You know what the only downside is to LeibnizFest?* Reading the last chapter of that Antognazza biography.
Man, is it sad.
Leibniz did not have a very good time at the end of his life. “Leibniz’s last years were marred by frustration and loneliness,” is the first sentence of that last chapter, and unfortunately it is a very fitting first sentence. First, he’d outlived almost everyone he’d ever communicated with (most of them died in the 1690’s; Leibniz lived until 1716) and thus had very few people to communicate with. Second, he was still trying to recover his reputation after the whole calculus debate with Newton (and actually, I shouldn’t say “after” yet because Newton and his cronies (mostly his cronies) dragged that thing out well past Leibniz’ death). Third, he wanted desperately to keep traveling, but injury, poor health, and prior obligations basically forced him to stay put for a good several years. A quote of his from the bio: “I am shut in my room working and I hardly ever leave it.” This is coming from a man who took on innumerable projects just so that he’d have the excuse to travel and converse with people of different backgrounds and skills, so it’s super sad. And then, of course, there’s the fact that he basically died alone and was given very little recognition for his accomplishments until well after his death.
It’s heartbreaking to me to hear all the crappy things that happened to him in the last five or so years of his life. Someone with such a great mind, such compassion, and such good spirit deserved something better at the end.
UGH IT JUST MAKES ME UPSET, OKAY?
To end LeibnizFest on a lighter note, have a look at this Leibniz-centric website that has pretty much everything you could ever want on the amazing polymath. I have it bookmarked. I visit it a few times a week.
It’s a healthy obsession.
Anyway. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LEIBNIZ!
*I’m totally calling mid-June to mid-July LeibnizFest now; it’s gone beyond just celebrating on his birthday, let’s be honest.