Author Archives: Miranda Lewis

Reaching for Atlantis: a VolkswagenStiftung-funded partner

It has long been the intention to develop EMLO into a collaborative, scholarly resource, populated by an international community of scholars, research projects, publishers, and repositories, many of whom work on — or curate material relevant to — the history of objects and material culture. If further proof were required that this dream has become reality, we are truly delighted to be announcing today that Dr Bernhard Schirg of the University of Erfurt has received funding from the VolkswagenStiftung to work at the Forschungszentrum Gotha der Universität Erfurt on his innovative project ‘Reaching for Atlantis. The cultural biographies of objects under the Swedish Empire and beyond’. The Fellowship is worth just under one million euros and will last for an initial five years, beginning this coming March when the Research Centre moves into its new premises in the heart of historic Gotha.

Illustration from ‘Atlantica’ [‘Atland eller Manheim’] showing Olof Rudbeck revealing the truth about Atlantis to his classical predecessors. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

It was twelve months ago that Dr Schirg was in touch with us first on the back of a most timely introduction from Dr Alexandra Franklin, the head of the Centre for the Study of the Book at the Bodleian Libraries, and supported by a strong recommendation on behalf of the University of Oxford from Dr William Poole, who — amongst his very many scholarly accomplishments — is editor of the correspondence of Robert Hooke and co-editor of the correspondence of John Aubrey, and who has worked and published extensively on antiquarianism in the early modern period and on the history of libraries. As Dr Schirg outlined his proposal, it became apparent that there were significant overlaps with the scholarly correspondence and many of the figures contained already within EMLO. The project will focus on the history of selected objects that were subject to the reinterpretation of material culture under the Swedish Empire. Influenced by the work of Olof Rudbeck (1630–1702) — most particularly the four-volume publication Atlantica (1679–1702) in which the scholar examined Plato’s Atlantis as well as the very origins of classicism itself — several generations of Swedish scholars set out to trace ‘Nordic roots’ in their studies of antiquities. These scholars scrutinized natural objects of particular interest and curiosities, including coins, gems, cameos, maps, plant specimens, and ethnic items. The resulting encyclopaedic interpretations were intended to make up for a lack of historiographic sources and to cite classical mythology as a source in early Swedish history.

Using primary sources as diverse as Latin dissertations, travel journals, and letters, Dr Schirg will create a digital archive to combine both contemporary and subsequent contextualization of individual objects, recording images as well as textual documentation for items that may no longer be extant. As a result of his collaboration with EMLO, he will have at his disposal the full range of epistolary and prosopographic collation tools developed here in Oxford, and will contribute a catalogue of related correspondence. Dr Schirg will spend a year of the grant period in Oxford, hosted by the Bodleian Libraries. In addition to his work with EMLO, we are in no doubt that these twelve months will provide a truly invaluable opportunity for Dr Schirg to work alongside members of the scholarly and curatorial community at the University’s Museums — including the Ashmolean, the Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of the History of Science — as well as with the many individuals who are engaged at present in the research on the history of science and collecting in the second half of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Dr Bernhard Schirg in the anatomical theatre, Uppsala. (Source of image: Dr B. Schirg)

With such a focus on the cultural biographies of unique objects, texts are of crucial importance. Equipped with a PhD in neo-Latin philology, Dr Schirg will bring together early modern Latin source material with various forms of documentation in vernacular languages. In recent years, he has expanded his research across disciplines, encompassing art history and the history of science, and has extended his range of periods from the Italian Renaissance to the Scandinavian baroque (a particularly exciting field in the decades around 1680 when Sweden was a central player not only in European politics, but also in academia). Dr Schirg reports that he has found the support his proposal received from Oxford institutions and scholars to be ‘overwhelming’ and that ‘it was highly encouraging to witness the deep interest in my approach as well as the will to establish interdisciplinary collaborations’.

We are delighted at EMLO to be working with Dr Schirg and, together with the University’s libraries, museums, and scholarly community, we hope to help foster ‘a research project that will transcend conventional boundaries of disciplines, and sound out the impact which the national narratives and scientific paradigms of the Swedish Empire exerted on an international level’. If, as Dr Schirg intends, ‘classical and nordic mythology, Scandinavian philology, travelling objects and their various interpretations in early modern letters, dissertations and travel journals’ are highlighted and recombined in the course of this innovative work, then we are indeed in for an ‘inspirational year of vibrant exchange and new encounters’!

August addenda (and two Dutch churches)

As scholars take advantage of this long summer vacation to lay foundations for research and forthcoming publication, so too, behind the scenes at EMLO, the editorial team is hard at work preparing metadata for a magnitude of new catalogues of correspondence. Over the course of the next academic year, epistolary calendars for a range of august early modern intelligencers, mathematicians, philosophers, physicians, religious conformists, religious dissenters, and renowned scholars (both female and male) — but please note the alphabetical listing throughout this list, just to keep you on tenterhooks and to avoid intimation of partiality! — will be uploaded into the union catalogue. We anticipate a number of key thematic clusters and correspondence circles will converge and, in consequence, will be brought ever more clearly into focus. Simultaneously, many of our existing catalogues will be supplemented. The first brace of these —both Dutch — is re-published in EMLO this week and is highlighted for you here today.

Austin Friars, London, from Edward Wedlake Brayley, ‘A Topographical and Historical Description of London and Middlesex … By Messrs Brayley, Brewer, and Nightingale … Illustrated with one hundred and fifty views, etc’ (London, 1820), p. 23. (British Library; source of image Wikimedia Commons).

Early in 2016, EMLO created a catalogue for the Antwerp-born cartographer Abraham Ortelius. This calendar of correspondence was compiled by the scholar and archivist Joost Depuydt and was taken in part from J. H. Hessels’s first published volume of letters from the archive of the Dutch Church in London (1887). Hot on the heels of Ortelius’s catalogue, the EMLO editorial team collated and released metadata drawn from Dutch-born but Cambridge-based scholar’s second volume (1889). This volume contains transcriptions of 266 letters of members of the Dutch Church, which following Edward VI’s Charter of 24 July 1550 had settled in the nave of the former church of the Augustinan Friary in the City of London known as Austin Friars (for further details, please see last year’s blog on the archive). Now this week the first batch of metadata from the third Hessels volume (1897) has been added to the catalogue.

The two parts of this third volume are strange beasts: after working through the collection of letters in the Church’s Ortelius/Collius archive and publishing what he seems to have thought was the sum of the Church members’ letters, a significant number of additional boxes were discovered in the possession of the Church, and poor Hessels had to embark upon substantial re-ordering to bring out a complete chronological listing. Former EMLO Digital Fellow Catherine Wright (whose doctoral thesis is on the social and cultural presence of the Dutch in London between the Restoration of Charles II to the English throne and the end of the second decade of the eighteenth century) began work with this third volume, and the letters she collated are now in EMLO. The Dutch Church baton has been taken up more recently by Karen Hollewand, an Oxford student who has been working with EMLO whilst bringing her doctoral thesis on Hadriaan Beverland to successful completion; the letters Karen has calendared from this hefty Hessels volume will be uploaded to the catalogue in the next few months.

The Pieterskerk, Leiden, by Frederik de Wit. 1698. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Alongside the archive of the Dutch Church, in London a second catalogue with a Dutch theme, that of Johannes Coccejus (published originally in EMLO last November), has been augmented this week. For more information on the German-born Reformed theologian who progressed to become Professor of Theology at Leiden, please see this earlier blog where you will find reference also to the intriguing story concerning his tomb in the city’s Pieterskerk during the second world war.

There is very much more in the form of new letter records to follow in EMLO later in the year, but over the last days of this summer’s vacation I hope very much you enjoy these two rich Dutch-centric catalogues, each one with its connection to a church with a remarkable history.

Elizabeth Compton, her son, and a Huguenot

Over the past couple of years those dipping in and out of EMLO with regularity will have witnessed increasing commitment to and engagement with growing numbers of students. Not only is EMLO’s impressive team of Digital Fellows drawn primarily from Oxford’s student cohort, but we couldn’t be more delighted that the pioneering Bodleian Student Editions scheme (piloted over these last three terms) will continue in the forthcoming academic year. Now this week we focus on another student catalogue in the form of a cluster of letters from the correspondence of Elizabeth Compton, countess of Northampton (1694–1741). A group of second-year History undergraduates, who in Hilary term took the Further Subject ‘Writing in the early modern period’, checked the metadata from the (sadly not-always entirely accurate!) Bodleian card catalogue, entered a range of salient corrections, enhanced the records with additional details, and worked up a number of transcriptions. The results make for a fascinating read.

Detail from letter of 29 August 1734 from James Compton to his mother Elizabeth. (Bodleian Libraries, MS Eng. letters e. 2, fols 70–71).

Elizabeth was the daughter of Robert Shirley, a man who — having failed to stand as a member of Parliament for Staffordshire — was elected Fellow of the Royal Society on 11 January 1699 only to die from smallpox six weeks later. Orphaned at the age of five (her mother fell victim to the same disease the following month), Elizabeth became Baroness Ferrers of Chartley suo jure on the death of her paternal grandfather in 1717 and Countess of Northampton through her marriage to James Compton, fifth earl of Northampton (1687–1754). Although a number of sources indicate the couple had no male offspring, it is clear from the correspondence that this was not the case: all but one of the letters with which the students worked are addressed to Elizabeth, and of these the large majority concern the well-being of her son.1 It turns out young James Compton was born in 1723.2

With Elizabeth based in Northampton (at Castle Ashby),3 in Warwickshire (at Compton Wynates),4 or in Staffordshire (Tamworth Castle), James is clearly undergoing his education away from her and is in the care of one Nicholas Guillibeau, who writes with dedicated regularity from Fulham. The letters, sent often via ‘by Ashby Bagg Northampton-shire’, are concerned primarily with the boy’s health. A typical entry reads: ‘My Lord Compton continues thank God in very good health except a little Cold His Lordship has got, but no Cough.’5 At this point, in 1734, James was eleven.

Besides updates on health and an assortment of remedies prescribed, the letters inform his mother of visits from various relatives; of concerts; of a winning lottery ticket for his sister, Jane; of the order and receipt of wine; and we witness his twelfth birthday on 6 July 1734, celebrated with a delivery of venison and its consumption! An incident involving the sister of the school’s headmaster (Mr, or Dr, Croft) is related also: ‘as she was walking out to go to their field, she was run over by a Horse upon full speed whose rider was Drunk, and she was so trempled and bruised by the Horse’s falling upon her that she was took up & brought Home for Dead. She was immediately let Blood & other proper Medicines apply’d which brought her a little to her Self. She lies still in a very weak and dangerous Condition there being yet but small hopes of her recovery.’6 A trawl through the indispensable Old Bayley Online database reveals this unfortunate sister to have been Ann Croft, described as an ‘old woman’ (actually, she was born in 1683, which makes her fifty-one at the time of the accident) who was brought down whilst walking with two children at the junction of Bear Street (now Rigault Road) and Sow-Gelders Lane (now Burlington Road) by George Turner, a servant, when his horse knocked her over and caught a hind leg in her petticoats. Ann Croft did not survive her injuries and died just eight days later. Turner was charged with murder and acquitted on a verdict of manslaughter.

Detail showing Fulham from ‘An Exact Survey of the citys of London Westminster ye Borough of Southwark and the Country near ten miles round …’, by John Rocque. 1746. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

The repercussions of this sad tale are recounted in the letters. Croft’s extended family and the school rallied in support. Certainly Guillibeau speaks of ‘our school’ as if he were employed there — but he appears also to run errands for Elizabeth and members of her family, and to have been closely involved in every aspect of James’s life. He gives reports of clothing and the boy’s growth: ‘My Lords Summer Coat is so very short that the boys have laughed His Lordship out of Conceit with it by telling him that he looks like a Frenchman in it.’7 And it’s ironic that Guillibeau pokes fun at French fashion, because the published Huguenot archives list him [Nicolas Guillibau] as having taken his oath of naturalization in 1710. Little reference is made to James’s academic studies, although we learn in passing he reads ‘Ovid’s Metamorphosis, and Terence’s plays’.8 (Sadly, from the perspective of our colleagues at the fascinating Reading Euclid project, there’s not one reference to Euclid.) The school James attended was situated on the east side of Sow-Gelders Lane and seems to have been set up earlier in the century as a French establishment run by Louis Vaslet.9 Dr Croft, who features so often in these letters, turns out to be Thomas Croft, son of Thomas Croft, rector of Broughton, Lincolnshire, who was admitted to Jesus College, Cambridge, on 27 September 1700. He served as rector of Wrexham, Alderley, and Radbourne.10

Despite Guillibeau’s mention of many letters written by young James, in this collection there is just one from the boy to his mother: in a gorgeous copperplate hand, he discusses his sister Jane’s preference for one pony over another. The saddest note of all in this story is that the poor sickly young James did not survive into adulthood and died just five years after these letters were exchanged, at the age of seventeen. A more positive thread finds a delicious EMLO-esque cross reference concerning the school, however: another pupil known to have attended the establishment just a few years after James Compton was none other than Thomas Pennant, the subject of research by our colleagues at the inspiring Curious Travellers project.

How and why these letters to Elizabeth Compton came to be separated from the bundle that ended up in the possession of her daughter Charlotte is at present a mystery.11 As with EMLO’s previous undergraduate catalogue, that of early bluestocking Sarah Chapone, the letters were selected for their relatively straight-forward hand. In each catalogue, the students have transcribed only a selection and more work remains to be done. From the vantage point of well-earned summer vacations, however, we hope EMLO users will celebrate and explore the work of our talented young scholars. Certainly, we could not be more delighted that EMLO has emerged as a platform to showcase their ongoing work.

 

  1. The letters entered the Bodleian’s collections in 1931. See Mary Clapinson and T. D. Rogers, Summary catalogue of post-medieval western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford: acquisitions 1916–1975 (Oxford, 1991), vol. 1, p. 374.
  2. C. F. R. Palmer, The History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth: In the Counties of Stafford & Warwick (1845), p. 376. The couple had previously had an elder son, George, but he had lived only a year.
  3. Bridget Cherry and Nicolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Northamptonshire (London, 1973), pp. 138–45)
  4. See ‘Parishes: Compton Wyniates’, in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 5, Kington Hundred, ed. L. F. Salzman (London, 1949), pp. 60–7. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol5/pp60-67, accessed 31 July 2017
  5. Letter of 6 August 1734 from Nicholas Guillibeau to Elizabeth Compton.
  6. Letter of 3 August 1734 from Nicholas Guillibeau to Elizabeth Compton.
  7. Letter of 20 August 1734 from Nicholas Guillibeau to Elizabeth Compton.
  8. Letter of 15 October 1734 from Nicholas Guillibeau to Elizabeth Compton.
  9. See ‘Private Education from the Sixteenth Century: Developments from the 16th to the early 19th century‘, in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century, ed. J. S. Cockburn, H. P. F. King, and K. G. T. McDonnell (London, 1969), pp. 241–55. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol1/pp241-255, accessed 28 July 2017.
  10. See Clergy of the Church of England database, ID 5410. He died in 1753 and was buried in Alderley, Cheshire.
  11. James’s sister Charlotte (1729–70) married George Townshend, first Marquess Townshend in 1751. As a result, a number of private letters both from and to Elizabeth Compton, ended up in the collection of the Marquess of Townshend and have been published in The manuscripts of the Marquess Townshend … by Great Britain, Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (London, 1887), pp. 223–54.

G. J. Vossius: the scholar and the family man

‘Of the innumerable men whom I have heard lecture from the rostrum, I call three men the greatest: Petavius, Vossius and Varlaeus. However, Vossius stood above them as the cypress trees stand above the tedious undergrowth.’1 Thus wrote the French physician Samuel Sorbière of the polymath Gerardus Joannes Vossius (and presumably with a nod to Virgil when speaking of Rome).2 Vossius, whose catalogue is launched in EMLO this week, is a towering figure in any number of significant ways, not least with respect to his correspondence.

Since the earliest days of Cultures of Knowledge, Vossius has been central to the project’s work. EMLO’s database was constructed around the Bodleian card catalogue records, which include the letter collections amassed in the first half of the eighteenth-century by the antiquarian Richard Rawlinson. Vossius’s letters to be found in Rawlinson’s collection comprise the Dutch scholar’s own letter books and contain, therefore, the holograph letters he received, together with copies of his outgoing correspondence. These copies were made either by Vossius himself, or by his sons, or by the students who lodged at the Vos family home, a house in which it was not just the males who were given care and attention. Vossius’s much-loved daughter, Cornelia, who drowned tragically in 1638 following an accident on the ice that involved the sledge in which she was travelling from Amsterdam to Leiden, is known to have been extremely well educated and versed in an impressive number of languages. Vossius comes across loud and clear in his correspondence not only as a significant scholar but also as an exceptionally kind and caring individual and family man. When starting working with Bodleian card catalogue records six years ago, it struck me how often and how deeply this man mourned the deaths of those he loved — members of his family and his children, his friends — as well as how he sympathized with and sent comfort to a wide range of correspondents as they struggled to endure similar sorrow and bereavement.

In the spirit of making catalogues available at the earliest opportunity, Cultures of Knowledge published the Bodleian card catalogue records back in 2012 on the occasion of the launch of EMLO, and today we are uploading metadata taken from the inventory compiled by the renowned Vossius scholars C. S. M. Rademaker and G. A. C. van der Lem.3

G. A. C. van der Lem and C. S. M. Rademaker, ‘Inventory of the Correspondence of Gerardus Joannes Vossius (1577–1649)’ (Assen and Maastricht: Van Gorcum, 1993).

Work is ongoing in EMLO to link the dual interpretations for each letter. Thanks to the generous gift of the meticulously ordered working notes and facsimiles (pictured below in their boxes on the shelves in my office) used by Anton van der Lem and Cor Rademaker as they worked on Vossius’s vast correspondence, we are able to tidy up simultaneously many of the mistakes contained within the Bodleian card catalogue’s person records. The inventory these two scholars brought out in print in 1993 serves as an invaluable finding-aid for the complete correspondence, and should anyone be interested in pursuing work with the texts of Vossius’s letters, please be in touch with us at EMLO as the underlying metadata could provide a firm base upon which future work might be layered. Equally, should scholars be interested in working with the networks of which G. J. Vossius formed a part (together with those of his son Isaac, whose calendar of correspondence was published last year in EMLO by the Leiden-based scholar Dr Robin Buning), we would be delighted to help in every way possible.

Vossius died in 1649, at the age of seventy-one (or seventy-two, depending on the exact day of his birth), of erysipela, a streptococcal infection of the skin, also known as St Anthony’s Fire. The stories of the events preceding his death vary. One holds that he had a disagreement with a bookseller, became tremendously upset, returned home, laid down and died; another recounted how he was at work in his library, the ladder up which he climbed broke, and he was crushed under falling folio volumes.4 Either or neither may be true but, however he met his end, Vossius’s letters are lasting proof that the world lost with his passing a kind, generous, considerate man who was — in the words of the scholars who focussed upon him — one of the ‘finest representatives of late humanism’.5

  1. See C. S. M. Rademaker, Life and Work of Gerardus Joannes Vossius (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1981), p. 245.
  2. Virgil, Eclogue I, lines 24–6.
  3. G. A. C. van der Lem and C. S. M. Rademaker, Inventory of the Correspondence of Gerardus Joannes Vossius (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1993).
  4. Rademaker, op. cit., above, p. 343.
  5. Van der Lem and Rademaker, op. cit., above, p. VII.

Bayle is ‘daylie expected’

To illustrate how we’ve been counting down days, I couldn’t resist putting together a little welcome slide for Professor Antony McKenna who is due to speak on his work as editor of the Correspondance de Pierre Bayle in Oxford’s Faculty of History at 4 p.m. today. It concerns a detail from a letter of 7 July 1696 from Edward Bernard — Oxford’s Savilian Professor of Astronomy —  to Thomas Smith, the orientalist, antiquary, and librarian, who was formerly at Magdalen College, Oxford, but who, by 1696, was living in Soho’s Dean Street at a house belonging to his fellow nonjuror Hilkiah Bedford and was working as unofficial librarian for Sir John Cotton (the grandson of Sir Robert Cotton, founder of the Cotton library). Before signing off, Bernard noted to his friend ‘Bayles Dictionary is daylie expected from Roterdam.’  Sadly Bernard died six months after this letter was dispatched, and although I’ve not had time to find out whether the dictionary made it to Oxford as soon as he expected, we can but hope.

And now we’re all looking forward just as eagerly to Professor McKenna’s talk this afternoon. Anyone interested in the scholarly work that is the bedrock of a complete critical edition will be most welcome to join us (for full details please see my previous post). Should you not be be able to make it, Professor McKenna has kindly agreed that the lecture may be recorded and a podcast made available — I’ll keep you informed of the details regarding its release.

Pierre Bayle: a lecture and reception

While in Oxford for a few days next week, Professor Antony McKenna has kindly agreed to give a talk about the decades of meticulous scholarship that have culminated this year in completion of the truly magnificent critical edition Correspondance de Pierre Bayle.1 His lecture will provide those interested in the ongoing work at Cultures of Knowledge and Early Modern Letters Online [EMLO] with a unique opportunity to hear about the research and teamwork underlying this edition, which has been published in fifteen glorious volumes by the Voltaire Foundation, Oxford, and partially online at the l’Université Jean Monnet Saint-Étienne, France, as well as in calendar format in EMLO. In addition, over the course of the months ahead, the texts of Bayle’s letters will be incorporated also into the ePistolarium database (Huygens ING) and Oxford’s Electronic Enlightenment.

Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), who was exiled from his native France exiled shortly before the Revocation of Edict of Nantes, played a crucial role in the development of the Republic of Letters. Together with many of his fellow Huguenots, he settled in Rotterdam, where he published one of the first literary periodicals, defined a new concept of religious tolerance based on moral rationalism, composed a magnificent Historical and Critical Dictionary in which he sought to demonstrate that religious faith is incompatible with rational argument, and contributed to a new interpretation of Spinozism. Bayle was a committed and prolific correspondent (the edition extends to 1,791 letters). As Professor McKenna will explain, Bayle ‘regarded himself simply as a citizen of the Republic of Letters and came to represent that ideal community, “an extremely free State, in which is applied only the rule of truth and reason”.’

Professor McKenna’s talk — hosted by Cultures of Knowledge and the Voltaire Foundation — will be delivered in the Lecture Theatre in Oxford’s History Faculty and will be followed by a reception. All who are interested and find themselves in and around Oxford on Monday at 4 p.m. are most welcome to attend (although we’d appreciate a quick r.s.v.p. [dobrochna.futro@history.ox.ac.uk] if you plan to join us). Full details may be found in the invitation below.

  1. Correspondance de Pierre Bayle, directed by †Elisabeth Labrousse and Antony McKenna, in association with Wiep van Bunge, Edward James, Fabienne Vial-Bonacci, Bruno Roche, and Eric-Olivier Lochard, 15 vols (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1999–2017).

Happy birthday, Elias Ashmole!

‘I Elias Ashmole, was the son (& only Child) of Simon Ashmole of Lichfeild Sadler eldest son to Mr. Thomas Ashmole of the said Citty Sadler, twice cheife Bayliff of that Corporation, and of Anne one of the daughters of Anthony Bowyer of the Citty of Coventry draper, & Bridget his wife only daughter to Mr: Fitch of Ansley in the County of Warwick gent. I was borne the 23rd of May 1617 (& as my deare & good Mother hath often told me) neere halfe an houre after 3 a’clock in the Morning.’ Thus, at the beginning of a set of autobiographical notes, Elias Ashmole wrote of his birth four hundred years ago today. In celebration of this event, EMLO is delighted to announce the publication of a new catalogue containing a calendar of his correspondence.

Cover (page A1r) of ‘Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum’, by Elias Ashmole. 1652. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons, from http://dewey.library.upenn.edu/)

Ashmole is a complex character known best as a collector, an antiquary, and the founder of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. But he was also a freemason, an inaugural Fellow of the Royal Society, an astrologer (with a particular interest in alchemy, publishing Fasciculus chemicus in 1650, Theatrum chemicum Britannicum two years later, and The Way to Bliss in 1658), as well as an officer-of-arms and herald, and the Comptroller, and later Accountant-General, of the Excise. He began his working life as a lawyer. Many of the events that befell him we know only from his own account in a document preserved among his papers in the Bodleian Libraries (MS. Ashm. 1136, fols 2–98). For one-hundred-and-thirty years after his death, this manuscript was considered to be a diary. It took the eighteenth-century antiquary and diarist Thomas Hearne (whose own correspondence plays such a crucial role in the early years of the Bodleian’s analogue Index of Literary Correspondence) to observe: ‘It is most wretched Stuff, and put down by Mr Ashmole only as private Memorandums’.1 And Hearne was right: it is a predominently chronological listing of autobiographical notes compiled in the years from 1678 when Ashmole was sixty-one. The register continues until 1687, five years before his death, and must have been intended as the outline of an ultimately unwritten autobiography. It is from these jottings that Helen Watt — who worked from 2009–12 on the correspondence of the Ashmolean’s second keeper, Edward Lhwyd — has teased out this calendar of correspondence. Far from straightforward work, it is the first time that the metadata for Ashmole’s letters have been set out in this way.

Portrait of Elias Ashmole, by John Riley; frame made by Grinling Gibbons. 1681–2. (Image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford; WA1898.36)

Working in partnership with Oxford University Press — the publisher of C. H. Josten’s 1966 ‘monumental edition of materials relating to Elias Ashmole’ (as described by Charles Webster)2 — and with its digital resource Oxford Scholarly Editions Online [OSEO], Helen has linked the records of letters in EMLO to the online edition and has supplemented the body of letters to be found in Ashmole’s listings with detailed calendaring of a set of prognostications on the weather (Bodleian Libraries, MS. Ashm. 368). These forecasts were sent monthly to Ashmole for twelve years from 1677 by John Goad, the headmaster of the Merchant Taylors’ School in London. What has been drawn together in EMLO is in the main a subjective calendar; we have been able to record only what Ashmole wished to remember. Correspondence that relates to his dealings with the Tradescants is missing, for example, as is that concerned with a number of law suits in which he was involved, but this calendar is a start and as additional letters are brought to our attention, we will augment the catalogue. For EMLO’s users who are interested in alchemy, in heraldry, in the history of collecting, or in early medical practices (Ashmole was a meticulous note-taker when it came to his own health), it’s well worth sinking into a chair in a OSEO-subscribing library and following the links from each letter record to Josten’s edition online. For it is here you will find a myriad of choice snippets. Consider, for example, the following remedy Ashmole availed himself of on 11 April 1681:  ‘I tooke early in the Morning [a] good dose of Elixer, … hung 3 Spiders about my Neck … they drove my Ague away, Deo gratias.’3 If only more conditions were cured this easily!

I’m extremely glad, Mr Ashmole, that you survived such self-medication to live another eleven years. Happy four-hundredth birthday!

  1. See C. H. Josten, ed., Elias Ashmole: His Autobiographical and Historical Notes, his Correspondence, and Other Contemporary Sources Relating to his Life and Work, 5 vols (Oxford: OUP, 1967), vol. 1, p. 4.
  2. See Charles Webster’s review in The British Journal for the History of Science, vol. 4, no. 1 (June 1968), pp. 72–3.
  3. Josten, vol. 4, p. 1680.

At the centre of a troubled world: Elizabeth of Bohemia

Heidelberg, which played such a crucial role in the career of Jan Gruter, the subject of my previous post, provides a setting once again as one of the cities central in the life and (mis)fortunes of Elizabeth Stuart (1596–1662). Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of James VI of Scotland and I of England and his queen consort Anna [Anne] of Denmark, and at this time of writing an exemplary critical edition of her correspondence is well on its way to completion. Based on the prize-winning PhD thesis of the Leiden scholar Dr Nadine Akkerman, the edition is published by Oxford University Press: the second volume, containing letters from the years 1632 to 1642, appeared in 2011; and the first volume, with letters from 1603 to 1631, was published in 2015. Once the third and concluding volume rolls off the press, nearly 2,000 letters to and from Elizabeth will be have been assembled from some fifty different archives and collections worldwide, and Dr Akkerman will follow her stellar edition with a biography of the Stuart princess.

Elizabeth Stuart, by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1642. Oil on canvas, 205.1 by 130.8 cm. (Image courtesy of the National Gallery, London; inv. no. NG6362)

Elizabeth married the Elector Palatine Frederick V on 14 February 1613 and travelled to Heidelberg in June of that year at the age of sixteen. She lived in the city for six years before moving to Prague in October 1619, following Frederick’s ultimately disastrous acceptance of the crown of Bohemia. During this time Elizabeth and Frederick created the Hortus Palatinus, employing the French Huguenot Salomon de Caus (1575–1626), the engineer and tutor of mathematics who had worked previously for Elizabeth’s brother Henry at Richmond Palace, at Denmark [Somerset] House for her mother Anna, and for her father’s secretary of state Robert Cecil at Hatfield. De Caus’s designs for the garden were published in 1620 as Hortvs Palatinvs: A Friderico Rege Boemiae Electore Palatino Heidelbergae Exstructus, a copy of which has been digitized by the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg. Of course this work on Elizabeth’s garden came to an abrupt halt with the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, whereafter the site became a military base.

Elizabeth is known to have maintained an epistolary archive, filing both her incoming correspondence and copies of outgoing letters (an inventory was made in the 1630s by one of her secretaries, Sir Francis Nethersole). Tragically, her servant William Curtius reported that her cabinets, containing ‘rarities, books, and papers’, sustained significant water damage during Elizabeth’s final crossing from The Hague back to London in 1661. Elizabeth is known also to have destroyed much sensitive material. Indeed, she wrote to Sir Thomas Roe on 25 June 1631 that all his letters ‘are sure for the fire hath them’. EMLO is delighted to be publishing the first installment of metadata from the surviving and recorded correspondence contained in the two volumes of the edition published thus far, which cover Elizabeth’s life from her birth in Scotland, through her childhood in England, her years in Heidelberg, and her brief spell in Prague, to the first half of her exile in The Hague. Users working within a subscribing library will find that each letter record in EMLO links to Oxford Scholarly Editions Online where the relevant annotated transcription may be consulted.

Publication of this catalogue coincided with a public lecture and workshop on Elizabeth held last week at the University of St Andrews. Conceived by the University’s inspiring rector Catherine Stihler, who has nurtured a long-standing interest in Elizabeth, and shaped and hosted by Professor Steve Murdoch, the event drew together scholars to consider the character and achievements of Elizabeth as well as the momentous events and related circumstances that made up the very fabric of her life. In an impressive public lecture, Dr Akkerman debunked the persistent misrepresentation of Elizabeth as a pleasure-seeking airhead who doted more attention on her menagerie of pet monkeys and parrots than members of her own family, quoting a letter from Elizabeth to her brother Charles I in which it is abundantly clear that the ‘munkeyes’ referenced therein are none other than Elizabeth’s beloved brood of children: ‘Your honest fat henry Vane can tell you, how Hunthorst hath begunne our pictures, Where you will see a Whole table of munkeyes besides my proper self …‘.

Elizabeth’s movements around Europe, 1596–1662.

Following Frederick’s death from fever on 29 November 1632 just weeks after the death at the Battle of Lützen of the Protestant leader Gustavus Adolphus, Elizabeth was left as the driving force behind the movement to restore her family to their lands. Exiled from both the Palatinate and Bohemia, she presided over a court based in The Hague for a full four decades and it is from here that the majority of her correspondence is conducted, much of it in cipher. During these years, with the momentous events of the Thirty Years’ War working out their dreadful course, and with civil war erupting in the British Isles in the 1640s and the ensuing rule of the protectorate from 1649, the threads of who was doing what, when, and where begin to get tortuously tangled. Spies abound; many of them turn out to be women. People assume aliases and are not who they profess to be. Teams of highly trained individuals assemble in Black Chambers to foil plans and unmask agents. In the tradition of many of these female spies, I shall not give anything away, but do keep an eye on Dr Akkerman’s ongoing research into the women who slipped back and forth across the seas between the United Provinces and England in the decade prior to Elizabeth’s return to London in 1661. All I will say at this point is that Nadine Akkerman and Elizabeth Stuart have a clutch of remarkable stories tucked up their collective sleeve!

Mother tongues and a tale of two libraries: Janus Gruterus

In recent weeks Cultures of Knowledge has played host to a number of COST-funded ‘short-term-scientific-mission’ visitors, one of whom has been considering how best the project’s current prosopographic data-model might be expanded to include a number of less-easily quantifiable categories, many — but not all — of which pertain to the lives of women.

One area under scrutiny is that of education. In a male-centric model, fields tend to be event led: for example, who attended a certain school between which years under a known headmaster; who matriculated to which university on a particular date; and who was awarded which degree when. But less quantifiable information should be captured in addition: which languages could an individual read, and which speak; whether the parent of a child was involved directly in his or her education; whether the individual in question was the owner of a library and, if so, which books did it contain, and to whom were these bequeathed. The answers to these questions can be highly revealing and they are of especial relevance to the subject of EMLO’s most recently published catalogue, Jan Gruter.

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View of Heidelberg before July 1622, by Jacques Foucquier (d.1659). (Kurpfälzisches Museum, Heidelberg; source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

The poet, philologist, and librarian Gruter [Janus Gruterus] was a first-class linguist, studying at Cambridge and at Leiden, and teaching at Rostock, Wittenberg, and Heidelberg, before taking up the position of librarian of the Bibliotheca Palatina in 1602 following the death of Paul Melissus. In addition to becoming caretaker of one of early modern Europe’s most remarkable treasures, Gruter assembled a significant personal library of his own. Both libraries suffered immeasurably following the capture of Heidelberg by Tilly’s imperial troops in September 1622 and a significant portion (the Latin and Greek manuscripts) of the Bibliotheca Palatina was taken to Rome as ‘spoils of war’ and was presented there to Pope Gregory XV. The German manuscripts were left behind, however, and may be consulted in Heidelberg today. Gruter, the man of many languages, fled south to Tübingen and Bretten.

Much of the finer detail regarding Gruter’s life is known from the panegyric published in 1631 by one of his pupils, Balthasar Venator. Perhaps the most remarkable fact passed down by Venator is the information about Gruter’s mother, Catherine [Catharina] Tishem [Thysmans]. Catherine was an English woman, from Norwich. She was highly educated, fluent in Latin and Greek (and with a tendency to read Galen in the original), in addition to French, Italian, and English. She taught her son his languages. This will not be news to scholars within the WEMLO network, nor is it unusual for a mother to take charge of the early education of a young family. It is, however, a category of information that needs to be considered and recorded wherever possible for early modern individuals: which languages could a person read, and which write. Might it emerge that a significant number of women were better educated than has been assumed previously? Who stands in the shade behind every great man? Well, behind Jan Gruter, it was Catherine Tishem, a woman whose exceptional skills were recognized, I am pleased to note, by George Ballard in his 1752 publication Memoirs of several ladies of Great Britain, who have been celebrated for their writings, or skill in the learned languages, arts and sciences.

Digital ups

Whilst extending heartfelt apologies to all who have been frustrated by the abrupt disappearances of EMLO over the past couple of weeks, I’m pleased to report that the issues with Bodleian’s servers have been resolved successfully and it is possible once again to explore without interruption the metadata for the newly uploaded volumes of epistolary heavyweights Oldenburg and Bayle.

Despite EMLO being offline for extended periods, behind the scenes it has been an action-packed few weeks. One particular highlight came in the form of a visit from Aalto, Finland, by our talented colleague Jouni Tuominen. Jouni has been working on a tool to search individual correspondence catalogues across metadata in the whole of EMLO to identify different scholarly interpretations of the same letter. His work involves strings (proverbial ‘balls’, no less) of complicated queries, and the results mean it will be possible for us to provide links in EMLO between these alternative scholarly interpretations and, for statistical purposes, to count each letter just once. Bravo Jouni!

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Two curves with links. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)