Info

have up.'18 By 1750, materialism had become entertaining as well as remaining philosophically intense.

La Mettrie's opening salvo, L'Homme machine (1747), appeared anonymously in Leiden, the spot where La Mettrie's materialist's views had forced him when he was dismissed from his medical post in France. Leiden had been his student home and that of his revered teacher, Boerhaave. In La Mettrie's view, man is a machine and the spiritual state results from the rearrangement of matter that is self-moving and sensitive. Thought, feeling and moral sentiment lie in the stuff of matter. This was too much even for the States of Holland. La Mettrie was forced to flee to Berlin, the last refuge of contemporary heretics. Frederick the Great gave them a place at his court provided they did not criticize his bellicosity or his military. Even La Mettrie's Dutch publisher had to issue a lengthy tract justifying his right to publish books with which he violently disagreed.

The books of heresy and sexual bravado that also preached materialism now seemed unstoppable. In English and French a new body of pornographic literature arose and in fictional form it gave life to the materialist credo. From its earliest appearance in the 1650s as a part of the new French genre of fictive realism, pornography sought to arouse by presenting the sexually libertine in graphic detail; indeed, that was its primary purpose. But in the same anonymous texts lurked heresy and irreligion as well as a subversive stance towards established authority. The clergy were uniformly despised, but aristocrats and kings did not fare much better in works like Therese philosophe and Fanny Hill. Indeed these still-read fictions sought to titillate by depicting the high and the mighty as knowing no moral restraint. Only their hypocrisy kept them from admitting that living like a libertine required heresy as its necessary companion. The actual preaching of materialism, along with contempt for established authority, came from the mouth of honest libertines like Therese, the true philosophe, or prostitutes like Fanny Hill. Such literature may have encouraged loose living; it also fostered free-thought and heterodoxy. Pornographic texts circulated on the same clandestine circuits used by the heterodox, and without exception materialism graced both genres of literature.

Generally, freethinking as we find it amongJohn Toland, Anthony Collins, and their friends who made the term famous in 1713, often included a distinctive set of metaphysical beliefs. From Collins and Toland to Erasmus Darwin in England, or from Dutch spinozists to the Baron d'Holbach in Paris, freethinkers generally embraced a pantheistic materialism which located motion in matter or spirit in Nature and undermined the necessity for divinity as the source of movement and change. An anonymous and clandestine tract predictably from

0 0

Post a comment