Philosophy and the Republic of Letters: John Locke and the Furly Circle

About this Conference

Location: DR WILLIAMS' LIBRARY, GORDON SQUARE, LONDON WC1

Date: Saturday 13 November 1999

Organizer: Dr Sarah Hutton (Middlesex University)

Conference Theme

The name of Benjamin Furly (1636-1714), the Quaker merchant of Rotterdam, is well known to students of Locke as a significant figure during Locke's exile in the Netherlands 1683-9. The city of Rotterdam served as a unique entrée of ideas by virtue of its function as a refuge, stop-over, and publishing centre during the political upheavals that beset England and Europe in the seventeenth century. It was in Furly's home in Rotterdam that Locke found refuge and in Rotterdam that he set up The Lantern club. Furly was important for Locke as a point of contact with the European Republic of Letters. Furly was himself a friend of Algernon Sidney, Anthony Ashley Cooper Third Earl of Shaftesbury, and Leibniz's friend, F.M. van Helmont. It was through Furly that Locke made the acquaintance of the Dutch Remonstrant theologian Philip van Limborch, and the Huguenot editor of the Bibliothèque universelle, Jean Le Clerc. The purpose of the conference was to learn more about the circle of Benjamin Furly as a milieu of intellectual exchange, in order to examine the impact of philosophical interchange and communication in developments in philosophy, especially that of John Locke. The conference was therefore a case study in the development and transmission of thought between individuals, and across national boundaries. It was an opportunity to examine the role of lesser figures, and their relationship to Locke and other more famous contemporaries.

Speakers included Stuart Brown, Justin Champion, Scott Mandelbrote, John Marshall, Sally Jenkinson, Luisa Simonutti.