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Louis Bourguet, John Toland, and the Republic of Letters

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image of Erudition and the Republic of Letters

Louis Bourguet (1678–1743) was a Huguenot natural scientist from Nîmes who, after studying in Switzerland and Italy, became professor of philosophy and mathematics in Neuchâtel and founded two learned journals. This article, based on his archive in Neuchâtel, looks first at his erudite, scientific, philosophical and religious interests as expressed in his extensive learned correspondence, which also reveals a mixture of curiosity about, and opposition, to irreligious writings, some of which he may, however, have helped to circulate. We then study a document found among his papers, consisting of a commentary written in French in the margins of a manuscript copy of the last two of John Toland’s Letters to Serena (1704). Bourguet combines criticism of Toland’s view of matter, identified with Spinozism, with a defence of Leibniz’s philosophy, presented as the only one capable of demonstrating the need for a god. This manuscript throws new light on interest in Toland’s philosophical works in the years following his death, and the posthumous continuation of his debate with Leibniz. More generally, Bourguet’s learned interests and networks underline the difficulty of classifying scholars of this period into neat categories and the complex relationship between science, theology and philosophy, and between religious orthodoxies and heterodoxies.

Affiliations: 1: Department of History and Civilization, European University Institute, Via Bolognese 156, 50139 Florence, Italy,


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