Sophie van Romburgh

Reciprocal Bonds Between Words and Friends, or Correspondence According to Francis Junius

2011 Seminar Series / Thursday 26 May, 2011


Sophie van Romburgh (University of Leiden) outlines a new framework for appreciating the correspondence of the seventeenth-century philologist Francis Junius, which she edited in 2002, by turning to the closely related genre of commentary (the etymological elucidations of words and concepts in early modern source texts). Van Romburgh argues for a comparable set of ‘discursive dynamics’ between commentary and learned correspondence, and suggests that both attempted to add ‘lustre’ to objective, impersonal, abstract knowledge by embedding it within lived experience and wider networks of words, scholars, and friends. Not only does the thematic eclecticism and ‘easy mix’ of classical, biblical, and contemporary voices evident in Junius’s commentaries evoke the lively, promiscuous character of intellectual correspondence, but they also combine serious etymological pursuit with personal anecdote (especially evident in his Observationes from 1655). This connects the ‘formal grid’ of the dictionary or source text with broader ‘constellations of knowledge and people’, relating the exotic and the arcane to the familiar and the experiential, and providing an example of early modern ‘associative rhetoric’ (Roberta Frank) in action. Junius’s commentaries also reference extra-textual conversations with scholar-friends, as do his letters; a powerful reminder that both commentary and correspondence existed within a voice-oriented culture (or ‘oral story world’), and superimposed a ‘vast, living world of spoken communication, of which only some glimpses make it to paper’. Cultures of Knowledge, argues van Romburgh, are created within this vast multi-dimensional space, and out of the lived practices of networks of scholar-friends (‘the ecology of early modern scholarship’).

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