Oxford Science and the Republic of Letters: John Wallis’s Correspondence Networks
2011 Seminar Series / Thursday 23 June, 2011
Dr Philip Beeley (University of Oxford) draws on his intensive editorial work on Wallis’s letters to offer compelling case studies from a single network. He argues that, in the absence of direct patronage, Wallis’s 246 individual correspondences enabled the mathematician, cryptographer, and (from 1649) Savilian Professor of Geometry to establish a name for himself within the broader European Republic of Letters. Beeley uses Wallis’s harmonious communications with the Danzig astronomer Johannes Hevelius to show how epistolary exchanges between distant friends could facilitate the kind of productive intellectual commerce and collaboration idealized by Comenius, Hartlib, and (in the context of the early Royal Society) Henry Oldenburg. However, switching his focus to Wallis’s more turbulent astronomical entanglements with the Dutch mathematicians Christiaan Huygens and Frans van Schooten, Beeley reminds us that the Republic of Letters was far from a gentleman’s club, and that interpersonal rivalries, methodological disuputes, accusations of plagiarism, and the quest for success and status remained powerful influences on scientific discussion throughout the second half of the seventeenth century.