Meade, Wilkes's wife to be. In his loneliness d'Holbach sought the consolation of philosophy. He writes to Wilkes: 'I need not tell you the sorrow our parting gave me, in vain Philosophy cried aloud [;] nature was still stronger and the philosopher was forced to yield to the friend, even now I feel the wound is not cur'd'. Not even philosophy and science - for he is also reading physics -could distract the young d'Holbach from his passionate friendship for Wilkes. Yet only philosophy vies in intensity with those feelings: 'idleness renders me every day more philosopher [;] every passion is languishing within me, I retain but one in a warm degree: viz. friendship in which you share no small part'.24 The letters, and now other information that has come to light about a student club in Leiden to which Wilkes, d'Holbach, Dowdeswell, and others belonged, suggest a coterie of young men whose manner and ambience can be plausibly described as homoerotic.25

Twenty years after Wilkes and d'Holbach had been students together at Leiden, they would be famous, some might say infamous. Wilkes acquired fame for heterosexual libertinism, heterodoxy and for oppositional politics with strongly republican tendencies; d'Holbach became a philosopher, a Parisian atheist who ran a salon (that excluded women) where every heresy was on the agenda. In the 1770s, d'Holbach also anonymously burst into print with materialist writings and eventually with arguments for finding a philosopher king who would weed out corruption and reform society and government from top to bottom. What the private writings and lives of Wilkes and d'Holbach suggest is that by 1750, on both sides ofthe English channel, heterodoxy meant more than a set of philosophical ideas. It could also mean a way of life that tested the boundaries of respectability, that was experimental and sometimes outrageous.

By the second half of the eighteenth century a new linkage was established between and among three elements: the sexually free, the philosophically heterodox, and oppositional politics, either with republican tendencies or overtly republican. Despite this new linkage, being the one or the other did not always mean practising all three. Older, stoical forms of freethinking or heterodoxy, often quite repressive or moralizing on matters sexual and insisting that passion be confined to the boundaries of heterosexual marriage, continued.26 And there were still plenty of straitlaced republicans. Of course, one could also be a mindless libertine, practice sexual license, try to be pious (even if subject to occasional fits of guilt), and have nothing but adoration for kings and courtiers. Indeed courts had long been associated with just such libertines.

But the eighteenth century invented a new cultural style of heterodoxy, one that fused illicit passion with non-Christian philosophy and republican

0 0

Post a comment