Amazingly, a long-lost letter by Descartes was recently recovered from the Haverford College outside Philadelphia. The letter’s discoverer, historian Erik-Jan Bos at the University of Utrecht, has now produced an English translation:
I met Mr Picot here, in whom I recognize a man of good sense, and to whom I am much obliged. I believe he will arrive at Leiden today and has the intention to stay. In his company is a nobleman from Touraine who brought me the greetings from Father Bourdin, whose student he is; he also spoke of Mr Petit in such terms that I am obliged to tone down what I wrote on him in the Preface to the reader, which I send you now to be printed, if you please, at the beginning of the book, after the dedicatory letter to the Gentlemen of the Sorbonne. Neither the fourth part of the Discours de la méthode, nor the little preface I put in next, nor the one preceding the theologian’s objections, must be printed, but only the Synopsis. Finally, rest assured that there is nothing in Mr Gassendi’s objections with which I have problems; the only thing I shall have to attend to is the style. Indeed, he expressed himself with so much elegance, that I should attempt to reply in the same way. I am
Your much obliged and affectionate
servant Des Cartes
27 May 1641
The two highlighted passages are sure to make a lasting impression on Descartes scholarship. The first (in blue) shows that the original draft of the Meditations on First Philosophy had more chapters, which Descartes later omitted. The second (in red) indicates that Descartes didn’t originally mind the criticisms of Gassendi — this is strange, because Descartes later came to loathe Gassendi’s objections, and responded with harsh personal attacks. One wonders what happened in between.
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