Monthly Archives: December 2018

The particular case of Jan Baptist Van Helmont, enhancing existing EMLO metadata, and ‘starter catalogues’ …

As we pass from the old year into the new, EMLO’s users may find of interest the recently highlighted catalogue created for Jan Baptist Van Helmont (1579–1644). This catalogue is small yet significant: tantalizingly few letters — at present just fifteen — have survived to be recorded in the correspondence of the Flemish medic and ‘chymist’. This seems to be due, in part, to the actions of the ‘Count of Gilinius’ who, according to Van Helmont’s son Franciscus Mercurius [Francis Mercury] (1614–1699), plundered [‘spoliasset’] the letters, papers, and books that had belonged to his father and which were preserved in the family estates at Vilvorde, near Brussels.1 The loss of this precious material was noted also on the far side of the English Channel in London, where Samuel Hartlib wrote in his ‘Ephemerides’:

By some bodies instigation Gleen was made to fall upon some of Helmonts houses which he plundered and set on fire, wherein many excellent writings of his perished. Amongst others a great Volume of letters written by himself and by others to him about many arcana.’2

Detail from Hartlib’s ‘Ephemerides’. (Hartlib Papers, University of Sheffield, 28/2/24B)

Although Van Helmont’s letters seem to have been lost and only this minute number from what was perhaps an extensive body of work appears to survive in the correspondence archives of others, this does not prevent scholars today from enriching further the records of what is logged already in EMLO. We are delighted that Dr Georgiana Hedesan has offered to provide abstracts for Van Helmont’s known letters and to tag the people mentioned and the topics discussed therein, as well as to consider the influence and afterlife of the influential Paracelsian through the lens of the correspondences of others in the period.

In addition to enriching existing metadata (as in this example of Van Helmont), scholars are encouraged to identify and help complete significant correspondence listings for which no more than partial inventories exist in the EMLO union catalogue at present. A number of what might best be termed ‘starter catalogues’ are in the process of being identified, and students and established academics alike are invited to be in touch concerning work that might be done to help bring these to completion. A preliminary selection of the ‘starter catalogues’ will be highlighted on EMLO early in the new year and should any of these prove to be of interest and should you wish to contribute in any way, please let us know …

In the meantime, we’d like to take this opportunity to wish all users of Early Modern Letters Online a happy new year. We look forward greatly to hearing from and, we hope, working with many of you in 2019.

  1. See Francis Mercury van Helmont, ‘Vita authoris’, in J. B. van Helmont, Ortus medicinae, sig. (E4)v; and Sietske Fransen, ‘Jan Baptista van Helmont and his Editors and Translators in the Seventeenth Century’, PhD dissertation, Warburg Institute, University of London, 2014, p. 108.
  2. Samuel Hartlib, ‘Ephemerides’, 1651; see Hartlib Papers, University of Sheffield, 28/2/24B. The ‘Ephemerides’ was Hartlib’s diary and record of his many and various undertakings. Gleen, or Gilenius, was to Count Godfried (Godard) Huyn van Amstenrade (1590-1657).

The correspondence of Livonia’s most influential humanist: David Hilchen

Back in the spring of this year the COST-funded Reassembling the Republic of Letters action organized its third and final training school, EMLO ‘on the road’. At the suggestion and invitation of Dr Kristi Viiding, who is working on the Livornian humanist and lawyer David Hilchen [Heliconius] (1561–1610), this two-and-a-half-day event was hosted by the Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, Tallinn, and was dedicated to the preparation of epistolary metadata for inclusion in a union catalogue of early modern correspondence.

EMLO is truly delighted at the close of the year to be publishing the first installment of metadata for the inventory of David Hilchen’s correspondence. Under the direction of Dr Viiding, who serves currently as General Secretary of the International Association of Neo-Latin studies, The Hilchen Project is compiling an inventory of the humanist’s entire correspondence, and — in addition to publication of this listing in EMLO — the work of the project will form the basis for a future critical edition. About eight-hundred letters written over a range of more than three decades survive from Hilchen’s private correspondence. The vast majority of these are in Latin, and many letters include short passages or phrases in Greek

This inventory is being published in EMLO in two installments. The first consists of the basic metadata for ninety-eight surviving letters sent by and to Hilchen prior to his departure from Livonia at the end of January 1603. The second installment will contain the letters written during the humanist’s exile in Poland between March 1603 and May 1610 (the month preceding his death), and these will be added to EMLO in the autumn of 2019. For the present, we trust EMLO’s users enjoy exploring the catalogue, and we look forward greatly to continuing our work with Dr Vidiing and her team in the course of the forthcoming year.