Reading Room Archives
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is a curious figure to include in this series on the Age of Enlightenment. He lived in the seventeenth century, the Age of Science, and so joins Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, and Thomas Hobbes who lived and worked well before the eighteenth century, but pioneered dominant ideas, especially methodologies, of the Enlightenment and decisively shaped Enlightenment thinking.
Napoleon’s ascent. He was its greatest liberator or its greatest threat. Beethoven, who despised ruling classes, was wildly enthusiastic about him. His manuscript for the Third Symphony, the “Eroica,” initially had “Buonaparte” on the title page. A decade later, one of his most popular works would celebrate Wellington’s victory over France.
René Descartes (1596–1650) had been returning to the Catholic army of the Duke of Bavaria, recently crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica was Newton’s historic achievement. It altered the course of science from that day to this. In summer 1684, Newton began this work, partially stimulated by a visit from the British astronomer Edmond Halley. Halley, too, had been pondering the problem of orbital dynamics. What he discovered during his visit was that Newton had solved the problem but discussed it with no one for two decades because he knew his mathematics was slightly off.
Alexis de Tocqueville. His writings, especially his famous La Démocratie en Amérique (Democracy in America, four volumes 1835-1840), explored the nature of democracy, and how it could be controlled and tempered to preserve and promote individual liberty.
Sir Isaac Newton) because during his lifetime his work arrested the world’s attention. Knowing something of Newton’s life, especially his early years, one gazes on these portraits seeking signs of genius and what the Encyclopedia Britannica—to take one standard reference—unapologetically characterizes as “psychosis.”
Benjamin Franklin to serve as the colony’s agent in London to moderate the Penn Proprietor’s harsh treatment of the colony. While there, he helped the Associates of Dr. Bray, a charity concerned with the education of Black children in the colonies, select sites for schools.
Benjamin Franklin’s life intersected with the issue of slavery in many, and at times contradictory, ways. Franklin was a slave-owner beginning around 1735 until 1781, when George, whom he had acquired in a debt settlement in 1765, died. His newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, carried advertisements announcing slaves for sale.
Wilhelm von Humboldt. A true polymath, he was a diplomat, philosopher, poet, linguist and anthropologist, who made crucial contributions to pedagogical theory and political philosophy.
April 1, 1882 issue of Liberty had a few things to say about our day’s concerns, such as prisons, Silicon Valley Bank, and immigrants’ impacts on wages.