Monthly Archives: February 2018

Scholarly editing and digital analysis: Q&A breakfast

For students interested in early modern correspondence editions and/or the possibilities of digital analysis

Informal Q&A breakfast with Dirk van Miert (Utrecht University)[1. Dirk is Assistant Professor of Early Modern Cultural History at the University of Utrecht where he specializes in the history of knowledge. He is co-editor of The Correspondence of Joseph Justus Scaliger, 8 vols (Geneva: Droz, 2012) and director of the major new ERC-funded project ‘Sharing Knowledge in Learned and Literary Networks – The Republic of Letters as a Pan-European Knowledge Society’ (SKILLNET). He tweets as @ERC_SKILLNET, and his lecture on digitizing letter catalogues in the Netherlands may be viewed here.]

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Gerry Martin Seminar Room, Faculty of History, George Street, University of Oxford

Coffee and croissants will be provided courtesy of Cultures of Knowledge


All welcome, but r.s.v.p. to Miranda Lewis, Early Modern Letters Online [EMLO]:


Thomas Hobbes: ‘my letter will haue the effect of a perspectiue glasse’

According to John Aubrey, Thomas Hobbes‘s mother went into labour in Malmesbury on Good Friday 1588 ‘upon the fright of the invasion of the Spaniards’ and thereupon gave birth to twins: the philosopher and fear.[1. John Aubrey, Brief lives, chiefly of contemporaries, set down by John Aubrey, between the years 1669 and 1696, ed. A. Clark, 2 vols (1898), p. 327. This reactionary birth seems a little early, even allowing for the difference in calendar date. Good Friday fell on 5/15 April that year; the Spanish fleet did not leave the port of Lisbon for another month.] Despite this alleged inauspicious start, Hobbes, whose correspondence catalogue is the latest to be released in EMLO, lived for more than nine decades. His surviving letters, edited by Noel Malcolm and published in 1994 by Oxford University Press as volumes VI and VII within the Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes,[2. The Correspondence of Thomas Hobbes, ed. Noel Malcolm, 2 vols, The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), vol. 1, 1622–1659, and vol. 2, 1660–1679.] do not — as Malcolm points out — make up as large a corpus of correspondence as might be expected when compared to the numbers of letters left to historians by many of his contemporaries: the 211 letters brought together in these volumes have been supplemented by just a handful in the last two decades,[3. For which see Noel Malcolm and Mikko Tolonen, ‘The Correspondence of Thomas Hobbes: Some New Items’, in The Historical Journal, 51, 2, (2008), pp. 481–95.] and of this number approximately a third are by Hobbes himself.[4. For a discussion on and explain of this, including the possibility that Hobbes burnt many papers in his own hand, see Malcolm, Correspondence, vol. 1, ‘General Introduction’, esp. pp. xxi–xxvi.] Yet gems aplenty are to be found within the correspondence, and users are encouraged either to take advantage of the subscriptions held by their institutional libraries to follow the links from each record in EMLO to the texts that are mounted in OSEO, or to locate the hard-copy volumes. The metadata for this correspondence were supplied to EMLO by Oxford Scholarly Editions Online [OSEO], and EMLO is delighted to be working increasingly in this phase of funding with OSEO to showcase the correspondences of such key figures as Philip Sidney (from Roger Kuin’s edition), Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia (from Nadine Akkerman’s edition), and Elias Ashmole (with metadata teased by EMLO from C. H. Josten’s edition of Ashmole’s own Autobiographical and Historical Notes).

Much of Hobbes’s life is known from the compilation of biographical material provided by his friend Aubrey. The two men had a teacher in common:  the clergyman Richard Latimer (who, as vicar of Westport in Wiltshire, provided Hobbes with a grounding in Latin and Greek, and subsequently, some three decades later as rector of Leigh Delamere, played a key role in the early education of Aubrey). Malcolm points out in his entry on Hobbes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that this connection was one reason for the younger man’s interest in and friendship with the author of Leviathan.[5. N. Malcolm, ‘Hobbes, Thomas (1588–1679), philosopher‘, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-09-23).] Hobbes’s surviving correspondence contributes significantly to what Aubrey was able to garner and, in addition to charting the epistolary conversations in which Hobbes was involved — including exchanges with Descartes courtesy of the agency of Mersenne — the letters offer invaluable insights into the philosopher’s personality.

In a letter to Gervase Clifton of 30 January 1635 Hobbes writes that his words will ‘haue the effect of a perspectiue glasse, wch shewes you not onely a towre afarre of in grosse, but also the battlements and windowes and other principall partes distinctly …’.[6. Malcolm, Correspondence, vol. i, letter 13, p. 25.] Users will find they do indeed offer a lens onto the life and work of a man who, again to quote Malcolm, is acknowledged increasingly as ‘a philosopher whose importance extends far beyond the realm of political theory — someone whose work in theology, metaphysics, science, history, and psychology entitles him to be described as one of the true founders of modernity in Western culture.'[7. Malcolm, ‘Hobbes, Thomas (1588–1679), philosopher’, ODNB.]

Archbishop Ussher and a journey to Malta

At first glance, Valletta might not be where you would expect to stumble across one of Trinity College Dublin‘s greatest scholars. Yet this week, at the University of Malta’s Valletta campus, we are privileged indeed to encounter James Ussher, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh between 1625 and his death in 1656, together with records for the 681 letters that make up his surviving correspondence. The listing for his correspondence is the latest to be released into the EMLO union catalogue, and the reason the archbishop is in Malta could not be more apposite as this publication coincides with the convergence of large numbers of early modern scholars at the third and concluding conference arranged by the COST Reassembling the Republic of Letters Action.

Dr Boran preparing to launch her catalogue of James Ussher’s correspondence in EMLO at the University of Malta, Valletta, 31 January 2018. (Image courtesy of Arno Bosse)

James Ussher was a towering figure across Ireland, England, and Europe throughout the first half of the seventeenth century. His correspondence has been edited and published (Irish Manuscripts Commission [IMC], 2015) in an exemplary three volume edition by Dr Elizabethanne Boran — herself of TCD — who is Librarian of the Edward Worth Library and the scholar behind The Ussher Project. To quote Dr Boran, ‘Ussher’s correspondence reflects his political and ecclesiastical role as the head of the church in Ireland at a crucial time of forging its identity as a separate enclave from the Church of England while his scholarly network reveals his pivotal role in Irish, British and European intellectual life.’

Ussher’s correspondents are to be found the length and breadth of the continent, and he exchanged letters with a large number of the leading scholars of his age. It is entirely fitting that Ussher’s catalogue in EMLO should be launched at this conference with a wide range of European early modern scholars and digital technology specialists in attendance. Dr Boran chairs a working group within the Action entitled Documents and Collections which investigates how best to describe a shared data model that captures both common definitions of the genres of the letter and its physical features. The discussions and presentations at the conference focus on preparing the publication of a ‘blueprint’ for a radical open-access, open-source, transnational digital infrastructure which will be capable of enabling and supporting the multilateral collaboration required to reassemble the scattered documentation of the early modern communities that made up the ‘respublica literaria’.

Detail of a page from ‘Annales veteris testamenti’ (1650). (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Ussher, who contributed to the scholarly conversation of his age in no small measure with his 1650 publication Annales veteris testamenti, in which he published his calculation of the date of God’s creation of the universe (he placed it at 23 October 4004 B.C.), was a figure who transcended successfully significant religious divide: despite his English royalist allegiance, the archbishop was given a state funeral by Oliver Cromwell in London’s Westminster Abbey. To quote Dr Boran, Ussher  ‘might be appropriated by both royalist and parliamentarian, puritan and anglican. In the world of scholarship his identity was clearer: he was, in the words of John Selden, “learned to a miracle”.’ Enjoy his correspondence!