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.

Cultures of Knowledge: the fourth phase

We are delighted to announce the award to the University of Oxford of a fourth round of funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of the Cultures of Knowledge [CofK] project. The grant of $393,000 will support continued work on Early Modern Letters Online and Cultures of Knowledge to the end of September 2018. Once again we are deeply grateful to the Foundation — and to all our partners, contributors, and team members — for their support and confidence in this project.

Phase IV of Cultures of Knowledge will build on work completed in Phase III to advance the collaborative development and population of Early Modern Letters Online [EMLO]. First conceived as a monolithic system designed, built, and populated in Oxford, EMLO is evolving into a central component of a distributed, transnational digital infrastructure designed, built, and populated in concert with European and international partners. In the next phase, CofK will take a further and important step forward towards this goal by disaggregating the basic components of EMLO’s letter records. The outcome will be a new set of Linked Open Data resources for tackling the complexities of early modern people, places, and dates to complement EMLO’s existing systems for handling early modern epistolary metadata.

Hitherto CofK has regarded letter records as its primary concern, and person and place records as integral components of these letter records. Yet a letter record is not elemental: accurate letter metadata rely on the accurate identification of people, places, and dates. Each of these identifications raises considerable difficulties that must be confronted if a large-scale digital infrastructure is to be firmly founded. Dating early modern letters accurately requires systems for mastering a complex landscape in which places transition between different calendars at different times. Accurately recording early modern letters requires capturing data that describes changes over time in how places are both named and nested within larger geographical entities. Confidently identifying letter writers and recipients requires the development of authority files for huge numbers of early modern individuals who are not found in national biographical dictionaries or library catalogues.

CofK’s main agenda during Phase IV will be (1) to decouple our systems for handling early modern people, places, and dates from the core system for handling letter records; (2) to define new capabilities for these systems on the basis of eight years of experience and dialogue with a wide range of partners; (3) to launch Early Modern People and Early Modern Places as free-standing, Linked Open Data resources that will be capable ultimately of being used and populated independently of EMLO; (4) to launch Early Modern Dates as a free-standing web-service able to reconcile multiple calendars; and (5) to integrate and interlink these databases with EMLO and other relevant Linked Open Data resources.

Timuctoo website at The Huygens ING

Timuctoo website at The Huygens ING

EM People, Places, and Dates will be developed in close collaboration with CofK’s partner, the Huygens ING, on the basis of a humanities-focused, Linked Data-capable IT infrastructure. EM People will be populated initially by the c. 25,000 unique early modern biographical and prosopographical person records collected thus far by Cultures of Knowledge for EMLO. EM Places will be a Pelagios-compatible, historical gazetteer with support for temporal places, drawing on the c. 5,500 disambiguated early modern place records recorded in EMLO. EM Dates will serve primarily as a web-service and API for converting across the range of early modern calendars. We are confident that the release of these new resources alongside EMLO will benefit not just Cultures of Knowledge but also a far wider community of early modern digital projects. In parallel to our central agenda, we will continue to advance and strengthen the scholarly, technical, and networking priorities we pursued during Phase III of the project.

Of these, the most important has been the regular addition of new correspondence catalogues to EMLO. In April 2015, at the beginning of Phase III, EMLO offered access to c. 61,000 letter records. Today, at the start of Phase IV, this number has doubled — EMLO provides access to c120,000 letter records across eighty-two correspondence catalogues. Letter records can be explored now by catalogue, theme, or contributor (with further entry points by chronology, geography, and repository in preparation), and filtered by gender. New correspondence catalogues will continue to be added to EMLO during Phase IV, albeit at a slower pace than in the recent past.

Baxter Quatercentenary Exhibition

Baxter Quatercentenary Exhibition

In addition to new catalogues, CofK plans to add further virtual exhibits to EMLO. Two inaugural exhibitions were created during Phase III: the Baxter Quatercentenary Exhibition marked the 400th anniversary of the birth of Richard Baxter and profiles a selection of his correspondence from 1657–9, while the second highlights the correspondences of the wives of six seventeenth-century Dutch stadtholders.

In Phase III, we made it easier for scholars and researchers to contribute letter records to EMLO by creating a custom webform for adding metadata online. This tool is already in active use by a significant number of different projects and individual contributors, including our own students at Oxford, who are learning (together with the Bodleian’s Department of Special Collections and Centre for Digital Scholarship) to transcribe manuscript letters and to contribute data to EMLO’s Bodleian Student Editions catalogue. In Phase IV we expect to continue improving the valuable disambiguation and de-deduplication tools developed in close collaboration with our partners at Aalto and Helsinki Universities.

First degree connections in the prosopographical networks of Samuel Hartlib and Henry Oldenburg

First degree connections in the prosopographical networks of Samuel Hartlib and Henry Oldenburg

We have also explored several means for exporting and visualizing both epistolary and prosopographical metadata from EMLO. One outcome of this work is a case study of the prosopographical networks of Samuel Hartlib and Jan Amos Comenius which can be viewed on the website of the Interactive Data Network group at Oxford with whom we partnered on this project. A full write-up of this project will be posted on the CofK website in the coming months. A second experimental visualization, still under construction, offers a temporal perspective on our published catalogues. In the course of Phase IV we expect to expand and intensify our activities in these areas.

Unopened letter sent to the marquise De Vienne in The Hague, to be handed to Gilliaume Descrote, cook to the count De Tillemette. (Museum voor Communicatie [MvC], The Hague; Brienne Collection, DB-0689)

Unopened letter sent to the marquise De Vienne in The Hague, to be handed to Gilliaume Descrote, cook to the count De Tillemette. (Museum voor Communicatie [MvC], The Hague; Brienne Collection, DB-0689)

In conjunction with our development of EM People, EM Places, and EM Dates, we plan to organize a small number of focused workshops for invited scholars, librarians, and researchers to review the capabilities of these databases. In Phase III, we hosted the members of the Signed, Sealed, and Undelivered project for a workshop on letter-locking and to develop metadata standards to record the unique characteristics of the Brienne Collection in EMLO. In fact, we have been very fortunate, throughout Phase III, to be able to draw on a wide network of established experts and early career scholars to help advance our work. This was made possible under the auspices of the EU COST Action IS1310, ‘Reassembling the Republic of Letters’, also chaired by Howard Hotson. The COST Action has allowed us to meet regularly with scholars, librarians and archivists, IT specialists, and designers to exchange ideas and prepare shared standards for what we hope will emerge from EMLO: a state-of-the-art, transnational, distributed digital infrastructure for early modern correspondence. We look forward to participating in several more such exchanges before the COST Action completes its work in the summer of 2018 with the publication of a volume documenting its recommendations.

We hope this brief summary offers an introduction to the main goals for the next phase of our project, while highlighting the many areas of continuity from Phase III. Please do be in touch to share your feedback and ideas about these plans — we value your feedback greatly. To keep up to date with the latest news and updates from Cultures of Knowledge, please follow us on Twitter (@cofktweets), sign up to our (low traffic) mailing list or contact us directly at our project office: Cultures of Knowledge, History Faculty, University of Oxford, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2RL, U.K.; tel. +44 (0)1865 615026.

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.


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!


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

Digital downs

I’m extremely sorry to have to put out an ‘extraordinary’ post but, should you be hoping to access EMLO to consult the latest volume of Henry Oldenburg’s letters published this week (metadata from volume XII of the Halls’ edition), you will find that, unfortunately, the catalogue is not available at present. This is due to server issues at the Bodleian Libraries. Work will continue around the clock until the service is restored and, in the meantime, I’d like to extend heartfelt apologies. If you end up, along with the team here at EMLO, keeping one eye on the clock until the union catalogue reappears, l’ll leave you with a time-related early modern image for company.


Clockmakers’ workshop, attributed to the workshop of Philips Galle. c. 1589–93. Engraving, 20.1 by 26.9cm. (Rijksmusuem, Amsterdam; inv. no.: RP-P-1904-1032)

Reading the folds: students of letter-locking

The fourth Bodleian Libraries Manuscript and Textual Editing Workshops is scheduled to take place this week, and I’m thrilled to announce that the metadata and transcriptions generated during the three previous sessions may all be consulted now in EMLO within the Bodleian Student Editions catalogue. As a project, we are delighted also to have been able to bring together in the Weston Library a number of our esteemed contributors and colleagues in a fascinating hands-on demonstration of letterlocking. The extraordinary workshop was led by Jana Dambrogio (Thomas F. Peterson Conservator for Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Library in Cambridge, Mass.) and Daniel Starza Smith (Lecturer in Early Modern English at KCL), and places were made available to students who had signed up for the Bodleian Student Editions’ manuscript and editing workshops and to a group of second year students from the ‘Writing in the Early Modern Period, 1550–1750’ Further Subject headed by Professor Giora Sternberg, as well as to staff from the Bodleian, CofK, and EMLO.

letter_thread_closed_SMALLLetterlocking, the term coined by this dynamic and eloquent duo, who constitute an integral and invaluable part of the Signed, Sealed, & Undelivered project team, is the process of folding and securing a letter that was used before mass-produced ready gummed envelopes became de rigueur in the nineteenth century. If, when your letter was ready for dispatch, you did not employ a combination of these time-honoured techniques of folding, cutting, tying, stitching, and/or sealing, what you had written would not have remained private. As Dan explained, sending an unlocked letter four centuries ago would be like pressing the button today on emails without encryption and using accounts with no password.

Jana and Dan taught the assembled company how to complete a staggering variety of different folding and securing techniques, none as straightforward a process as you might imagine. In fact, many of the formats were personalized and extremely elaborate. As Jana demonstrated with a selection of the Bodleian’s early modern manuscript letters which were displayed (and re-boxed by their curator, Mike Webb, and removed to a sensible distance from the ‘wax table’ when participants queued to have their folded letters sealed) the evidence of this essential practice may still be pieced together from such tell-tale signs as the tears found in the paper, the slits, the holes, and the seals. John Donne devised with his own unique lock that involved a paper hook (yes, said Dan, this turned out to be just like Donne: ‘over the top, witty, and kind of sexy’); and Elizabeth of Bohemia was shown to have tied her letters with exquisite silk thread (just look at this gorgeous replica which was given to me).

Letter_openSMALLWe were warned beforehand we would never look at a manuscript letter in the same way again, and the emails of thanks that have flooded in over the ensuing days confirmed this: ‘transfixing’; ‘absolutely bowled over’; ‘I will indeed see them so differently’; and ‘I can’t wait to visit the Reading Room again!’ If you wish to experience a little of letterlocking, it’s well worth setting aside time to watch Jan and Dan’s videos, and to recreate yourself some of these complex and beautiful locking types and their formats. Jana and Dan’s work emerges as a clarion call for letters — so often valued by scholars above all for the information contained in their text — to be considered also as objects.