homilies occurred amid learned discussions of Locke and Descartes while at every turn the reader was assured that 'the spirit' comprised a bundle of nerve endings. The ancient stoics and the modern natural philosophers received singular praise.
Helvetius had little interest in the libertine or the salacious, nor did most of the major philosophers who graced the French Enlightenment and were materialists. Diderot, d'Holbach and his friends, Mably, and many of the minor figures who wrote for the great Encyclopédie that first appeared in 1751, gave the philosophical principles, once so turgidly laid out by Hobbes or Spinoza, a new life. Diderot's great encyclopaedia sought to encompass all the learning of the age, but in the margins of essays like the one on the soul, written by the abbe Claude Yvon, the article inserted the virulent heresy of the age. By 1752, Yvon was in deep trouble with the French authorities and fled to the Dutch Republic, predictably then to Berlin. One of the few glimpses we have of him comes from the records of an Amsterdam masonic lodge where he orated on the virtues of the philosopher. Even if on the run, men were finding ways of living as secular materialists. New ways of thinking, and not being Christian, were producing new kinds of people. Some of them found comfort in the masonic lodges where religious toleration stood high on the list of values.
Secular stances, 1770s to the 1790s
I need not tell you the sorrow our parting gave me . . . There I see my dear Wilkes! What a Hurry of Passions! Joy! fear of a second parting! What charming tears, what sincere kisses! . . . but time flows and the end of this Love is now as unwelcome to me as would be to another to be awakened in the middle of a Dream wherein he is going to enjoy a beloved Mistress; the enchantment ceases, the delightful images vanish, and nothing is left to me but friendship.23
This passionate letter arrived in England in 1746 sent from the Dutch university town of Leiden by the young Paul Thiry, baron d'Holbach, to his special friend and fellow student, John Wilkes. Now back home, Wilkes was on the verge of announcing his engagement to be married. But separated from him, d'Holbach exclaims that his friendship 'has no bounds'. He wishes Wilkes well as a suitor and in his engagement; as d'Holbach puts it: 'may the paths of love be spread over with flowers [;] in one Word that you may not address [her] in vain . . . I am almost attempted to fall in love with the unknown beauty, 't would not be quite like Dom Quixotte for your liking for her would be for me a very strong prejudice of her merit. ..' D'Holbach did not fall in love with Miss
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