Thursday, 4 August 2011

Anorexic philosophy

The seventeenth century natural philosopher, Spinoza led a famously frugal lifestyle. Here is an extract from a very early biography.
What I say about his Sobriety and good Husbandry, may be proved by several small Reckonings, which have been found amongst his Papers after his death. It appears by them, that he lived a whole day upon a Milk-soop done with Butter, which amounted to three pence, and upon a Pot of Beer of three half pence. Another day he eat nothing but Gruel done with Raisins and Butter, and that Dish cost him fourpence halfpenny. There are but two half pints of Wine at most for one Month to be found amongst those Reckonings, and tho he was often invited to eat with his Friends, he chose rather to live upon what he had at home, tho it were never so little, than to sit down at a good Table at the expense of another Man.
Johannes Colerus – The Life of Benedict Spinoza

Yet this story seems odd to me, because such a diet would surely not support an adult. Not enough calories. Of course, without any further details such as weights and measures, we cannot judge its accuracy, even though based on Spinoza's own records. However, I suspect we can say with some confidence that here at least, Spinoza's frugality was exaggerated. It was seen as an aspect of his character and amplified accordingly, as we still do with celebrities. Is anything new?


James Higham said...

We could be reasonably sure though that on that description, he was no Falstaff.

A K Haart said...

He certainly wasn't.

Demetrius said...

I suspect he paid closer attention to his philosophy than to his household accounts. There is also the possibility that other routine foods just were not mentioned.

A K Haart said...

D - that's my take on it. He lodged with a large family and I think he took meals with them even though there is no documentary evidence to support that idea.