Somehow I missed this a few days ago, but it came up in my google news feed under “esoteric archive stuff that fascinates Peter Gratton.” He notes the century needed, at least, to finish up the cataloging of Leibniz’s works.
In Matthew Stewart’s very good account of Leibniz and Spinoza, The Courtier and the Heretic (Yale UP, 2005), there is a note in the bibliography that
“The standard, reference edition of Leibniz’s collected works is that of the Berlin Akademie. The Akademie is expected to require another century or so to complete its edition, however, so the researcher must rely on a number of other editions of Leibniz’s work.”
Now that additional century needs to be seen from the date that edition begun, which was in 1923! Now Leibniz does present a huge number of problems – he wrote on just about every topic imaginable, he wrote in Latin, French and German, and there is an estimate of “150,000 sheets in the archives in Hanover” (Stewart, p. 13). But even so…
Leibniz isn’t especially well-served in English translations either. There are several collections of philosophical writings (Loemker; Wiener; Ariew & Garber; Woolhouse & Francks; Strickland) but lots of overlap between them; the Political Writings which is very limited; and some individual works (Theodicy; the New Essays on Human Understanding), but a huge amount not translated. There is a new Yale UP series of bi-lingual editions, but that’s been going almost twenty years and not produced many volumes.
It just so happens, also, that I read through the book on Leibniz and Spinoza (Leibniz and Spinoza, The Courtier and the Heretic [Yale UP, 2005]) he mentions last week, so this gives me an opportunity to note a couple of things:
1. It’s a great, eminently readable book on thinkers one does not normally put on the list of “eminently readable.”
2. Stewart does go in for the full through-this-lens-I-read-everything approach: apparently every dispute Leibniz ever had (with Newton, Locke, his mother…) and all future philosophical developments (in liberalism, in the philosophy of God…) is reducible to his meeting with Spinoza in 1676.
3. Stewart also begins with perhaps the most depressing first sentence of a book on philosophers in some time: “It is our good fortune to live in an age when philosophy is thought to be a harmless affair” (p. 11). Just let that linger with you for a few moments…then get a stiff drink.
However, Stewart has a real eye for telling moments in various letters back and forth across the continent, and his feel for Leibniz’s pettiness (who isn’t, though, when placed under such a microscope?) really humanizes this giant of intellect in a way that doesn’t minimize his achievements. I wish I had marked up the book for my favorite passages–and there are many.
Also, if someone, though, could write a book on Leibniz’s love of alchemy, I’d really appreciate it…