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Dr. Schuller and B. de Spinoza

W. Meijer

An important revelation for Dutch literary history is the correspondence between Georg Hermann Schuller and Leibnitz, which was largely made known to the world in an important book on Leibnitz and Spinoza, edited by Prof. Dr. Ludwig Stein. (1)

From this book it appears to us that G.H. Schuller was a secret correspondent of Leibnitz, who informed him about the remarkable things which occurred in scientific and political circles. The whole of Europe kept an eye on Holland, and Leibnitz, who had visited Holland in 1675 and was acquainted with important Dutchmen both there and in many foreign countries, was especially interested in all that occurred here in this country.

Schuller, a medical doctor focused more on philosophy and making gold than on his medical practice, did his best to satisfy Leibnitz' curiosity, as his hope was to be appointed by Leibnitz' intercession as agent of the Court of Hanover. The letters they exchanged however demanded that a great degree of caution be observed because the Duke had recently converted to Catholicism and Leibnitz was a Protestant. Although Leibnitz was fortunate to be in the Duke's employ, the religious and political tensions of that era dictated that their correspondence be conducted with the utmost secrecy.

In view of that, names and facts were usually described or merely indicated. Yet the letters are of high value to us. Like the X-rays science has recently discovered, they let us now clearly see through the fog intentionally surrounding the many facts to the fundamentals of the issues.

Thus, they fully inform us of the addresses of the letters by Spinoza, which the publishers of his posthumous works had intentionally concealed.

It is remarkable that Schuller himself, who thought to have erased his tracks everywhere, clearly portrayed his relation to Spinoza in these letters. Especially his statements on the last days of Spinoza are [606] very important. Nevertheless, at the beginning of February 1677 he had visited Spinoza and, as a physician, had to acknowledge with deep regret that our philosopher would have not long to live.

What is apparent from this and subsequent letters is that he frequently visited Spinoza, and I think I can prove that it is he who supported the sufferer in his final hour.

Colerus reports that shortly before his death, Spinoza had sent for an Amsterdam doctor; that the latter had come over; had remained alone with the sick at noon; but in the evening after his death quickly had left with the night boat, taking with him a dukaton and a knife with a silver handle.

Colerus says he cannot but indicate this doctor with the letters L.M.

This communication has always given me the impression that Colerus had never been certain who that was, but because he had heard about the former friendship between Lodewijk Meyer and Spinoza, he supposed that L.M. would have been the intended person. However, he did not dare to mention his full name, because of the slander which Meyer would disseminate in regard to him.

The German translator of Colerus got the same impression as I from this communication and therefore noticed that one could assume that the doctor mentioned might have been Lucas, who was a good friend of Spinoza and later had written a book about him.

Later historians, however, have all considered Louis Meyer to be the indicated person.

This is not very probable.

In the last years, following Spinoza's departure from Rijnsburg, there are no more letters to Meyer.

His rationalistic exposition was entirely contrary to the objective and historical one of Spinoza. Meyer's book Philosophia Scripturae Interpres (1666) was openly refuted by the Tractaten Theologus-Politicus and this is sufficient to explain the distancing between them. [607]

But Meyer was also working assiduously on studying theatre and with the company Nil Volentibus Arduum. Spinoza would have visited Amsterdam rarely because his health and his finances did not allow him such travels.

So, while probably it was not Meyer who stood next to Spinoza's deathbed, it was, as will appear from the following, very likely Schuller.

In his letters to Leibniz he acts as executor of Spinoza's spiritual legacy.

In the sixth letter he wrote, "though secret", that he, before and after Spinoza's death, has checked everything piece by piece and in accordance with his explicit desire to examine whether there was still something that could be relevant for the friends; in Letter III he offers the manuscript of the Ethica to Leibnitz for sale, and then reports in the fourth letter that he succeeded in persuading the friends in Amsterdam to take on the publication of the Opera Posthuma.

These friends were L. Meyer and Jarig Jelles, who originally did not posses the manuscripts, were initially not inclined to publish them, but were later persuaded by Schuller to do so.

Now on the same evening of Spinoza's death an inventory was prepared and everything was sealed, and with the inventory the name of Mister George Hermanus was first recorded as a witness but later removed and replaced by an ordinary witness. We come therefore to the following conclusion:

According to Colerus the Amsterdam physician was the only one present at Spinoza's death at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. According to Schuller himself he had checked the books before and shortly after Spinoza's death, for which, after the sealing that same night, there was no opportunity anymore. Schuller's known secretiveness and the greed of the Spinoza family sufficiently explain his haste to leave The Hague, which fully corresponds to Colerus' story. Meanwhile we see the Notary on the night of the death record his first names and afterwards [608] cross them out again, - - who would otherwise have been present if not Schuller?

He would have requested van der Spijck not to mention his name, as he also crossed out such in the letters, and van der Spijck would faithfully have kept his promise and only mentioned an Amsterdam physician. Colerus then did some contriving and has mentioned LM, whom he could not definitively identify, because he was not sure.

As a secret agent of Leibnitz, Schuller had to remain behind the scenes. He had Spinoza's authority to take what he liked, but still feared for the family, as evidenced by Rieuwertz' writing about the famous desk with papers. It is no wonder he did not want it openly known that he was the last and only witness of the philosopher's death.

I am convinced however that, through the first names in the death certificate of February 21, the truth of the above-mentioned conjecture is assured and established by notarial act.

(1). Leibniz und Spinoza: Ein Beitrag zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Leibnizischen Philosophie (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1890)


W. Meijer."Dr. Schuller en B. de Spinoza". De Navorscher (1897): 605-608. A Dutch magazine dedicated to history, genealogy and literature. Translated by Govert Schuller.

Additional Literature

Steenbakkers, Piet. Spinoza's Ethica from manuscript to print: Studies on text, form and related topics. Dissertation. (Assen: van Gorcum, 1994)

Stewart, Matthew. The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza and the Fate of God. (New York/London: W.W. Norton, 2006). Review.



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