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Spinoza – first German translation of the Ethics, 1744

First German translation of Spinoza’s Ethics (1677), and of Wolff’s attempted refutation (from his Theologia naturalis, pars II, 1737). The translator was Johann Lorenz Schmidt (1702-49), translator also of the controversial ‘Wertheim Bible’ (1735).

‘This crucial publication … represents both the first of Spinoza’s writings to appear in German and, simultaneously, the first printed vernacular rendering of the Ethics in any language other than Dutch. Considerable care was taken in preparing the translation, which is of excellent quality and helpfully provided with a comprehensive 60-page index to assist with cross-referencing between Wolff’s refutation and the original … Signs that the appearance of Spinoza’s Ethics in an excellent German version was symptomatic of a wider cultural shift were discernible in the strangely Janus-headed reaction to Schmidt’s compilation. If there was still plentiful denunciation of Spinoza as the ‘most frightful’ of all Christianity’s enemies, and of his anonymous translator as a monstrous hypocrite covertly introducing Spinoza under the pretext of promoting Wolff’s refutation, other reviewers guardedly accepted his good faith, granting that Spinoza’s Ethics needed to be studied impartially and with meticulous care’ (Jonathan Israel, Radical Enlightenment, pp. 657-8).

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