For Knowledge and Country III: Johannes Braun’s long slow goodbye

References to Johannes Braun, Thomas Gale, Adriaan Reland, and Eusèbe Renaudot in 19th century biographical-historical dictionaries

Saturday, April 13th, 2019, for Friday n° 27

I must revise my own statistics a bit, I am sorry. But that’s what work in progress is like… Upon closer inspection, the figures I gave in For Knowledge and Country I and II don’t really correspond to the dictionaries of the time. Obviously 19th century dictionary authors were a bit generous in citing other dictionaries, sometimes giving the date of the volume they referred to, sometimes of the series, sometimes none at all. In the last case, all editions would have to be checked, which is a tiresome thing to do as some of these went into ten, twelve, sixteen editions one after the other.

Dictionaries & data

So I chose another approach for the gathering of today’s data, which was to look at the first edition and then only for those which were marked as “improved”, “enlarged”, “augmented”, “corrected”, “entirely new” or with other such advertisements. Then, after checking all those dictionaries being referred to in one of my entries, I went on to check the principal dictionaries of the time or those which seemed likely to contain entries to at least one of my protagonists.

This netted me 60 biographical dictionaries for the 102 surveyed years from 1800 to 1900, a slightly enlarged 19th century, 54 of which actually contained entries for at least one of my protagonists. They spread over the respective languages as follows:

  • English: 24 with entries, 5 without
  • French: 16 with entries, 1 without
  • Dutch: 10 with entries, 0 without
  • German: 3 with entries, 0 without
  • Latin: 1 with entries, 0 without
  • Spanish: 0 with entries, 1 without

And this still is no complete list; but I am quite sure that I now do get the basic patterns right, although the individual figures for single years may of course still be subject to change. To prevent this from being an issue for the presentation today, I summed up the references for five-year-brackets, as displayed above.

The 19th century obviously was the encyclopaedic century: tons and tons of encyclopaedias and dictionaries for each possible subject, of which I now only perused the biographical/historical dictionaries, and even of these only a part (adding more is on the to-do-list). Some of these were reprinted year after year, then being reworked in greater or lesser part, and printed and reprinted all over again. Printing encyclopaedias and dictionaries seems to have been a well-working business, or else there would not have been so many of them. They came in all sizes, from series of over 40 volumes issued over twenty years to the one-volume variant advertised as the cheap alternative for everyone. The late 18th century had developed the techniques and technologies needed for setting up reference works, and the 19th century capitalized these.

Dictionaries & developments

But what was the effect of this flood of dictionaries on the circulation of references to my protagonists? Two developments are easy to spot: On the whole, within this special frame of reference circulation was kept up over almost the entire century. And there seem to have been conjunctures: a first cycle from between 1800 and 1840, with its peak in the early 1830s; and a second cycle from the 1840s to the 1890s, with its peak in the 1870s.

Another development which I already have written about at length in the last two posts on this subject is less visible from the mere figures, and that is an increasing national bias within the medium. To be a bit more precise, there are actually two tendencies visible in the sources. There are more titles with a non-partisan approach, be it “An universal biographical and historical dictionary[1], “Nouvelle biographie générale[2], or “El Pantéon universal[3], than more specialized ones. There might well be an economic reason behind that: Non-specialized dictionaries might cater to a larger audience and allowed for the inclusion of more material, thus producing larger series which then might produce proportionally larger returns. This was the more the case as for general dictionaries much of the contents were already available as established blocks of facts, even as established text blocks, which only were carried over from one edition to another, while producing a more specialized dictionary might well incur much greater preparation costs, as lesser-known or forgotten persons had to be researched into to be able to include them. In languages with a potentially global appeal, such as French or English, this tendency was even more pronounced. This might be seen as corroborated by the ten Dutch titles in my sample, which are all specialized for a Dutch audience, bearing titles like “Handwoordenboek der vaderlandsche geschiedenis[4] (Pocket dictionary of national history) or “Neêrlands beroemde personen[5] (Celebrities of the Netherlands). But, and that is the second tendency, even the titles advertising as universal in approach in fact catered to quite distinctive audiences, and most often plainly told so in their prefaces, as for instance “Cassell’s Biographic Dictionary“:

“”We have endeavoured in our selection to take care that the representative men of every age and country, in art and science, in thought and action, who have contributed to human knowledge and human progress, who have influenced humanity for good or for bad, shall find a place; and so, descending from the highest standard, we have sought to deal with those below it according to their importance, preferring always those of more modern times, of more civilised people, of more important states, of more contiguous countries, and those most connected with ourselves in blood, in polity, in social or commercial relations – in a word, to make the work especially interesting and instructive to Englishmen and all who speak the English tongue.”[6]

Cassell’s Biographic Dictionary, London/New York c.1867, Preface

Braun says goodbye…

That these two tendencies impacted the reference careers of my protagonists (at least within the universe of dictionaries) can be illustrated by the case of Johannes Braun, who was born in Kaiserslautern, Germany, in 1628 and died in Groningen, the Netherlands, in 1702. He was the first of my protagonists to be dropped from many of the more universal dictionaries, which might be for reasons of only including persons “most connected with ourselves in blood, in polity, in social or commercial relations”, as Cassell’s dictionary had put it. Adriaan Reland, who had among other things been a member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, was frequently referred to in English-language dictionaries in exactly this capacity (if the entry provided for enough space), something which was almost never alluded to in French, Dutch, or German works. But a part of the answer why Johannes Braun was dropped might also be his unclear national status, which was a problem for his inclusion in many of the more special dictionary. Both Mathieu Delvenne’s “Biographie du royaume des Pays-Bas, ancienne et moderne”[7] as Jacob Willem Regt’s “Neêrlands beroemde personen” excluded him from their pages because he was not born in the Netherlands, whereas the “Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie[8] chose not include him for reasons unknown, but perhaps partly because he left “Germany” at the age of seven and the Holy Roman Empire a few years later, to settle in the Netherlands. Not all specialized Dutch dictionaries excluded him for such formal reasons, though, and that there were quite a few of them between the 1840s and 1860s explains the figures he scored for dictionary references in these years. But once such works were no longer frequently published since the late 1860s, references to Braun became less and less common, with scattered peaks every few decades and silence in between; he was the first of my four to become structurally forgotten within the dictionary framework, even though it took quite a while for him to say goodbye.


[1] John Watkins: An universal biographical and historical dictionary. Containing a faithful account of the lives, actions, and characters, of the most eminent persons of all ages and all countries; also the revolutions of states, and the successions of sovereign princes, ancient and modern. Collected from the best Authorities, By John Watkins, A.M. L.L.D., London: Philipps 1800.

[2] Hoefer, Jean Chrétien Ferdinand (Hg.): Nouvelle biographie générale : depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’á nos jours, avec les renseignements bibliographiques et l’indication des sources à consulter, 46 volumes, Paris : Didot frères 1852-1866.

[3] Yguals de Izco, Wenceslao,   Sebastián Castellanos, Basilio (Hg.): El Panteón Universal : diccionario histórico de vidas interesantes, aventuras amorosas, sucesos trágicos, escenas románticas, lances jocosos, progresos científicos y literarios, acciones heróicas, virtudes populares, crímenes célebres y empresas gloriosas de cuantos hombres y mujeres de todos los paises, desde el principio del mundo hasta nuestros dias, han bajado al sepulcro dejando un nombre immortal, 4 volumes, Madrid : Ayguals de Izco hermanos 1853-1854.

[4] Verwoert, Herman: Handwoordenboek der vaderlandsche geschiedenis, 2 Volumes, Nijmegen: Haspels 1851.

[5] Regt, Jacobus Wilhelmus, Neêrlands beroemde personen, naar hunne geboorteplaatsen in aardrijkskundige orde gerangschikt en beknopt toegelicht, Schoonhoven 1869.

[6] Cassell’s biographical dictionary; containing original memoirs of the most eminent men & women of all ages & countries, London/New York: Cassel, ca. 1867, preface, p. [1]. 

[7] Delvenne, Mathieu: Biographie du royaume des Pays-Bas, ancienne et moderne, ou Histoire abrégée, par ordre alphabétique, de la vie publique et privée des Belges et des Hollandais qui se sont fait remarquer par leurs écrits, leurs actions, leurs talens, leurs vertus, ou leurs crimes, extraite d’un grand nombre d’auteurs anciens et modernes, et augmentée de beaucoup d’articles qui ne se trouvent rapportés dans aucune biographie, 2 volumes, Liege: Desoer 1828-1829.  

[8] Historische Commission bei der königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften (ed.): Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, 56 volumes, München/Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot 1875-1912.


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