King, John IV. On this same list is the name Jan de Pas (for a sum of 1,271 guilders), which bears close resemblance to Carvajal’s main buillioncontact, Jorge de Paz (aliases and spelling variations proliferate in merchant records). Perhaps this is a coincidence, but three years before his contract with the arms dealer Carvajal, MIchael Spinoza’s firm holds a credit bond with another substantial dealer of arms, and possibly Cavajal’s main Spanish contact in court.  

The Canary Island Connection

Michael Spinoza’s contacts with Cavajal proved lasting. Seven years after they have been officially recognized, we see Carvajal being given power of attorney twice in 1651 to reclaim goods seized by the English on Michael’s behalf:

1651 July 20, Michael grants power of attorney to two men in London. Both Jacob Boeve and Antonio Fernandes Carvejal are to recover the merchandise of pipes and small casks of Algerian oil seized by English Admiralty from a ship come from Portugal.

1651 November 27, Michael seeks to recover from Julian Lanson, an Amsterdam merchant, some expense of the reclamation of goods from the ship Prince come from the Canary Islands. These expenses had been advanced by the same illicit London Jew, Antonio Fernandes Carvejal.

Notably, in the second these the ship has come from Carvajal’s home territory, the Canary Islands. Whatever trade that Michael is conducting, whether it be from Lisbon solely, or the burgeoning sugar trade of the New World, his relationship to Carvajal seems more braided than it might appear at first glance. I believe that in the Canary Island connection, and the person of Carvajal, we have a firm touching point to the sugar of the New World. (I will leave the associations with arms dealing for others to uncover.)

In order to understand the value that a covert London agent would I will cite at length Jonathan Israel’s description of the state of Amsterdam Sephardi commerce in the years following the 1651 Navigation Act barring Dutch trade with English Colonies. Dutch Sephardim traders had to negotiate the ever-shifting alliances and wars that endangered the precious cargos come from the New World, and they did so through a cameleon strategy of national identites:

Before 1658, as far as the Sephardic Jewish community of Amsterdam was concerned, much the most important plantation colony in the Caribbean, owing to its pre-eminence at that stage in the production and exporting to Europe of sugar, was Barbados. And Barbados was English. Jewish settlement on Barbados had inevitably been a question of veiled direction from Amsterdam, and to a lesser extent Hamburg, seemingly initiated from London. This was essential if the cooperation of Cromwell’s government was to be won while avoiding adverse reproductions in the Republic itself. The Barbados Sephardic colony, as we have seen, originated in the late 1640s; it was much expanded by the influx of refugees from Brazil, in 1654, and then by further waves of immigration of refugees from Holland [of which Gabriel Spinoza was one]. Thus, the great bulk of the Barbados Sephardic community in this early period consisted of Dutch Jews, their economic as well as their social and cultural ties being withAmsterdam and not London. Nevertheless, in order to circumvent the English Navigation Act of 1651, one of the main purposes of which was to eliminate trade between Holland and the English colonies, the existence of a Sephardic community in London, however small and precarious, was indispensible to the Barbados-Amsterdam connection which had to be dressed up as “English”. Officially, the Barbados Sephardim, after 1651, were agents of London Marranos and (after 1655) Jews, though their basic function was to sell Dutch goods on Barbados and export sugar and tobacco to Holland. In 1657, an Irish privateer in Spanish service – Spain and England were at war in the years 1655-1660 – brought in to San Sebastian what purported to be an English vessel, The Pearl, carrying twenty-seven Dutch Jewish emigrants on their way to settle in Barbados, taking with them merchandise which was valued at 120,000 pounds, an immense sum for the time. The Spanish admiralty authorities were utterly baffled as to whether the ship and its contents were English or Dutch, finding that the Jews had official papers and passes from both London and Amsterdam. This incident forced the Mahamad in Amsterdam to come into the open as the true guardian and protector of the Barbadian community, assuring the Spanish crown, through the States General, that everything on board the Pearl was in reality Dutch. It was this intervention by the Sephardic Jewish leadership in Amsterdam which lead to the States General’s famous resolution of 17 July 1657, to the effect that “those of the Jewish nation who live in these provinces [i.e. the United Provinces] are true subjects and inhabitants of these provinces and must enjoy the conditions, rights, and privileges of the treaties of peace and commerce. 

- Jonathan Israel, “Menasseh Ben Israel and the Dutch Sephardic Colonization Movement of the Mid-Seventeeth Century (1645-1657)”, 150-151

Israel tells us that the first significant sugar trade with Barbados developed not in the 1650s, as is often assumed, but a decade earlier with the disasters of Jewish Brazilian investment come from the revolt of 1645, and the Barbados arrival of plantation-minded Sephardim. From this point forward, English Barbados sugar would become a tantalizing source for closer, easier to produce wealth. If we can assume that Michael’s1644 contracts with Carvajal may have been embroiled in a variety of investments, with his contacts with the Canary Islands and the English, and the substantial Amsterdam investment in Brazil’s Recife community (Baruch’s childhood teacher of Hebrew, Isaac Aboab da Fonseca, since ’42 was its rabbi), it is hard to imagine that Michael did not evolve to participate in this trade.

The value of a strong English agent was that one could freely move in English trade circles, immune from the restrictions otherwise placed upon the Dutch, and the rise of Barbados sugar certainly would recommend this; this especially would be the case for the brothers Gabriel and Baruch when within a few months after word was recievedin 1654 that the Portuguese had retaken Recife, ending all Dutch investment there, and sending thousands of Sephardi refugees back across the Atlantic, their father Michael died. Of the wide hypotheses on the sudden decline of the once quite well-off firm, a too-generous Michael Spinoza being the most common, nowhere have I seen it pointed out that the collapse of the Recife community and the Dutch sugar marketmay be the simplest and most believable of answers. The firm that Baruch took over, I suspect, like many other merchant firms, was crippled by the 1654 Portuguese action.

There are suggestions that the Spinoza firm continued on with its sugar and Carvajal connection. Firstly, we have Spinoza presence in the home of a Canary Island physician, recovering from leprosy:

An echoing description was given to the Inquisition by Captain Miguel Pérez de Maltranilla, a day after Fray Tomás’s. The captain, visiting a Canary Islands physician convalescing from leprosy in Amsterdam, stumbled upon a discussion group at the sick physician’s home, where he distinguished two men “who had abandoned the Jewish religion” from two other, allegedly practicing, Jews (who should not, of course, have been “under the same roof or come within four cubits”) of Benedictus or De Prado (90).

- Israel Revah “Spinoza et le Dr. Juan de Prado” (1959),

This Inquistion report occurs in 1659, long after Spinoza had left the family firm. Yetit does suggest that Spinoza may have established, through his dealings with the Canary Island “native” Carvajal, and his associates, personal contacts that carried through to his Colligiant circle.

The second piece of evidence that points in the direction of sugar is that in 1664, a few months after Spinoza related to Balling his dream of the scabrous Brazilian, his brother Gabriel signed off power of attorney, and immigrated to Barbados, no doubt to begin a life related to the sugar trade. I don’t believe that this decision can be considered apart from Michael Spinoza’s long time connections with Carvajal, nor the community’s lasting closeness to the Recife community, and its diasporatic spread.

Spinoza Sugar Time Table

A Time Table of Events Juxtaposing Personal, Commerical and Colonial Interests Surrounding the Spinoza Family 

1524 Canary Island Jewish merchants as New Christians are trading with the West Indies, Castille, France, Flanders and London. In evidence of a moment in the islands, at least one family immigrated to Palestine to live again as Jews.

1593 Brazil. After the New Christian Diego Fernandez, the greatest expert in sugar plantations, was accused by the Inquisition of being a “judaizer.” The Inquisition dispatched an official inspector (visitator) for the purpose of seizing and confiscating the suspects’ possessions, and an inquisitional commission was established in 1593 in Olinda, the port of Recife.

1604 Mennaseh born on Madeira, an island once devoted to sugar, now to sweet wine. The wine will be a substantial export to Brazilian sugar colonies. 

1604 Peace between England and Spain gave stimulus to Canary archipelago crypto-Jewish sugar and wine trading.

1612 – 1630 Jewish immigration to the Canary Islands increases due to 47 Inquisition Autos de Fé  brought forth in Portugual’s major cities; these are distinctly marranos.

1614Lopo Ramiresmoves with his two sisters to Amsterdam.

1620 The number of Sephardi Jewish accounts at the Amsterdam Exchange bank number 144 (9.5%), risen from just 24 in 1609.

1621The Dutch are barred from trading withSpain, Portugal and their colonies. A tremendous number of Dutch Jews emigrate to Norther Germany. (Shipments will continue through Portugal, with Hamberg and other cities becoming a false point of origin or destination.)

1622 A council is called between the three synagogues to deal with excessive poor relief expenditures due to the renewed Spanish embargo against the Dutch. An imposta  (tax) is established on all commercial and financial transactions by all members. (Duarte Nunes de Costa may have been influential in this solution.)

1622/3 Michael marries his cousin Rachel. He has settled in Amsterdam.

1623 December 3 A child of Michael and Rachel dies.

1624 April 24 A prematurely born child buried in the Portuguese-Israelite cemetary at Ouderkerk aan de Amstel.

1625 Michael’s uncle and father-in-law Abraham, taken ill, grants him power of attorney at the Amsterdam Exchange Bank.

1625 Michael (alias Manuel Rodrigues Spinosa) agrees to tradeinalmonds with Antonio Martines Viega.

1625 The Inquistion is renewed in the Canary Islands, after 30 years of dormancy.

1627 Feburary 17 British ship carrying 10 African slaves and 80 British colonists, lands on the Western side of Barbados.

1627 Feburary 21 Rachel, Michael Spinoza’s first wife, dies with no surviving children.

1628 Michael marries Hanna Debra Senior, daughter of the merchant Henrique Garces.

1628 Jews fleeing the Portuguese at Recife Brazil, bring the first sugar and coffee to Barbados and set up trade just as the British are colonizing the island.

1629 Fifty slaves are reported on Barbados.

1629 Inquisition records that La Laguana of the Canary Islands is “full of Jews and [English and Dutch Protestant] heretics”.

1630 Febuary and March Hendrick Corneliszoon Loncq arrives at Pernambuco (Recife) with a fleet of 67 ships, 1170 guns and 7000 men. The Dutch take control of Recife, the best sugar colony in Brazil.

1630 By this year African slaves had replaced the native Tupani as the largest contingent of labor on Brazilian sugar plantations.

1631 July 15 Michael Spinoza and another holds the keys to a warehouse holding primarily Brazilian products.

1631 Michael pays only 20 guilders in the States of Holland 200th Penny Tax, showing his wealth in that year to be a rather moderate 4,000 guilders.

1632 The Crypto-Jewish congregation of about 30 families in Rouen France was denounced to the authorities and broken up by a Priest newly arrived. It is thought that this lead to the eventual immigration of Anthonio Fernandes Carvajal to London.

1632 November 24 Spinoza born.

1633 Michael trading in contraband raisins from Malaga Spain. The order does not arrive in good condition. (This may have been conducted through a German or Scottish vessel: Israel, Empires and Entrepots, 430)

1634 June 29 Michael and the merchants Woltrincx receive the full transfer of the ship Coningh David  come from Salle of Barbary, and all its goods, in a reduction of David Palache’s debts.

1635 Carvajal is already in London (testified to by his 1655 Patent of Denization which states that he had been in England “twentie yeares and upwards”).

1636 Kahal Zur Israel  “Rock of Israel” the first Synagogue of the New World is consecrated at Recife Brazil.

1636 The Barbados council addressing the length of a slave’s servitude declared, “Negros and Indians, that came here to be sold, should serve for Life, unless a contract was before made to the contrary”

1636-1645 23,000 African slaves shipped to Brazil.

1630s Despite a prominence of Jewish mercantile vocations in Brazil, evidence that New Christians develop, own and operate 59 sugar mills in Brazil, an estimated 20% of total production (Jews and the Expansion of Europe to the West, 475).

1636 June 3 Michael through negotiation received the insurance for the goods of a shipwrecked delivery from Jacob Codde, a member of a prominent and liberal Dutch family.

1637 January 10 Michael, among several other merchants, serve notice upon the skipper of the ship Fonteyn, for goods come from Barbary’s Salle.

1637 January Disputes between Michael and his brother-in-law/cousin Jacob over a share in Barbary trading with Michael’s father-in-law/uncle Abraham.

1637 September 8 Michael and the merchant Abraham de Fonseca stand surety for the medical doctor Abraham de Mercado, upon his release from prison.

1638 November 5 Spinoza’s mother, Hannah Deborah, dies.

1640 December Portugal cedes from Spain, throwing open its ports to Dutch traffic.

1641 April 11 Michael announces marriage to his third wife Esther (confirmed April 28), on the same day that her sister Margrieta marries into the de Tovar family, the elders of which are living in Brazil. Abraham Farar, the cousin of the sisters is involved. Esther signs with an X.

1641 June 14 Duarte Nunes de Costa (Jacob Curiel) of Hamburg, brother of Lopo Ramires (below), made a knight and nobleman to the king of Portugual’s house.

1641 July In Amsterdam Lopo Ramires, Portuguesmerchant, signs an enormous order worth 100,000 cruzados with the Portuguese ambassador, for muskets, powder, shot, siege equipment and ship’s rigging, destined for the new King of Portugal John IV. In this year the name the then pro-Protuguese arms dealer, Lopo Ramires, also appears as a debtor on Michael’s credit ledger for 1,100 guilders. 

1641 Michael’s ledger at the Amsterdam Bank of Exchange reads him as a creditor of 28,052.88 guilders.

1641 Feburary 26 Articles of Impeachment brought against Archbishop Laud, beginning changes that would open opportunities for crypto-Jewish London merchants. 

1641 August 26 The Dutch take Luanda Angola from the Portuguese in an attempt to corner the slave market for Brazil.

1641 December 1 The Grand Remonstrance, a list of grievances presented to Charles I of England.

1642 The first rabbi of the New World sent: Amsterdamer and kabbalist Isaac Aboab da Fonseca. He had been Spinoza’s boyhood teacher of Hebrew and Gemara, a fellow chacham  with Menasseh Ben Israel.

1642 Feburary 1 Michael holds a credit balance of 1,323.11.

1642 August Michael with Isaak Montalto sends to Tetouan Morocco an Amsterdam ship full of silver bullion, and other goods meant to continue on to Livorno. 

1642 Dutch merchants (Sephardim?), introduce sugarcane as a cash crop to Barbados. This is accomplished through an extention of credit to the “most sober inhabitants” for slaves and planting necessities, in exchange for crop (the same system that was established in Brazil). This would expand heavily after the Portuguese planter revolt in Brazil.

1643 6,000 African slaves make up 14% of the population of Barbados, this will rise to 46,500 and 66% by 1684.

1643 January Old Christian Francisco Fernandes Furna (a pronounced shipper of Madeira wine to Brazil) and Gaspar Pacheo seek a license to send a ship to Mozambique to secure a slave source for Brazil counter to that of, now Dutch-held, Angola.

1643 May 9 All of Archbishop Laud’s good at Lambenth Palace seized.

1644 1,400 Jews in the Netherlands Brazil.

1644 Antonio de Montesinos meets Menasseh, testifies that he had conversed with over 300 members of the lost tribe of Rueben in the Quinto Provence of Ecuador, fueling messianic hopes.

1644 March 12 Archbishop Laud brought to trial before the House of Lords.

1644 April 25 Michael makes a contract concerning “various trading matters” with the cousin of his wife Esther, Abraham Farar, concerning the contact Antonio Fernandes Carvejal, an illicit Jewish merchant of London.

1645 -1654  A decade of migration of the most aristocratic (New Christian) Jewish families to Amsterdam, many of which ennobled by European monarchs, bringing investment wealth and an air of oppulence the Amsterdam community had not seen before: De Pinto, Pereia, Lopes Souso, Teixeria, Nunes Henriques, Bueno de Mezquita, Cortizos, Nunes de Costa and Montezino.

1645 January 10 Archibishop Laud beheaded.

1645 May Jerome Nunes de Costa (Moses Curiel) was appointed agent of the Portugues Crown for all of Holland (nephew of Michael’s 1641investment connection, Lopo Ramires). 

1645 August 3 At the battle of Tabocasthere was a costly revolt of the Portuguese planters against Dutch rule in Brazil. Successive battles through Semptemberleft the Dutch only with Recife, giving series losses to rabbi Menasseh and other important Amsterdam Sephardim investors in sugar, as they pulled their investments out (Martinez Dormido, claims to have lost 150,000 guilders.) This produced a first wave of departing Dutch Jewry, bringing cashcrop sugar to, among other places, Barbados.

1646 April 20 Jesuit Portugues preacher Antonio Vieira writes from The Hague to New Christians in Rouen France (where the Antonio Carvajal is most connected), that he is attempting to pursuade the king of Portugual to restrain the Inquistion in Portugal and its colonies to harness Jewish capital in the fight for Brazil and Africa. His central plan is for a joint-stock Brazil Company (1649) which will have is products immune from confiscation.

1646 Jerome Nunes de Costa reports heavily, from Amsterdam, in direct dispatches to Portugual ministers in Lisbon on political and colonial matters, no doubt much to do with the effect of events in Brazil. Made a knight and nobleman of the house of Portugal, like his father.

1647 Sousa Coutinho accuses Jerome Nunes de Costa of overstating the Dutch forces in Brazil to discourage military action against now Dutch Recife.

1647 A section of the Sephardic cemetary at Recife is reserved for “all Jewish blacks and mulattos”, i.e., only those of blacks and mulattos who were either born in Judaism, their parents having been married with quedosim (by Jewish law), or who married a white with quedosim.

1648 The bylaws of the Recife and Mauricia Jewish congregations stipulate an imposta (tax) of 5 soldos for each Negro sold, and that slave auctions be postponed on Jewish holidays, evidencing Jewish involvment in the trade.

1648 August 24 The Portuguese take Luanda Angola back from the Dutch (lost in ’41), resecuring the dominant slave source for Brazil. 

1649 September 24 Spinoza’s older brother Isaac dies.

1649 March 10 The Brazil Company established a month after the Portuguese John IV king grants protection from the Inquisition to Jewish goods, goods neither to be inventoried or confiscated upon an arrest.

1649 Jerome Nunes de Costa and his uncle Lopo Ramires, purchase the friate Fortuna from Amsterdam merchant Jerimiah van Collen, on behalf of the Jesuit Vieira and the king of Portuagal. Many other ships purchased by Lopos Ramires’ brother Duarte in Hamberg and Lubeck. 

1649 Duarte Nunes de Costa becomes the Brazil Company’s factor for Germany, and his son Jerome the factor for the United Provinces. Very lucrative rewards for the family’s service to Portugal.

1649/1650 The year of Michael’s greatest imposta community tax payment, 75 guilders. For a full list see below.

1650 June 2 Michael consents in the marriage of his daughter Marian to the 22 year old rabbinical student, Samuel de Casseres.

1650 December 2 Michael appointed the administer of the “Misvah do Espretino” the Synagogue pawn-shop. A note in the record, “That it may be to his benefit!”

1651 July 20 Michael grants power of attorney to two men in London. Both Jacob Boeve and Antonio Fernandes Carvajal are to recover the merchandise of pipes and small casks of Algerian oil seized by English Admiralty from a ship come from Portugal.

1651 August 21 to 1652 January 28 Michael did business with 48 firms, a total account running to 61,883.18 guilders.

1651 Early Summer “A Dutch ship sailing from Lisbon [the Enkhuizen ship Nachtegael ], loaded with Brazilian sugar, including ten chests consigned by the Spinozas to Michael’s correspondent in Rouen, Antonio Rodrigues de Morais, was seized by the George of London, and taken to England.” (Israel, Dutch Jewry, 133)

1651 September Michael loses a cargo worth an estimated 3,000 guilders from the ship ‘t Witte Valck, which is attacked by Barbary corsairs off Cape St. Vincent.

1651 October, The First Navigation Act passed by the Purged Parlament, barring Dutch trade with England or her colonies.

1651 November 27 Michael seeks to recover from Julian Lanson, an Amsterdam merchant, some expense of the reclamation of goods from the ship The Prince come from the Canary Islands. These expenses had been advanced by the same crypto-, London Jew, Antonio Fernandes Carvajal.

1651 Spinoza’s sister Miriam, the year after her marriage to Samuel de Casseres, dies, having given birth to Daniel de Caseres (Vas Dias).

1651 Several times the Dutch States General discuss going to war with Portugal and blockading Lisbon.

1652 Jewish refugees from Brazil begin to arrive at the British South American colony of Surinam.

1652 George Ayscue captures 27 Dutch trading ships for the English at Barbados. 100 Dutch ships otherwise captured Oct ’51 to July ’52, when war was declared on the tenth.

1652 April 27 States General in response to the Van der Donck mission issued a letter installing a  “municipal government” within the city of New Amsterdam, and for the present Director Peter Stuyvesant to return home, abridging the West India Company’s control of the colony; the latter part rescinded with the declaration of war upon against England in July, the First Anglo-Dutch War.

1652 June Michael loses “olive oil, figs and almonds” from the ship ‘t Vat, as it is marauded by Moroccan corsairs in view of the Portuguese harbor of Faro from which it had just received its load.

1652 August 3 Michael and Joseph Villa Real outfit the ship Estrella, borrowing of 600 guilders from his son-in-law Samuel de Casseres under the conditions of bottomry.

1652 November On the issue of a Jewish admittance to England, a negotiated safe passage to London is granted, but the trip is too politically dangerous for Menasseh to take. The same in the Fall of ’53.

1653 January London crypto-Jew Diego Rodrigues Arias, shipowner, landed in Santa Cruz of the Canary Islands. In the port, there to pick up a cargo of wine, he was denounced by a Cuban negro who had served him in London. After two months in secret Inquistion cells he was released on parole, only to escape to London.

1653 February 2 The municipal charter for the city of New Amsterdam is signed.

1653 October 14 Michael’s third wife Esther dies.

1653 December 20  Seventy-seven Portuguese ships appear off Recife to take it. When Recife falls this has dramatic impact upon the Jewish community in Amsterdam, and possibly directly upon the Spinoza family firm.

1653 After marrying Lelia Henriqes in the Amsterdam Synagogue, on visit, and returning to liquidate his property, the Canary Island local Treasurer Duarte HenriquesAlvares settles in London with his new wife, as a crypto-Jew.

1654 January 26, Dutch Capitulation at Recife signed, a sugar colony loss that sends waves of financial crisis through the Sephardic Amsterdam community.

1654 March 28 Spinoza’s father Michael dies.

1654 May The Treaty of Westminster ends the First Anglo-Dutch War.

1654 July 8 Jacob Barsimson leaves Amsterdam on the ship the Pear Tree for New Amsterdam, to assess the possibility of a Jewish migration from Brazil. He arrives August 22.

1654 September The 23 Jews (four couples, two widows, and thirteen children), on the French ship Sainte Catherine arrive from Recife Brazil in New Amsterdam to settle. The Dutch India Company allows them to remain, despite Stuyvesant’s petition.

1654 September Spinoza takes over payments for his family and firm.

1654 Upon another influx of Brazilian Sephardim, the first Synagogue Nidhei Israel, “The Dispersed of Israel”, is founded by Recife emigrant Luis Dias (Joseph Jesurun Mendes) in Bridgetown Barbados.

1654 Jewish refugees from Brazil being to arrive at French Martinique.

1654 Canary Island Inquisitors send a Memorial to the Spanish King, protesting restrictions on Canary exports of wine, as it is from the ground rents of vineyards that the Inquisition received their operational income. At this point crypto-Jewish Canariotes are not only made up of Portuguese immigrants, but now also those from France, England and the Low Country communities.

1654 November 20 Colony-founder David Nassi writes to Martinez Dormido, who is attempting in conjunction with Menasseh to persuade Cromwell on the question of Jewish rights, that he has contacted  the parnas Abraham Farar (the cousin of Spinoza’s step-mother Rachel, and former business partner of Michael Spinoza), who assures that the Amsterdam parnasim is behind the efforts in England, but could not take a public stand on the matter.

1655 War breaks out between England and Spain.

1655 Dr. Miguel Reinoso (a fellow associate of Spinoza’s) denounced by Baltazar Orobio de Castro, as a Jew in absentia, to the Spanish Inquistion.

1655-1657 The influx of both Portuguese Brazilian sugar, and newly that of the West Indies, crashes the Eurporean sugar market.

1655 March Spinoza, perhaps representing his firm or his father’s memorial gift, offers five guilders to a fund for Brazilian poor in Brazil. Perhaps a sensitivity to Brazil is indicated. 

1655 April 20 Spinoza subpoenas Antonij Alvares regarding an overdue debt taken on from the Jewelry dealer Duarte.

1655 April 20 The Council of State in Lisbon discuss Jerome Nunes de Costa’s March 30th dispatch which suggusts that the Dutch are more prone to negotiate a peace, than go to war over the seizure of Recife Brazil.

1655 September 2 Menasseh departs, without the official support of the Amsterdam Mahamad, but likely with tacit agreement from some of its members, to petition Cromwell for the admittance of Jewish “rights” in England, and in December Cromwell calls for a Council on the matter, no formal agreement being reached. No charter, no public practice of religion, no guarantee of trade.

1655 November Spinoza, acting as partner in the firm, “conveys a bill of exchange for 876 crusados to Joseph Francis, also a merchant of the Portuguese nation in Amsterdam” (Vas Dias).

1655 Carvajal submits his Patent for Denization, receiving protection of his goods and trade. 

1655 The British conquer Jamaica, Jewish refugees begin to arrive.

1656 March 23 Spinoza’s guardian (under a law that made Spinoza technically a “minor”), Louis Crayer, filed a brief declaring Spinoza an orphan, in an attempt to evade the inheritance of his father’s debts.

1656 July 27 The cherem read against Spinoza; Colerus says read by Spinoza’s former teacher of Hebrew and then Recife rabbi (13 years), Aboab de Fonseca, as he was presiding over the Beth Din.

1656 In London the price of insurance on trade is at 2.5% to Lisbon and 3.5% to Barbados. 

1657 Autumn David Nassi on behalf of Brazilian exiles negotiates a lucrative charter for Essequibo, Guyana, North of Recife, colonized for the production of sugar. Ravaged by British forces sent from Barbados in 1665.

1657 The purportedly English vessel The Pearl, a ship bound for Barbados filled with goods valued at the enormous sum of £120, 000, and 27 Dutch Jewish immigrants, was seized by an Irish privateer working for the Spanish. The Muhamad in Amsterdam had to come into the open as the rightful guardian of the Barbados community.

1657 February Solomon Dormido, son of David Abarbanel Dormido, and nephew of Menasseh ben Israel admitted to the Royal exchange as a licensed London broker. A first.

1657 July 17 The States General declares those of the Jewish Nation residing in the United Provences to be full subjects, accorded all the rights by treaty.

1657 September, 10 months after the death of John IV, Baron van Obdentakes a fleet to Lisbon to demand recompense for the Dutch loss of Recife territories of Brazil. With recompense denied, naval conflicts ensue until ’61. Johan de Witt has Jerome Nunes de Costa put under surveillance.

1658 The Amsterdam Mahamad decides that mulatto boys shall no longer be admitted for study at the yeshiva of the Sephardim. 

1658 April 8 Francisco Medina applies to the Dutch State Archives for settling Nova Zeelandia (Essequibo), “for passports for various persons of the Hebrew nation who wished to go to Essequibo”.

1658 May 29 London crypto-Jew and merchant Duarte Henriquez Alvarez was burned in effigy in the Canary Islands by the Spanish Inquisition. 

1659 December 12 The Dutch States General meet with the new Portuguese ambassidor Miranda, and in negotiations demand the right to sail directly to and from Brazil, Angola and Saint Thomas, by passing the Royal customs house in Lisbon.

1659 August 9 Spinoza is reported to the Inquistion, by the sea captain Miguel Pérez de Maltranilla, to have been frequently at the house of a Joseph Guerra. There Don Guerra, a weatlthy non-Jewish [?] Canary Island merchant was likely attended to by Dr. Reinoso as he was recovering from leprosy. He is in the company of de Prado, as well as the tobacco merchant Pacheco [sugar and tobacco are New World trade].

1660 March The Portuguese ambassador notes that most of the Dutch Jews, especially those expelled from Recife in ’54, support the West India Company, and oppose the drafted treaty.

1661 The Barbados Slave Code established, denying basic rights to slaves. The code will become the model for future colonial codes.

1662 May Portugal, putting an end to over 60 years of colonial conflict, radifies the 1661 Dutch-Portuguese Peace Treaty, providing the same trade rights as granted by the English. Published in The Hague and Lisbon in April and March of ’63.

1664 August 27 Four British frigates take New Amsterdam from the Dutch, which would help initiate the Second Anglo-Dutch War (March ’65).

1664 October 31 Gabriel Spinoza grants power of attorney so to leave Amsterdam and moves to British Barbados.

1671 Gabriel Spinoza, after the Spanish cede the island to the English by treaty in 1670, moves to Jamaica, another sugar and slave economy.

1679 (-1685) Spinoza’s half-sister Rebecca moves withher two sons to the island of Curaçao, an island withno plantation trade itself, but served predominantly as a depot and “seasoning” stop for African slaves destined for English and Spanish colonies. Nearly 1,000 arrivals a week by one estimate.

 

From Jonathan Israel’s article “Philosophy, Commerce and the Synagogue” in Dutch Jewry:

 

[All dates and descriptions of the above need to be checked, the list serves as an informal listing of research notes for the benefit of others who may have need of such comparisons]

The Hole at the “Center of Vision”

Spinoza as Seer

In a sense, if we are to understand Spinoza’s optical influences we have to come to at least consider what seeing, or more helpfully, perceiving meant for Spinoza, for behind any optical conceptions Spinoza had lies the very act of actively engaging the world. Much as Descartes worked from definitive values of what clear perception was, wrestling with both empirical experiment and mathematical analysis, so too Spinoza held core positions on what clear perception involved, and these factors into the nature of Spinoza’s break with his precursor. It has become my running thought in this research that if we can generalize, Descartes’ model of clear perception involved the hyperbola’s capacity to refract rays come from a single point on an object, to another co-ordinate point on the surface of the back of the eye, and that importantly this point fell upon the central axis of the hyperbola, a mathematical line which expressed, or was the locus of, the human freedom of Will. This point of focus was – at least in the accounts of vision where Descartesis in praise of the hyperbola and the remarkable representational accuracy of the eye – the fulcrum of a naturalized embrace of narrow focus, frontal clarity.

The hyperbolas central point of focus as a model of clarity

The hyperbola's central point of focus as a model of clarity

This seems to be contrasted in Spinoza with an emphasis upon the multiplicity of visual axes that a spherical lens affords (Spinoza’s optical letters are talked about here: Deciphering Spinoza’s Optical Letters ). Spinoza was privileged enough to be familiar with thinkers who argued that spherical aberrationwas over-emphasized as a problem, and he seemed to hold that there was also a problem of “hyperbolic aberration” (my term), that is the inability of such lenses to focus rays cleanly to any points peripheral to the exact center-line of vision. Whatever one is to make of the impact such aberrationwould have had on telescope construction, it is plain that Spinoza’s view of a model of vision was panoramic, that is, anything that had clarity in the center, was clear due to its place within the context of the clarity of all that surrounded. Instead of a vague and confused border of “confused images” which only “serve” the central crispness (Kepler), because Spinoza felt that we looked with the Mind and not the eyes – something that Descartes also argued but withthe burden of theological-theoretical commitments to a free faculty of Will – Spinoza holds that ideal vision embraces the tableau, the scope of things. The hyperbola’s acute focus, as Spinoza understood it, just did not provide the convincing analogical force of what clarity would mean. I think it safe to say, neither thinker, Spinoza or Descartes, had a sure enough idea of what exact effect spherial aberration had on telescopes nor how refractionproduced its images, and it was their different notions of mental claritywhich governed their arguments for ideal lense shapes, filling in the blanks of what was known.

a modified diagram from Spinozas letter 39 designed to bring out the capacity of spherical lenses to focus peripheral rays

a modified diagram from Spinoza's letter 39 designed to bring out the difference between spherical and hyperbolic lens focus as it pertains to peripheral rays

Within this overview of differences, it is worthwhile to consider my guiding assumption of this research: that Spinoza’s experiences as a lens-grinder and instrument maker (not to mention his social standing having come from an artisan class) decisively gave him a craftsman’s appreciation of perception, one that reflects itself in his metaphysis. To get a firmer grasp on what a “craftsman’s appreciation of perception” is, I turned to Richard Sennett’s book on the subject, The Craftsman. There he writes adroitly on the nature of craftsman perceptions, thinking processes and environments, in particular the relationship to tools and on-site difficulties. This has been of great value. In his sum of craftsman perceptions he turns to “cognitive dissonance’ theory to help explain how the craft perception functions. This strikes me to be of use in pointing out just where Spinoza and Descartes seem to optically diverge. Below he discusses the nature of “focal attention” (he mentions two examples he has discussed previously, the house the philosopher Wittgenstein designed and had built, in which he infamously had the ceiling height of a room changed 3 cm, just as the worksite was being cleaned up; and Gehry’s explorations into the processes of forming titanium, designed for the rippling skin of his Bilbao project).

The capacity to localize names the power to specify where something important is happening…Localizing can result from sensory stimulation, when in a dissection a scalpel unexpected hard matter; at this moment the anatomist’s hand movements become slower and smaller. Localization can also occur when the sensory stimulation is of something missing, absent or ambiguous. An abscess in the body, sending the physical signal of a loss of tension, will localize the hand movement…

In cognitive studies, localizing is sometimes called “focal attention.” Gregory Bateson and Leon Festinger suppose that human beings focus on the difficulties and contradictions they call “cognitive dissonances.” Wittgenstein’s obsession with the precise height of a celing in one room of his house [citing that the philosopher had a ceiling lowered 3 centimeters in a house he had designed just the construction was being completed] derives from what he perceivedj as a cognitive dissonance in his rules of proportion. Localization can also occur when something works successfully. Once Frank Gehry could make titanium quilting work [citing the design of a material of specific relfective and textural capacities], he became more focused on the possibilities of the material. These complicated experiences of cognitive dissonance trace directly, as Festinger has argued, from animal behavior; the behavior consists in an animal’s capacity to attend to “here” or “this.” Parallel processing in the brain activates different neural circuits to establish the attention. In human beings, particularly in people practicing a craft, this animal thinking locates specifically where a material, a practice, or a problem matters.

The capacity to question is no less or more a matter of investigating the locale. Neurologists who follow the cognitive dissonance model believe the brain does something like image in sequence the fact that all the doors in a mental room are locked. There is then no longer doubt, but curiosity remains, the brain asking if different keys have locked them and, if so, why.  Questioning can also occur through operational success…This is explained neurologically as a matter of a new circuit connection being activated between the brains different regions. The newly active pathway makes possible further parallel processing – not instantly, not all at once. “Questioning” means, physiologically, dwelling in an incipient state; the pondering brain is considering its circuit options (278-279).

Gregory Bateson

Gregory Bateson

It is not my intention to claim that Spinoza holds a proto-cognitive dissonance theory, though there are some signficant and suggetive correspondences (a social dimension to agreement, determintative conditioning and holistic forces in judgment). Rather, I would like to put it the other way around, to use Sennett’s point about the nature of focal attention to shed some light upon Spinoza’s difficulty in accepting Descartes notion of an ideal crystal clear center of vision. If we simplify, we could say that Descartes was concerned with identifying and constructing means of “clear and distinct” perceptions or thoughts which would define idealvision (mental and otherwise). His engagement with the hyperbolic lens is at least analogically connected to his engagementwithhyperbolic doubt, each designed to focus the mind on a central clarity. What Sennett’s appeal to the craftsman experience of Cognitive Dissonance does is help expose a rift in the very center of focus which Descartes hopes to at least rhetorically stabilize. Focal Attention may be best understood as an irreconcilable line of fragmenting possibility and dys-clarity, and not the consummate moment-after experience of veritability. Modelsof the mind which have most thoroughly drawn upon the visual metaphor for truth mostly have taken the clarity of a perception as the exemplar of correspondence. I see two dogs, and I know that they are twodogs and this clarity is established against a figure-ground constrast. But a Cognitive Dissonance approach seems to suggest is a much finer grain look at what perception is. That is, when our focal attention is turned from this thing to that thing, this aspect to that aspect, it is not clarity which guides our view, but dys-clarity, a fuzziness of the possible and the incomplete. The eye may apprehend the distinction between a figure and the ground but it does not stop there; it continues to trace the significance of relation of elements that both compose the figure, and distinguish it from its context. The processes that give birth to a single distinction carry on in a relational, distinguishing manner. This destabilization of the center, and its resolution through its coherence with a whole, I believe is expressed in several ways in Spinoza thinking.

The depth of field analogy for knowing and Being

The depth of field analogy for knowing and Being

But first a short defintion of the concept

Cognitive Dissonance: “the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging in behavior that conflicts with one’s beliefs. More precisely, it is the perception of incompatibility between two cognitions.”

Spinoza and the Trace of Consciousness: the grain of wood

Sennett is concerned with the experiences and perceptions which guide the craftsman through his work, the careful notice of differences in materials, possibilities and designs, how a hand passes over wood grain or the mind might connect one part to another part. It is the waythat the mind glides over difficulties and solutions. Taken in its visual state, it is the way that the eye focuses upon this or that, leading itself across the bed of differences. And it is my intuition that Spinoza’s lived practices with craft that gave him a distinct sense of what it means to perceive and distinguish.

What is necessary is to establish just what it is that lies at the center of focus, if it not a crystalline clarity. And there are two selections of the Ethics which I have in mind in response to the Cognitive Dissonance lead. The first is Spinoza’s maxim concerning what it is that we imagine to be the case. It is important to realize that when Spinoza talks about the imagination, he means a confluence of both sensory experiences, and the beliefs we form about them, so much so the latter cannot be separated out from the former. The ideas we hold – or more properly, the ideational states we are in – determine our imaginary, phenomenological experience of the world.

Spinoza writes in part 3 of the Ethics, proposition 12:

The Mind, as far as it can, strives to imagine those things that increase or aid the Body’s power of acting.

This is the key proposition on which Spinoza will found our imaginary relationship to both to the world, but also to others. Through the mind’s force of positive imagining, it brings coherence to our body’s relationships, and thus improves our ability to act more freely (as our own cause). He continues to explain in the demonstration:

Hence, as long as the mind imagines those things that increase or aid our body’s power of acting, the Body is is affected with modes that increase or aid its power of acting, and consequently the Mind’s power of thinking is increased or aided.

In Spinoza’s view, though our relationship to the world may be imaginary (that is, we may not fully understanding the causes and effects involved), if we imagine a relation which improves our power to act, we will experience Joy (defined as an increase in this power, DOA 2), and thus the Mind will tend to continue to imagine in this fashion. Any imaginary improvement, if it results in Joy, is also an improvment in the power of thinking, and thus there is an imaginary, though non-optimal, path to greater power and freedom.

Hopefully the rough connection to Cognitive Dissonance theory will be seen. There is a tendency in perception and belief which determines the mind to think in a more coherent fashion. When there is dissonance – that is, a disjunction between one’sown ideationaland physical states and the states of the world – the imaginary value is to resolve this. In a sense, the imaginationis guided by the resolution of a center of dissonance, bringing the body into concert with its own powers as far as it understands them. (I leave aside the ladder of rational, causal understanding.) 

For Spinoza there is a cohering balast that centers the processes of imaginary experiences of the world. This is reflected in the most characteristic experiences of consciousness, the passing from one thought to other, as if in a chain. When Spinoza presents his General Definition of the Affects, he radically asserts that our chain of thoughts, most generally, are the result of the Mind affirming one state of the Body or another, such that each affirmation leads either to an increase or decrease of the power to act. These changes are the result of affects which express the adequacy of the ideas which compose our mind:

E3: General Defintion of the Affects: An affect, that is called a Passion of the mind is a confused idea, whereby the Mind affirms concerning its Body, or any part thereof, a force for existence (existendi vis) greater or less than before, and by the presence of which the mind is determined to think of this rather than that.

Exp: I say, first, that an Affect or passion of the mind is a confused idea. For we have shown that the mind is only passive, in so far as it has inadequate or confused ideas. (E3P3)
I say, further, whereby the mind affirms concerning its body or any part thereof a force for existence greater [or less] than before. For all the ideas of bodies, which we possess, denote rather the actual disposition of our own body (E2P16C2) than the nature of an external body. But the idea which constitutes the reality of a passion must denote or express the disposition of the body, or of some part thereof, which is possessed by the body, or some part thereof, because its power of action or force for existence is increased or diminished, helped or hindered.
But it must be noted that, when I say a greater or less force for existence than before, I do not mean that the mind compares the present with the past disposition of the body, but that the idea which constitutes the reality of an affect affirms something of the body, which, in fact, involves more or less of reality than before.

There are two significant aspects of this definition I would like to point out. The first is the ateleological view Spinoza takes toward these kind of ideational affirmations of the body. The mind does not arrive at its present affirmation state through a comparison of a present state with a past one, but rather makes of its present existence a repeated and continual “concrescence” (to borrow wrecklessly from Whitehead’s wordsmithing). Any perceptual grasp of the world, insofar as it involves a shift in degrees power and Joy, can be seen as coming from a comprehensive grasp in a sphere of understanding. To put it another way, if we adopt the cognitive dissonance model of perception and belief holding, the running line of potentiated dissonance which guides and centers our focal points of attention becomes repeatedly resolved in the affirmative embrace of a perception/thought/state of the body, made in context with the whole. Clarityarrives not due to the crispness of an axis of perception, but due to the resolution of that line within the panorama either of the visual tableau, or the ideas we hold. Seeing something clearly, thus, is fundamentally a connective and comprehensive apperception.

The ultimate perception is, as Spinoza argues, the perceptual Idea of God, one whose scope and speed of embrace brings clarity to all other affects and imaginations. From the 5th part of the Ethics:

P13: The more an image is joined with other images, the more often it flourishes.

P14 The Mind can bring it about that all the Body’s affection, or images of things, are related to the idea of God.

The second aspect of the General Defintion of the Affects I want to point out is that the chain of thoughts which make our everyday consciousness are not centered upon a Will which controls them, but rather are an expression of the ideas that make up our MInd; thus our ideational states determine the line of imaginary and cognitive processes which include our visual perceptions (clarity of perception cannot be the model of knowing), yet only insofar as these are understood as affirming our physical states. There is no center of vision nor of judgment. Rather there is the confluxof repeated changes in the power to act, something that reveals itself not in binary of Being and Non-Being, but along a gradated spectrum of Being, wherein the power one has is a function of the degree of Being one has.

All this proceeds too fast, for I have not properly connected Spinoza ateleological, affirmational understanding of perceptions and thought-chains to the kinds of curiosity and tensions that arise even the the smallest of conscious distinctions. What a Cognitive Dissonance model of perception and belief provides, I have suggested, is the idea that there is a fissure at the center of the eye’s focus, and that this rift is only closed through the coherent orientation to our experiences at the edge of that rift, in relation to all that lies at the margins. Any philosophical view that in a binary strictly equates focal clarity with Being, and all else with Nothingness or Non-Being, does not fully appreciate the recommendations that a metaphor of visual experience would provide; for at the very center of the eye, if we follow Spinoza’s thinking, lies not the undoubtable truthof one proposition, or the pure assurance of an object seen, but rather the living line of the electric destablized possibility for greater Joy or freedom. Perceptions are a body’s forward lean. In Spinoza’s terms, this line is the shore-point of our realized power to act, and thus occurs along the affects we experience, as they are expressed in both the ideas that make up our mind, and the states our body is in. The very center of focus is our fluxuations in perfection and Joy.

Descartes not Representational Despite His Love of Lens

Now at this point really I would like to take the opportunity to make clear that I have for the sake of contrast been unfair to Descartes, for by and large when he seeks clear thoughts he does not have in mind a clarity which operates independently of other understandings. He, like Spinoza, sees a global and connective sense in truth, one which puts any clear perceptions of the world in the context of the natural dispositions of the Intellect and our soul’s relationship to God. His use of skepticism and doubt is likely at most pedagogical. There has been too much groping at what has become a cadaver of Descartes’ notions of Ideas, without notice of the living relationship such concepts hold in his overall natural science and theological scheme. Nadler, Yolton and Behan (his new piece “Descartes’s Semiotic Realism” forthcoming), all have worked to show that most of our modern conceptions of Descartes’ Representationalism are ill-considered, forwarded by a chain of deformations: first Malebranche, then Reid, and lastly to great effect, Rorty. Much of what we rail against as invidiously “Cartesian” is not really something Descartes would champion. I think the arguments of Nadler et al are very well taken, and expose a tendency of philosophy, for all its sophistication, to organize itself around oppositions simple to grasp. And thus it does us some good to look closer at the forefather of the great Substance divorce between the Mind and the Body.

This is a strange thing to say, considering that much of my contrast between Spinoza’s view of perception and Descartes’ view seems to rely upon representational models of what is known. Spinoza objects to the representational notion of clarity, what he calls “falling into pictures” because he feels that representation simply is inadequate to express what happens when we hold ideas about the world. As I have presented it, Descartes seems too seduced by the visual metaphor of a center of vision becoming clear, a ring of focus, which then can be traced down an ancient heritage of an Ocular philosophy of Presence, where the revealing aletheia of Being stands out from the confusions and negations of Non-Being, playing out the 1s and 2s of dialectical Greek counting. But I would put forward that Descartes is only drawn in this direction against, or at least in tension to, a more comprehensive understanding of perception, one in which the Mind “sees” in a very unrepresentational way, with the “mind’s eye” (a phrase that likely Spinoza takes from Descartes). It is my sense that only Descartes theological commitments to the soul and its freedom of choice expressed through the judgments of the Will which force Descartes away from what he would otherwise be more comfortable with, into an account of vision which emphasize visual clarity along a central axis of focus. It is the need for a localizable edge of judgment, most amenable to an analogy of the otherwise blurred field of view, overdetermined by an essential binary of clear and unclear, which pulls Descartes back into pictures. We see this in the development of his Dioptrics away from the non-representationalistexplanations he begins with.

Descartes’ Blindman

The greatest example of Descartes non-representational concept of mental “seeing” is his analogy of a blindman who sees the world through the use of two sticks, literally feeling the world into accurate appraisal. But first, like Spinoza, Descartes warns us not to fall into pictures. Here he points up the semiotic stimulations of our thought. It is not on the basis of resemblance that we come to know or sense things:

…it is necessary to beware of assuming that in order to sense, the mind needs to perceive certain images transmitted by the objects to the brain, as our philosophers commonly suppose; or, at least, the nature of these images must be conceived quite otherwise than as they do. For, inasmuch as [the philosophers] to not consider anything about these images except that they must resemble the objects they represent, it is impossible for them to show us how they can be formed by these objects, received by the external sense organs, and transmitted by the nerves of the brain…instead we should consider that there are many other things besides pictures which can stimulate our thought, such as for instance, signs and words, which do not in any way resemble the things which they signify (forth discourse, trans. Olscamp)

And then here Descartes draws on the very physical modes of sensing, or seeing through a stick:

It sometimes doubtless happened to you, while walking in the night without a light through places which are a little difficult, that it became necessary to use a stick in order to guide yourself; and you have then been able to notice that you felt, through the medium of the stick, the diverse objects around you, and that you were even able to tell whether they were trees, or stones, or sand…(first discourse)

…just as when the blind man of whom we have spoken above touches some object with his cane, it is certain that the objects do not transmit anything to him except that, by making his cane move in different ways according to their different inherent qualities, they likewise and in some way move the nerves of his hand, and then the places in his brain where the nerves originate. Thus his mind is caused to perceive as many different qualities in these bodies, as there are varieties in the movements that they cause in his brain…(fourth discourse)

Descartes figure 18, Dioptrics

It is Descartes conception of light that the tendency of rays communicate themselves without movement, instanteously across space, just as a blindman’s stick seems to. When rays connect to our eyes, Descartes understands our sensing to be that of connective stimulation. When we see objects, we are seeing like a blindman, with sensations directly transmitted to our nerves. He compares a blindman holding two sticks to the baton centers of vision of each of our eyes, emphasizing that the image itself is not what is directly communicated to the Intellect through the nerves.

 So you must not be surprised that objects can be in their true position, even though the picture they imprint upon the eye is inverted; for this is just like our blind man being able to sense the object B, which is two his right, by means of his left hand, and the object D, which is to his left by means of his right hand at one and the same time. And just as the blind man does not judge that a body is double, although he touches it with two hands, so likewise when both our eyes are disposed in this manner which is required in order to carry our attention toward one and the same location, they need only cause us to see a single object there, even though a picture is formed in each of our eyes (sixth discourse).

The eyes using the two batons of central rays of light

[These citations discussed some here: Descartes and The Blind Man’s Cane ]

It would seem that there is within Descartes thought a primary distinction, as Yolton and Behan argue, between signifying and representing; the stimulations of the senses communicate themselves directly through the nerves in a signifying process not based on essential resemblance. The problem is that such a signifying mode of interpretation does not favorably present itself to the requirements of an Individuated and free action of the Will. Where, and before what would the signification process end…the pineal gland? This puts Descartes in tension with himself, as the analogy of visual clarity, embodied by the pursuit of hyperbolic focus in lenses, pulls him back toward representationalist notions. I don’t at all believe that Descartes holds such a representationalist idea of knowledge, but rather suspect that it is only the independence of the freedom of the will which again and again forces its intrusion, under an auspices of directed and establishing clarity. The resting place of hyperbolic doubt, the cogito, assures a clear focus relation on which all relations can be reconstituted, owing to God. 

Conclusion: Spinoza and Craft

What makes this most interesting is that because Spinoza objects to Descartes at the most radical level of the Will itself, denying the rationality of such a theological vestige (Ethics, 2p48s records the critique of boththe will and representation), he remains unencumbered by the need to take from vision a strict Being/Non-Being binary of optical focus and blurring, center and margin. Instead he draws on, if we can be bold enough to assume it, another luminous analogy, that of Plotinus’s Neo-Platonism, the notion that light radiates in a sphere (put forth by Kepler), and that it expresses itself in gradations of ever-weakening power and cohesion, understood as degrees of Non-Being and power. Spinoza positions himself in the Augustinian, Plotinus line of thought which makes of evil a privation, but he does so at the epistemological, yet by virtue of his parallelism, still bodily level, where the degree of the adequacy of our ideas result in real, affectual experiences of the fluctuations of our power and perfection. Instead of a center of vision which affirms a crisp focus of assured clarity, Spinoza’s center of vision is the breaking wave of the affirmation of our own body’s power, its capacity to act, understood within the context of the full scope of tableau of what is “seen”. As our eyes, fingers, ears, mind flits from thing to thing, we are constantly in states of imagined increases of pleasure and power, owed to the coherence of causes and effects. While central clarity may help incise distinctions of importance, these distinctions only grow meaningful and distinct in the full context of the margins.

It is my sense that Spinoza gained something of this metaphysical insight, in addition to the great variety of sources we might name, from his experiences as a craftsman. His patient polishing of propositions not only reflect in form his careful polishing of lenses, but the content of his thought I believe express the sensitive, non-representational experiences of judgment that come from working with materials, designs and tools in a comprehensive fashion. Spinoza’s refusal to admit Descartes Substance divorce of mind and body perhaps came from his bodily experiences of shaping and sensing glass under tension. While Descartes spent much of his time in mathematics and theory, informing and confirming his hypotheses at times through experiments, he lacked hands-on knowledge of what mechanical construction and application required. In a sense, his vision was mechanical, but his hands were not. One cannot help but realize that Spinoza’s cybernetic turnings of the grinding lathe (either with his off-hand or by foot pedal), communicated a complex of sensations and judgments far too subtle and rapid to place the crown of knowing upon a independent and freely functioning Will. Instead, as the lathe was tensioned in a flux of speeds and grits, and his eyes caught the traces of changes, as his hand holding the torquing glass blank felt the moment to moment consequences of his lathe’s turning – in one great curcuit – he necessarily understood the shore of perceptions within a comprehensive and assembled bodily whole of communications. The coherence that a craftsman brings betweeen his own hands, the limits and possibility of tools, the variations and states of material, amid a continuous, creative line of “dissonance”, a hole in the center of the percieved, non-absolute differentiations of grades, their deviations in form, doubtlessly expressed itself in Spinoza’s own embrace of the union between body and mind, and the careful consideration of the moment to moment changes in the body’s capacity to act.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 57 other followers