"Una animos Anna Perenna ligat": Leibniz on English politics, the impeachment of Henry Sacheverell, and the Socinians

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, philosopher and mathematician (1646-1716). Autograph letter signed ("Leibniz").

Hannover, 6. V. 1710.

8vo (157 x 95 mm). 4 pp. on a bifolium. In French.


A characteristically witty and wide-ranging letter to the Scottish lawyer Thomas Burnett (1656-1729), confirming that Burnett's letters have been read to the Electress by her secretary M. Gargan and gossiping about the impeachment of Henry Sacheverell ("Dr Sacheverel is said to be a well-made man, whose person appeals to women - and so he has already half of Great Britain on his side"). Leibniz is amazed that England has time for such things "while she has the burden of such an onerous war on her hands", but trusts that the Queen, "who has already worked miracles in subduing France and uniting the Kingdoms, will surely achieve at last the fulfilment of her hopes in reconciling their hearts"; he includes an epigram of his: "Henrico junxisse rosas et regna Jacobo / Fas fuit: una animos Anna Perenna ligat" ("Henry did well to unite the Roses; James / the Kingdoms; Ageless Anna alone unites the hearts"). Leibniz is vexed that "Whiston declares himself a Socinian, and wishes to exercise his mathematics on the mystery of the Trinity. The Socinians have or had pulpits in Transylvania, but it is assuredly right to take a stand against the libertine and atheist literature which is more dangerous than the Socinians." Further, he regrets that the Irish theologian Henry Dodwell has gone mad ("one could learn from his excellent wisdom if he was in a condition or the mood to concentrate on it still") and reports that the Leipzig theologian Thomas Ittig is dead and has left a fine library to the university. Leibniz hopes that Queen Anne's Act for the Encouragement of Letters has been passed: "if not, I hope it will be successful another time - I wish something could be done for the Royal Society of London. That of Berlin is to publish some Miscellanea as an experiment".

This letter forms part of the significant, 18-year-long correspondence between Leibniz and Thomas Burnett of Kemnay in Aberdeenshire, occasioned by their meeting at the court of Hanover in 1695. The most recent Akademie edition of Leibniz's correspondence includes some 29 letters from Leibniz to Burnett and 51 from Burnett to Leibniz written during the period 1695-1707, with more still to be published. Burnett kept Leibniz abreast of English matters: here, the great scholar is well aware of the impeachment of Henry Sacheverell, a high church Tory Anglican who had preached anti-Whig sermons. Riots had broken out in London after Anne tried to punish Sacheverell for questioning the Glorious Revolution, but she eventually prevailed, much to the approval of Leibniz, who demonstrates throughout his admiration for the Queen.

Prompted by the writings of his fellow mathematician William Whiston (1667-1752), Leibniz speaks of the Socinians, an anti-trinitarian movement professing belief in God and the Scriptures but denying the divinity of Christ and therefore the Trinity (though by the 18th century, the name was a catch-all term for any kind of dissenting belief). Whiston was a leading figure in popularising the ideas of Newton and had embraced the tenets of anti-trinitarian theology, publishing his heretical work, "Sermons and Essays", in 1709. Locke himself had come to be identified as a member of the Socinian party with the publication of his "Reasonableness of Christianity", published anonymously in 1695, and was thence drawn into his well-known controversy with Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester. Leibniz may have refrained from discussing this particular issue with Burnett, fearing that any critical opinion of Locke expressed to Burnett might get back to Locke himself and thus jeopardise any chance of entering into future dialogue.

Some light dust-staining at folds. Provenance: Thomas Burnett, 2nd Laird of Kemnay (1656-1729), and thence by descent.


Published in part in C. J. Gerhardt, Die philosophischen Schriften von G. W. Leibniz, vol. 3 (1887), p. 319, no. XXXVII. Not yet available in G. W. Leibniz, Allgemeiner politischer und historischer Briefwechsel (Berlin, Akademie Verlag).