Thomas Hobbes - Civil War in England

Civil War in England

The English Civil War broke out in 1642, and when the Royalist cause began to decline in the middle of 1644 there was an exodus of the king's supporters to Europe. Many came to Paris and were known to Hobbes. This revitalised Hobbes's political interests and the De Cive was republished and more widely distributed. The printing began in 1646 by Samuel de Sorbiere through the Elsevier press at Amsterdam with a new preface and some new notes in reply to objections.

In 1647, Hobbes was engaged as mathematical instructor to the young Charles, Prince of Wales, who had come over from Jersey around July. This engagement lasted until 1648 when Charles went to Holland.

The company of the exiled royalists led Hobbes to produce an English book to set forth his theory of civil government in relation to the political crisis resulting from the war. The State, it now seemed to Hobbes, might be regarded as a great artificial man or monster (Leviathan), composed of men, with a life that might be traced from its generation under pressure of human needs to its dissolution through civil strife proceeding from human passions. The work was closed with a general "Review and Conclusion", in direct response to the war which raised the question of the subject's right to change allegiance when a former sovereign's power to protect was irrecoverably gone. He also criticised religious doctrines on rationalistic grounds in the Commonwealth.

During the years of the composition of Leviathan he remained in or near Paris. In 1647 Hobbes was overtaken by a serious illness which disabled him for six months. On recovering from this near fatal disorder, he resumed his literary task, and carried it steadily forward to completion by 1650. Meanwhile, a translation of De Cive was being produced; there has been much scholarly disagreement over whether Hobbes translated the work himself or not.

In 1650, a pirated edition of The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic was published. It was divided into two separate small volumes (Human Nature, or the Fundamental Elements of Policie and De corpore politico, or the Elements of Law, Moral and Politick). In 1651 the translation of De Cive was published under the title of Philosophicall Rudiments concerning Government and Society. Meanwhile, the printing of the greater work was proceeding, and finally it appeared about the middle of 1651, under the title of Leviathan, or the Matter, Forme, and Power of a Common Wealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civil, with a famous title-page engraving in which, from behind hills overlooking a landscape, there towered the body (above the waist) of a crowned giant, made up of tiny figures of human beings and bearing sword and crozier in the two hands.

The work had immediate impact. Soon Hobbes was more lauded and decried than any other thinker of his time. However, the first effect of its publication was to sever his link with the exiled royalists, forcing him to appeal to the revolutionary English government for protection. The exiles might very well have killed him; the secularist spirit of his book greatly angered both Anglicans and French Catholics. Hobbes fled back home, arriving in London in the winter of 1651. Following his submission to the council of state he was allowed to subside into private life in Fetter Lane.

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