Provincial savant to Parisian naturalist: Pierre-Joseph Amoreux

We are delighted to pass on news of the first-ever publication of the autobiography of the eighteenth-century ‘man of science’ Pierre-Joseph Amoreux. From Montpellier, Amoreux was a Linnaean naturalist, an agronomist, and a bibliographer who played an active role in the scholarly community known as the république des lettres. Born in 1741, the earlier decades of Amoreux’s life spanned the extremes in France of the ancien regime and the Revolution, while his later years bore witness to Napoleon’s rise, rule, and fall, and the subsequent Restoration.

Edited by Laurence Brockliss, Amoreux’s autobiography is published this month by the Voltaire Foundation [Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment] under the title From Provincial savant to Parisian naturalist: the recollections of Pierre-Joseph Amoreux (1741–1824). With his unique and sustained voice, Amoreux offers a fascinating insight into ‘the life of a provincial man of science during this tumultuous period of France’s history’. Brockliss’s substantial and indispensable introduction provides significant analysis of the context of Amoreux’s life and work, and is based on surviving letters, printed and manuscript books and articles, as well as on the autobiographical Souvenirs. Of the autobiography, which Amoreux began in 1800, Professor Brockliss writes: ‘No other account of early nineteenth-century Paris catches so fully the multi-faceted nature of the vibrant post-Revolutionary city, whose cast of characters ranges from bankers to barrow-boys. If Amoreux had had the literary talent, he could have left a work which would have stood comparison with Joyce’s Ulysses. Nobody interested in Napoleon’s Paris as the cultural centre of Europe should miss the opportunity to accompany the Montpellier naturalist on his travels.’


Update from Utrecht: Dirk van Miert on three funded doctoral positions

For those intrigued by the European Research Council [ERC] project Sharing Knowledge in Learned and Literary Networks (SKILLNET): the Republic of Letters as a pan-European Knowledge Society (the subject of my previous post and announced recently through the COST Reassembling the Republic of Letters Action), it may be of interest to read what the project’s principal investigator Dr Dirk van Miert has kindly shared with us — in the form of a series of compelling questions — about the three funded doctoral positions open at present for applications.

‘SKILLNET examines the extent to which the Republic of Letters was kept together by the ideal of knowledge exchange,’ Dirk explains. ‘It seeks answers in the social fabric of the network involved, in the discourse employed by this network’s members, and in the memorial culture through which these members celebrated the ideal. Each of these three approaches is the subject of an individual PhD project which will explore the following questions:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could analyse the Republic of Letters as if it were some kind of blogosphere, a social network in which each letter serves as a “link” between two people? What would such a network look like over the course of hundreds of years? How many people were involved? Did this number increase or decrease in size? Was the network bound more tightly in certain regions rather than others? How did sub-networks or small worlds relate to the larger network? What were the sub-cultures of those small worlds? Did people build a communal identity through shared interests in, say, medical subjects or theological questions? Or did they share a language, a regional background, or were they perhaps of a similar age? And if some sub-networks have different structures (in terms of the level of connectedness), does that mean that knowledge was shared more or less easily? With entire ego-networks becoming available in accelerating numbers (witness the promising pool of metadata of letters that is being collected in EMLO), we can start moving beyond personal networks to study the structure of the Republic of Letters over time and space, allowing us to reach a more much precise history of the vicissitudes of the most resilient self-conscious international network of the early modern period: the Republic of Letters.

In 1983 Benedict Anderson wrote that “all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined”. So what about the Republic of Letters? This is indeed a returning topic in discussions of the Republic of Letters: did it really exist? Wasn’t it all a wishful phantasy of literati who retreated into their studies and looked away from the polemics and pamphlet wars that were a permanent, and perhaps even a structural, feature of the learned world in early modern Europe? The question is valid, but mal posée: the Republic of Letters was a palpable reality, because there was a social network of thousands of people who related to it. In other words, the Republic of Letters was an “experienced community”, and hence a very real one. The marvellous e-Pistolarium of the Huygens Institute in The Hague allows us to mine digitally a set of twenty thousand learned letters. It appears that in the vicinity of the phrase “Republic of Letters”, letter writers use most often the words “public”, “good”, “time”, “way”, “spirit”, “maximum”, and “profit”. But what more can we learn about this idealistic discourse for sharing knowledge? What other terms were used? When, where, and why were these employed? Did the ideal experience crises?

Every ideal needs to be nurtured, negotiated, and transmitted in order to survive. If the discursive space of the Republic of Letters was structured around the ideal of sharing knowledge, how was that ideal transmitted to new generations? The ability to read and write was not enough to enable membership, for the Republic of Letters was not merely a discursive space, but also became a palpable reality visible in performances which celebrated and strengthened communal identities. Every community — the imagined, the experienced, the real — needs examples, needs locations of memory, and needs celebrations to assert a common identity. Who were the exemplary figures of the Republic of Letters to which ordinary learned “citizens” related? How did the ideal of sharing knowledge take shape in life-writing, funeral orations, statues, material cultures, paper monuments, commemorative literature? What other, or related, ideals transpire in such material? Can we analyse how the discursive space was made tangible? Who were the heroes and who the villains within the Republic of Letters? In what settings did new generations come to appropriate its ideals? What was the interplay between a local, regional, patriotic, and cosmopolitan identity if we were to look at the material culture of the Republic of Letters that embodied the ideals to which members related?”

Such are the manifold and complex questions emerging at the heart of this project. Should you find an alignment with your own intended research and wish to apply for any one of these positions, you have until 20 October 2017. Meanwhile, here in Oxford, we’re looking forward enormously to working with SKILLNET. Submit an application and you too could form a part of the dynamic and digitally equipped twenty-first century network as it sets out upon its ambitious and wide-ranging journey.


Sharing Knowledge: applications invited for three funded doctoral positions

At a time when financial backing for doctoral research seems as scarce and elusive as fairy dust, it’s welcome news indeed that three fully funded PhD vacancies are being advertised at the University of Utrecht. Each one of these four-year positions is available within the European Research Council [ERC] project Sharing Knowledge in Learned and Literary Networks (SKILLNET): the Republic of Letters as a pan-European Knowledge SocietyHeaded by Dirk van Miert, this project is just embarking upon a fascinating five-year mission to mine the content of large quantities of early modern epistolaries and to consider thereby how participants in the knowledge-based civil society that referred to itself as the ‘Respublica Literaria’ transcended political, confessional, and language boundaries to evolve into a pan-European ‘knowledge commons’. This intriguing project will study lines of communication over the four centuries between 1400 and 1800 and will follow the subtle shifts as the members within this society themselves related to their ideal of such exchange.

The three PhD positions will focus on: the structure of networks; the history of concepts and discourse analysis; and mining for learned identities. The successful candidates will be supervised by Dirk van Miert, who is assistant professor of Early Modern Cultural History in the Department of History and Art History at Utrecht. A longstanding colleague of and friend to EMLO, Dirk is a member of the COST-funded ‘Reassembling the Republic of Letters’ project (headed by Cultures of Knowledge’s Howard Hotson), and — together with another valued contributor Paul Botley of the University of Warwick —  he is co-editor of the exemplary eight-volume edition of Joseph Justus Scaliger’s letters (the metadata of which was published in EMLO in February 2015).1

Applications for any one of the three available positions should be submitted by 20 October (with a view to commencing on 1 January 2018). Further details of this remarkable Republic of Letters project and its exciting investigations may be found here. Despite the somewhat severe countenance in many of his surviving portraits, we assume Scaliger would approve of the exciting research that’s gathering momentum at present in Utrecht!

A doctrine of doctors: the Dublin Medico-Philosophical Society

How fitting at the start of a new academic year that the first of a new batch of catalogues to be published in EMLO concerns a society dedicated to the circulation of knowledge. Established by a group of Irish virtuosi, the Dublin Medico-Philosophical Society was founded in 1756 primarily to advance and promote learning and to harness practical knowledge. Its first recorded meeting was held on 8 April that same year and was attended by John Rutty, Charles Smith, Henry Downing, and the Reverend Nathaniel Caldwell. The Society proposed bi-monthly meetings with the intention of discussing papers and news on medical and related matters of interest. Papers read aloud to members at subsequent meetings emulated closely in style those of the London-based Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions and the underlying intention of the Medico-Philosophical Society was to create a forum in Dublin for intellectual and scientific exchange.

Naturally correspondence was central to the activities of the Society and was the primary means by which information from and to national and international contacts regarding medical and scientific practices, advances, and discoveries was conveyed, and the ensuing epistolary discourse ensured participation from Dublin in the far-reaching and wide-ranging debates and discussions of the mid-eighteenth century. It is clear from the surviving correspondence and minute books that the Society was built firmly upon Baconian principles. Charles Smith, in a ‘Preliminary Discourse’, set out that members would conduct ‘medical, natural and philosophical inquiries’ (in line with those that had been established already and were continuing to flourish the length and breadth of Europe). ‘Truth and a sound method of reasoning, first introduced by Lord Bacon’ would enable them to triumph ‘over the errors of former ages and the dark subtleties of the schoolmen’. Worthy ideals indeed for the improvement of medical practice in Ireland.

Metadata for the Society’s correspondence has been collected by Oxford doctoral student Rachael Scally, and it is clear from the calendar of letters she has assembled and the research she has conducted around these letters that the Society wished to ‘to furnish [their] quota to the Republic of Letters’.1 Open to all suitably qualified medical professionals, the Society nurtured exchanges with physicians, anatomists, surgeons, male midwives, apothecaries, and natural philosophers. Members were requested to scour newspapers and periodicals for relevant items pertaining to ‘natural history, natural philosophy, medicine, or anything curious or useful in nature or art’ to communicate to their fellow members. They were encouraged also to experiment and to discuss the results. As Rachel details in her article ‘Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters at the Dublin Medico-Philosophical Society, 1756–1784’, John Rutty smelled and tasted his mineral and botanical specimens, in addition to samples of urine (both his own and that of a diabetic patient). Patients in Dublin’s hospitals under the care of the Society’s members participated in medical trials — hemlock, wort, and various unidentified powders sent in by eager correspondents were tested upon them — and underwent carefully documented operations involving different types of surgery. (I advise the squeamish not to follow this blog through to its conclusion as I have placed right at the end what some might find a number of less-than-palatable illustrations which were collected and filed by members of the Society!)

The Society’s members themselves, Scally reveals, had been educated at a number of key European institutions, including those in Leiden, London, Edinburgh, Paris, and Rheims. Rutty had studied under physician and botanist Herman Boerhaave; MacBride had been a pupil of anatomy in London with the Scottish physician William Hunter. Incoming letters read out at meetings were received from as far afield as New York and Montreal and, in addition, many of the members belonged to other illustrious societies (for example, Scally notes that James Span was a European member of the American Philosophical Society).

Sadly, the dream outlined by Smith in his ‘Preliminary Discourse’ never reached fruition. The Society disbanded on 7 October 1784. The reasons for this unexpected and sudden termination are not clear and for theories of shameless academic scheming and skulduggery you should read Scally’s article (details and a link to download the PDF from a subscribing institution may be found by clicking here). Thankfully the machinations involved nothing as toe-curling as the meticulously drafted images I’m attaching below, but the result was a merger of the Society’s members into the Irish Academy, which received a Royal Charter in 1785 and began to publish its own Transactions the following year. What is beyond doubt is that the Dublin Medico-Philosophical Society was instrumental in furthering medical practice in Ireland in the second half of the eighteenth century, and that it paved the way for continued organized discussion from that point forward. We hope you enjoy the Society’s catalogue of correspondence (and for those of a frail disposition this is the final warning to click away … perhaps to Rachael Scally’s blog for the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh about George Cleghorn, the surgeon-anatomist who became a member of the Dublin Medico-Philosophers Society in 1757 having accumulated thirteen-years’ worth of experience on the island of Minorca with the 22nd Regiment of Foot … ).

Three drawings from the ‘Medical and Philosophical Memoirs’. (Images courtesy of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, Dublin)

  1. Scally, Rachael, ‘Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters at the Dublin Medico-Philosophical Society, 1756–1784’, University of Dublin, Trinity College, Journal of Postgraduate Research, 14, (2015), pp. 156–78.

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, 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, 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. [] 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).