Anthony Mayer ;  alternative history ;  Jonathan Edelstein's Spinoza in Turkey - Part 16
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1. Preface

2. Spinoza's World, 1664

3. The Sabbateans

4. The Disputation

5. The Holy Land

6. Marriage

7. Common Prayer

8. America

9. Gottfried and Sophia

10. The Sublime Porte

11. Spinoza's World, 1691

12. Mustafa and the Janissaries

13. Naomi

14. Regime Change

15. Tulips

16. Twilight

17. Spinoza's World, 1712

18. Epilogue


Spinoza in Turkey
"All the interests of my reason, speculative as well as practical, combine in the three following questions: 1. What can I know? 2. What ought I to do? 3. What may I hope?"
-- Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Part 16 - Twilight

November 1707 to June 1710

Queen Sophia's letter inviting Spinoza to return to London reached Constantinople on his seventy-fifth birthday. Spinoza regretfully declined; he was in no condition to travel at his age, and he had no desire to take up another civil post. The Spinozas would continue to exchange affectionate correspondence with the new Queen, but they would not come back to Britain.

If Anne Stuart had been Brandy Nan, Sophia was the Philosopher Queen. Although she was two years older than Spinoza, she remained vigorous and took an active hand in the country's affairs. Although she was careful to season her government with experienced administrators, she was true to her intellectual leanings and appointed many members of the Royal Society to high office. Leibniz was appointed to increase the efficiency of the civil service, and, although Newton was displeased at the favor shown to his rival, he was assuaged by his appointment as Royal Astronomer with the additional task of improving British schools.

Sophia proved popular with the British public. Many of them were pleased by her adoption of British ways; she had accepted the Church of England upon her accession and had made herself fluent in the English language. The masses were also impressed by her calm, generosity and democratic sensibilities - and, even more, by her grandmotherly manner. Her accession was thus largely untroubled; an abortive Jacobite rebellion flared briefly in 1708, but it was quickly crushed. [FN1]

It was Sophia's very democratic sensibilities, however, that slowed the pace of her reforms. As a believer in constitutional rule, she was unwilling to invade Parliament's prerogatives or circumvent its authority. Thus, although Sophia implemented many administrative reforms, her ability to effect substantive legislation was far less. Relaxation of property qualifications for the franchise, and full civic rights for Catholics and Jews, would have to wait - and despite Sarah's plea that the Queen "remember the ladies" when effecting her reforms [FN2], she was unable to do so.

Naomi Spinoza Adi was able to do more. Her chance came at one of the annual freemen's meetings at which the statutes passed by the Allegheny legislature were ratified. Among the measures taken up at the 1708 meeting was a law on the licensing and regulation of midwives, and, as the official reports relate, Naomi suggested that "in a Matter that so concerns the Welfare of the female Sex, the consent of the Women of the Province also be obtained."

The arguments made for and against this measure are uncertain, as the provincial journal of the time did not record the substance of debates. Naomi's proposal was less radical in Allegheny than it would have been in many other places; there was no law that explicitly prohibited women from voting, and women had always spoken at freemen's meetings. Naomi herself had considerable prestige as one of the province's founders, and she may well have voted at the infrequent meetings of the corporation that held official title to the colony. Some of those present at the meeting may even have been aware that the Massachusetts charter of 1691 permitted propertied women to vote, and that a few had actually done so. [FN3] Nevertheless, the measure was apparently controversial, as the reports reveal that "the Business of the Meeting was occupied for half a Day in its Consideration."

In the end, it was decided that the colony's women could indeed claim a voice on a matter affecting them so profoundly. It is likely that many of those who supported Naomi's proposal believed that women would be enfranchised for that one occasion only. The total number of votes recorded on other issues taken up by the meeting, however, make clear that at least some women cast ballots on these measures, and it is known that women voted at the legislative elections later that year. The precedent had been set, and it could not so easily be undone. [FN4]

1708 was also the year that Herz Behrens came to Allegheny. The previous year, he had published another in his series of novels, The Princess. Unlike his other stories, however, The Princess was not set in ancient Israel. Instead, it involved a young marrano woman - the title character - who marries the crown prince of Spain and becomes a beloved daughter to the royal family. There comes a time, however, when she decides that she must return to the faith of her fathers, and announces that henceforth she will worship as a Jew. On doing so, she finds that all the king's love for her is worth nothing; the single act of professing the Jewish faith outweighs all else, and she is condemned to be burned at the stake.

It is widely believed today that The Princess was an announcement of Behrens' desire to emigrate - a message that he was tired of living in a world where the sin of being a Jew outweighed all other aspects of a person's character, and that he was unwilling to wait for the currents of emancipation he had helped to set in motion to run their course. There may be some truth to this belief; he certainly expressed similar sentiments in his correspondence with the Spinoza family. It is more likely, however, that his departure was due to friction with his father, who was becoming more orthodox in his old age, and attraction to a woman he had recruited as a colonist. It was rumored in Europe at the time that the widowed Behrens had sold his interest in the family firm for a woman, and it is certain that he remarried shortly after his arrival in America. The romance of his departure served only to stir interest in the colony, even while Behrens himself was establishing homes in Allegheny and Philadelphia and becoming one of America's shipping magnates.

Some of the neo-Mu'tazilites also went into shipping. The majority of them - especially the exiles - were educated, multilingual people with international connections, and trade came as naturally to them as it did to the Jews. In at least one case, that of Demir Celer's trading expedition to India, this was to have far-reaching results. Celer, a cousin of the Rational

Society's founder, was one of those who had stayed in London rather than going to America or returning to Constantinople. By the time the Ottoman political climate turned back in the neo- Mu'tazilites' favor, he had already become a prosperous London merchant, and saw no reason to change his situation. His love of travel, however, frequently led him to accompany his own ships in search of markets, and that was how he found Bombay.

Forty years before, Bombay had been an insignificant town that was not even mentioned on most maps of India. In 1661, though, the Bombay archipelago had been ceded to the British crown, and the East India Company purchased the islands seven years later. The city thus passed into the hands of the energetic Governor Gerald Aungier, who built up India's first British port by encouraging skilled workers and merchants to settle there. In his three short years as governor, Bombay's population grew from less than 20,000 to almost 60,000, and it became a polyglot city of Parsis, Jews, Hindus and Muslims of all sorts. By the turn of the century, Bombay was home to India's first printing press, and it had become a local center of Islamic scholarship.

It was thus only natural that, when Demir Celer set eyes on Bombay in 1708, he decided to make it the headquarters of his business. In January 1709, he sent for his family and opened a warehouse and offices in the port district. In time, he and the other neo- Mu'tazilites who followed would be ranked among the great families of Bombay, and the neo-Mu'tazilite school established there would rival those in Philadelphia and Cairo.

In Constantinople, 1709 was a productive year for the Spinozas. In the spring, Sarah published a medical treatise, the first of two that she would write. Entitled On the Complaints of Women, it was one of the first attempts at an organized study of female diseases and childbirth. She drew on both the fragmentary sources already available - correcting many of their mistakes in the process - and her own experience, outlining the most effective remedies for feminine complaints and the proper procedures for prenatal care and delivery. Her treatment of pregnancy and childbirth was especially advanced for the time; among other things, she synthesized the delivery techniques of midwives and physicians, and recommended that persons attending at a birth have clean hands.

At the end of the year, Spinoza published his own last major work, Metaphysical Thoughts. [FN5] In this treatise, he returned to many of the themes he had treated in the Ethics many years before - the nature of God, life and death. It is likely that the last of these, especially, occupied his mind in light of his age and failing health; the vigor that had sustained him through seventy- eight years was declining rapidly.

Metaphysical Thoughts also built on the universal system Spinoza had devised in Mind and Matter, in which ideas and atoms were separately formed out of the motes that were the essence of God. The logical corollary of this, Spinoza wrote, was that thoughts existed separately from the body, and formed part of the immortal essence of mankind. The physical death of the body therefore did not mean the death of the person; indeed, provided that the person had properly attuned his mind during life, he would pass into a wholly metaphysical state in which he would have perfect understanding of the divine essence. It was this stage that was commonly referred to as the afterlife - although, according to Spinoza, this term was a misnomer because no actual death occurred.

Elsewhere in Metaphysical Thoughts, Spinoza also emphasized that human beings were the only creatures in which the physical and metaphysical aspects of God were mixed, and thus the only ones capable of conducting the synthesis of experimentation and intuition that was science. God, as he had previously explained, had no need of science, and animals had no conception of it; it was humans' unique mixture of the faculty of reason and the limitations of a physical body that caused them to seek knowledge in this manner. Thus, far from being antithetical to faith or human nature, scientific inquiry was part of what made human beings human, and part of what God had designed them to do. With Metaphysical Thoughts, Spinoza brought his reconciliation of science and reason to a close that he, at least, found satisfying.

It was shortly thereafter that the Tulip Period came to a close. In January 1710, Numan Kprl died, and a struggle ensued over the succession to the Grand Vizier's chair. This time, the transfer of power was settled by palace intrigue rather than revolution, but by April, the conservative faction had gained the upper hand.

The new Grand Vizier moved quickly to consolidate his power. The remainder of the Kprl family, as well as almost a hundred other prominent neo-Mu'tazilites, were exiled; most went to Pennsylvania, although some made their way to Cairo and Bombay. Spinoza, too, found himself unwelcome; he was old and no longer politically active, but he nevertheless represented an ideology that had no place in the new order. He was quietly told that neither he nor the Rational Jewish would be harmed if he resigned his titular governorship and emigrated to Palestine, and he accepted just as quietly. In June 1710, fifty years to the day after Spinoza first set eyes on Constantinople, he and Sarah left the city never to return.

[FN1] As in OTL, the Jacobites rose before they were ready.

[FN2] Abigail Adams likely won't be with us in this timeline, so somebody had to say it.

[FN3] They held this right until 1780. During the 18th century, women also voted in New Jersey and, according to at least one account, Essex County, Virginia. (The citation given to support the Virginia precedent is an article in the 18 October 1797 edition of the Norfolk Weekly Journal and County Intelligencer.)

[FN4] This development might have startled Spinoza in OTL. As the unfinished eleventh chapter of the Political Treatise indicates, his OTL views on feminism were quite conventional for the time. In the ATL, of course, he's had Sarah to set him straight.

[FN5] The fact that one of Spinoza's works in OTL had this title is, of course, purely coincidental.

Last modified: Fri Dec 6 12:29:46 GMT 2002