HIS PHILOSOPHICAL MASTERPIECE

Opera posthuma, quorum Series post Praefationem exhibetur.

[Amsterdam, Jan Rieuwertsz,] 1677.

Small 4to, pp. [xl], 614, [32] index, [2], 112, [8]; without the engraved frontispiece portrait, which was produced separately and ‘which is found in only a very small number of copies’ (Wolf); woodcut vignette on title; some light toning to a few pages, else a fine, crisp copy in recent leather-backed boards apparently commissioned by A.N.L. Munby (see below); contemporary ownership inscription (Samuel Parr, see below) to the title-page.

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First appearance of Spinoza’s Ethic, his philosophical masterpiece, and first edition of the Opera posthuma, which ‘have served, then and since, with the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, to immortalize his name’ (PMM 153).

The collection was published by Jan Rieuwertsz, an Amsterdam bookseller and friend of Spinoza, and edited by him together with the merchant Jarig Jelles, who probably wrote the preface. It contains the first publication of the Ethics. The remainder comprises the Tractatus Politicus – his last, unfinished production, which develops a theory of law and government akin to that of Hobbes; the Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione, also unfinished; a selection of letters – restricted, owing to the dangers of publishing correspondence on questions of politics and theology; and, after an index, a Compendium Grammatices Linguae Hebraeae, paginated separately. The Opera Posthuma do not amount to all the previously unpublished works of Spinoza: the Treatise on the Rainbow is missing – it was thought lost, and not published until 1687 – as is the early Tractatus de Deo et Homine Eiusque Felicitate, which prefigures the Ethics.

‘The most conspicuous idea of Spinoza’s philosophy is that there is only one substance, the infinite divine substance which is identified with Nature; Deus sive Natura, God or Nature. And a striking feature of this philosophy as it is presented in the Ethics is the geometrical form of its presentation. This work is divided into five parts in which the following subjects are treated in turn: God, the nature and origin of the mind, the origin and nature of the emotions, the power of the intellect or human freedom’ (Copleston, A History of Philosophy IV, 206).

‘While he was regarded by his earlier critics as an atheist and by the romantics as a pantheist, the tendency of a number of modern writers is to represent Spinoza as a speculative forerunner of a completely scientific view of the world. For he made a sustained attempt always to give a naturalistic explanation of events without having recourse to explanations in terms either of the supernatural and transcendent or of final causes’ (op. cit., pp. 261–2).

Provenance. This copy bears the ownership inscription of Samuel Parr, ‘the Whig Johnson’ . A successful schoolmaster and pamphleteer, ‘he excelled in writing Latin epitaphs—notably the epitaph which he was asked to compose for Dr Johnson’s monument in St Paul’s Cathedral (ODNB).

A modern hand notes in the front pastedown: ‘bound for me by A.N.L. Munby at Grey’s Inn, 1970’. Alan Noel Latimer (‘Tim’) Munby (1913–1974), author of a volume of ghost stories, The Alabaster Hand, written mostly in a German prisoner-of-war camp, worked in the antiquarian book trade with Bernard Quaritch and Sotheby’s. He obtained the post of Librarian at King’s College, Cambridge in 1947; he was J.P.R. Lyell Reader in Bibliography, University of Oxford (1962–63) and Sandars Reader in Bibliography, University of Cambridge (1969–70). He was elected President of the Bibliographical Society in 1974 and died during his term of office.

Baruch de Spinoza 1677–1977: his work and its reception (1977 Wolffenbüttel exhibition) 25; Kingma & Offenberg 24; Van der Linde 22; Wolf Collection 378.