Non-transitive reference patterns

Eusèbe Renaudot (ed., transl.): Anciennes relations des Indes et de la Chine, de deux voyageurs mahometans, Paris: Coignard 1718; title page.

Friday no. 20, February 22nd, 2019

In one of the earlier posts on this blog I said something about Louis-Charles Solvet (1795-1869) and his successful strategies of reference to Adrien Reland. One, and I would say the central, hypothesis that I built from the case of Solvet and his translation of the Dissertatio de jure militari Mohammedanorum contra Christianos bellum gerentium was that such strategies of a re-use of a dead scholar’s products and achievements against the grain of that scholar’s original intentions signal actual structural oblivion of the scholar in question, if they succeed. This dovetails quite nicely with the career and publications of Louis-Charles Solvet, I would say. But the risk incurred with this is of course that this may be a case of circular reasoning. Perhaps the Solvet case fits the hypothesis so nicely because the hypothesis was drawn up by it, and I just found what I wanted to find all along. So how might this be put to the test?

Test conditions and pre-test assumptions

As history does not repeat itself, I cannot just re-run Solvet’s career to see if other patterns would probably account for the same effects in the end as well. But I might look for similar cases, if possible by people from a shared background and trajectory, and look for discursive and structural interconnections – references to the same scholars and the same patterns of reference applied to similar scholars. The argument that I would like to make is that both are necessary to establish a convincing test case for the hypothesis framed around Solvet. If I do find that in a similar case, in similar circumstances, the patterns are transitive, i.e. if one matches, the other does match, too, this would indicate that structural oblivion is not the right term to put to the phenomenon. Because this would – generalized – have to be taken to mean that every scholar with similar background in similar circumstances would take recourse to the dead scholar in question in the same way. This in turn would mean that there was a shared knowledge about this scholar beforehand, and if this were the case, he or she would be structurally remembered rather than forgotten. If on the other hand I should find, that the patterns are not transitive, that is, if one matches, the other does not, structural oblivion becomes a lot more probable. But – and this is an important caveat to make – only in the case where there is structural but not discursive transitivity. If the reference pattern applied in a similar situation by a similar scholar is the same but targets another person and his or her achievements and/or publications, the divergence in dead scholars utilized might well point to the fact that they are, more or less, randomly selected from the reservoir of structurally forgotten elements of knowledge.

A test case: Joseph-Touissant Reinaud (1795-1867)

Joseph-Touissant Reinaud was born in Lambesc, between Avignon and Aix-en-Provence in Southern France, on December 4th, 1795, and destined for a clerical career. When in 1814 he was sent to Paris to broaden his education, he took to oriental languages with such fervour that he staid to study them under Silvestre de Sacy (1758–1838) instead of becoming a priest. As Solvet, who in 1814 quitted service with the Imperial Guards, Reinaud had dropped out of the career originally envisioned for him. Both now served for a while with private employers alongside their studies, Reinaud from 1818 to 1819 as secretary to the Comte de Portalis on a mission to the Holy See. After returning and completing his studies, his former employer helped him to gain a post at the Bibliothèque royale in 1824, three years earlier than Solvet, who entered the French provincial administration in 1827. Reinaud managed to continue on his librarian post despite all revolutionary upheavals in 19th century France and to continually rise within the system. In 1832, he was elected into the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and in March 1838 after de Sacy’s death followed him as professor of Arabic at the Ecole des langues orientales vivantes. From 1847 on he was president of the Société Asiatique, and in April 1864 elected as head of the Ecole des langues orientales vivantes; Solvet had been promoted to the post of Supreme Judge at the court of Algiers in 1862. Reinaud had, perhaps because of a career without the interruptions that Solvet had been subject to, managed to enter the more prestigious posts; he had already in 1836 been admitted into the Legion of Honour, 14 years before Solvet had been in 1850. In 1858 he was raised in rank to “Officier de la legion d’honneur”, the rank that Solvet had been denied in 1865. These honorary differences besides, both men seem to be quite comparable in respect to what I am interested in here. Both were trained in Arabic, excelled at their studies, were zealous in pursuit of their duties, turned to philological pursuits in their scholarly endeavours, and translated.

Now the interesting question is whether both men are comparable also in respect to their treatment of my forgotten scholars. Louis-Charles Solvet had translated Adrien Reland, but had never referred to Eusèbe Renaudot (as far as I know). So what about Joseph-Touissant Reinaud?

In 1845, Reinaud published a corrected, augmented and annotated re-edition of an 1811 translation of an early medieval Arabic manuscript, the “Relation des voyages faits par les Arabes et les Persans dans l’Inde et à la Chine“.[1] The 1811 edition itself was already a re-edition, as the manuscript in question had first been edited in 1718 as “Anciennes relations des Indes et de la Chine, de deux voyageurs mahometans” by Eusèbe Renaudot.[2] Reinaud clearly acknowledged that in his preface where he detailed the history of the edited text, where he stated the edition no longer conformed to “les progrès que la critique orientale a faits dans ces derniers temps” and had to be redone for the sake of science, correcting both translation and annotations to purge them of Renaudot’s leniencies.[3] The prime reason he brought forward for the importance of his re-edition was that he was convinced that the manuscript provided an early source for the story which over time had evolved into the story of Sindbad as incorporated in the Arabian Nights.[4] In doing so he situated his publication in the scholarly branch of the Orientalist discourse of the mid-19th century as firmly as Solvet had situated his Reland translation in its political branch. This catered to their respective career stations at the point of publication, with Solvet part of the French colonial administration in Algiers and Reinaud in the center of French Orientalist learning in Paris.

Passing the test?

In both cases publications were picked which were about 130 years old but could be adapted to contemporary issues quite easily, even if they became decontextualized from the oeuvre of the original author in the process, and both Reinaud and Solvet presented the original authors in the way which suited their aims best – Solvet praising Reland for use as an authority, and Reinaud downsizing Renaudot to claim scientific progress. The underlying pattern seems to be the same to me.

Now what about the cross-connections? These, and that is the interesting part of the story, really seem to be absent. Reinaud seems not to have mentioned Reland anywhere in his publications, even when he was working about topics where one might have expected it, as the religious history of Islam or the geography of the Near East. But while he refrained from referring to Reland, he owned his works. At least if the auction catalogue of his personal library can be trusted, among his possessions were Reland’s De religione mohammedica (2nd edition of 1717) and his Antiquitates sacrae veterum Hebraeorum (4th edition of 1741). That was one work more than he owned of Renaudot, of whom he only seems to have had the 1718 edition from which he started his translation.[5] So also this has been a rather quick walkthrough through the test I proposed, I would like to preliminary assume on this basis that my original hypothesis is sound, and both publications really testify to the original author’s being structurally forgotten at their time of publication. To be explored further!

[1] Joseph-Touissant Reinaud (ed., transl.) : Relation des voyages faits par les Arabes et les Persans dans l’Inde et à la Chine dans le IXe siècle de l’ère chrétienne. Texte arabe imprimé en 1811 par les soins de feu Langlès publié aves des corrections et additions et accompagné d’une traduction fran5aise et d’éclaircissements par M. Reinaud, Paris: Imprimerie royale 1845.

[2] Eusèbe Renaudot (ed., transl.): Anciennes relations des Indes et de la Chine, de deux voyageurs mahometans, qui y allerent dans le neuviéme siecle ; traduites d’arabe : avec des remarques sur les principaux endroits de ces relations, Paris: Coignard 1718.

[3] Reinaud (ed.), Relation des voyages 1845, p. v. ; p. xiii–xiv.

[4] Ibid., p. clxxx.

[5] Anon. : Catalogue des livres des manuscrits orientaux et des ouvrages en nombre composant la bibliothèque de feu M. J.-T. Reinaud. Membre de l’institut, officier de la légion d’honneur, conservateur des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque impériale, président de l’école des ll. oo. vv. de la sociéte asiatique, membre des académies de Vienne, de Berlin, de Saint-Pétersburg et de plusieurs autres sociétes savantes. Précéde d’une notice sur sa vie par M. J. Mohl, membre de l’Institut, Paris 1867, cf. pp. 13, 103, 131.

Where is America?

Saturday, February 15th, 2019, for Friday no. 19

Seven years ago now Caroline Winterer asked “Where is America in the Republic of Letters?[1], and the question is still too good not to be asked again. So where is America in my Republic of Letters? Until very recently it seemed to be quite absent. Only from the middle of the 19th century onwards American publications referring to my protagonists began appearing in my data, all in the context of scholarly research. But any contemporary entanglement seemed to be missing. Perhaps this does not come as a surprise so much as the question in how far the Republic of Letters covered America, which parts of it, and when. I am not going to tackle this question here, but I can present you now with some American instances of references to my protagonists before 1800. And the nature of these references may perhaps point to why it is complicated to uncover them today.

New Haven, Connecticut, 1760/1770

“A treatise on regeneration : By Peter Van Mastricht”, Preface, p. [1]-[2].

The first instance I came across was a reworked extract from Peter von Mastricht’s (1630-1706) Theologia theoretico-practica of 1682[2] which was printed in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1769/1770.[3] The anonymous translator and compiler was obviously concerned about theological discussion points current New Haven at the time, or at least he announced his treatise this way. While he had to elaborate upon “who this Doct. Van Mastricht is, and what the particular reasons are, for publishing the following treatise at this time”,[4] he added a substantial appendix to the work to buttress von Mastricht’s arguments with other Dutch and Scottish reformed theologians, with both of which he seems to have been very familiar.

His readers most probably were not as may be seen from his explanation of the denominational attributions in his text: “It should have been observed to the reader, that by the REFORMED, or the reformed church, foreign writers mean all denominations of Protestants, except the Lutherans (with respect to whom they are called reformed) and some heretical sects that have sprung up among them, as the Socinians, Arminians, &c”[5] In this section he took, amongst others, recourse to Johannes Braun in respect to the relation of the human will and divine grace, and devoted more than one entire page to quotes from Braun’s Doctrina Foederum[6]  of 1688.[7] At the end of the treatise there is one passage which might be taken as an indication that the translator/compiler had not acquired his theological knowledge locally in Connecticut: “This publication would have been rendered more compleat by quotations from Turretine and the doings of the famous Synod of Dort, had not the publisher been disappointed about procuring these books.”[8] He seems not to have had such problems with his Braunius, unless he was quoting from his collected excerpts.

Two tentative conclusions might be suggested as hypotheses for further enquiry by this piece of evidence: First, that such theological knowledge was still imported from abroad into North America in the late 1760s/early 1770s, and second, that some of the publications contributing to it may have been available there nevertheless. Drawing any conclusions as to the supposed origin of the translator/compiler is not possible though, as the second piece of evidence will show.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1789

Inglis, “A charge delivered”, p. 4.

In 1789 Charles Inglis (1734-1816), appointed Anglican bishop of Nova Scotia in 1787, concluded his visitation of his new diocese with a treatise printed as “A charge delivered to the clergy of the diocese of Nova Scotia.”[9] Inglis aimed at something quite similar as the translator/compiler of von Mastricht: Giving a group of people – in Inglis’ case the clergy of his diocesis – the proper arguments to solve theological and ecclesiastical problems right at hand. To do so, both utilized a quite similar stock of literature, and that is why – at present – no inference of the anonymous translator/compiler’s place of origin can be drawn from his treatise.

The Anglican bishop used a mixture of the same Calvinist authors garnished with some Presbyterians and other dissenters alongside more orthodox Anglican writers as the stock of his admonitions. A large part of his “charge” consisted of directions for a solid churchman’s library, as “[s]everal of the younger Clergy, having, at different times, expressed a desire to have a list of such Books as would be proper for a Clergyman’s Library; I have set down the following Catalogue, and hope it may be of service.”[10] And in this directions the bishop, too, included Johannes Braun, although not with one of his staple theological works but with his treatise on the vestments of the ancient Jewish temple priests.[11] And he also included Adrien Reland in his list, once directly, and once indirectly.[12]

Inglis, “A charge delivered”, p. 62: Two references to Adrien Reland.

That Inglis included Reland in his list is remarkable for two reasons: First, because it supports the notion that Reland’s 1714 work “Palaestina Illustrata” was the longer the 18th century lasted the more firmly labelled as a theological tract (which it not directly was), and second because of what Inglis himself had written down as his criteria for selecting the works on his list: “Perhaps it is needless to observe that I could have easily enlarged the number of Books under each head; those only are selected which appear to be most useful, and are easily procured; and I confine myself to such as treat of Theology, or that have an immediate connection with it.”[13]

Conclusions & hypotheses…

Not only was Reland’s work bundled up with Theology, it was also labelled as “easily procured” even in the context of Nova Scotia, as was Braun’s Vestitus Sacerdotum Hebraeorum. Inglis did not precisely state how these works would have been procured by his clergymen, and it would be tempting to try to check if they really did, if there are inventories of late 18th/early 19th century Nova Scotia Anglican clergymen available somewhere to do so. In any case the firm theological fixation of the works in question coupled them with the respective discourses, and when the issues in context of which they had been discussed faded from the debates of New England, I suppose that references to the works and via these to their authors will have followed suit. Which opens up a new theatre of investigations nevertheless.

[1] Caroline Winterer: Where is America in the Republic of Letters?, in: Modern Intellectual History 9, 2012, pp. 597–623; doi:10.1017/S1479244312000212.

[2]  Peter von Mastricht: Theoretico-Practica theologia: Qua, per Capita Theologica, pars dogmatica, elenchtica et practica, perpetua symbibasei conjugantur. Praecedunt in usum operis paraleipomena, seu Sceleton de optima concionandi method, Amsterdam: Boom & widow 1682.

[3] Anon: A treatise on regeneration : By Peter Van Mastricht, D.D. Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Francfort, Duisburgh, and Utrecht. Extracted from his system of divinity, called Theologia theoretico-practica; and faithfully translated into English; with an appendix, containing extracts from many celebrated divines of the Reformed Church, upon the same subject, New Haven: Thomas & Samuel Green 1769/1770.

[4] Ibid., p. [1].

[5] Ibid., p. 94. Emphases in the original.

[6] Johannes Braun: Doctrina foederum, sive Systema theologiae didacticæ & elencticæ, Amsterdam: Petrus van Someren, Groningen: Carel Pieman 1688.

[7] Anon: A treatise on regeneration 1770, p. 91-92.

[8] Ibid., p. 94.

[9] Charles Inglis: A charge delivered to the clergy of the diocese of Nova Scotia at the primary visitation holden in the town of Halifax, in the month of June 1788. By the Right Reverend Charles, Bishop of Nova Scotia, Halifax: Anthony Henry 1789.

[10] Ibid., p. 59.

[11] Ibid., p. 76; Johannes Braun: Bigdê kohanîm id est, Vestitus sacerdotum Hebræorum, sive Commentarius amplissimus in Exodi cap. XXVIII, ac XXIX. & Levit. cap. XVI. (2 vols.), Leiden: Doude/Elzevier 1680.

[12] Inglis: A charge delivered to the clergy 1789, p. 62; Thomas Lewis: Origines Hebrææ: the antiquities of the Hebrew republick : In four books. I. The origin of the Hebrews; their civil government; the constitution of the sanbedrim; forms of trial in courts of justice, &c. II. The ecclesiastical government; the consecration of the high-priests, priests, and levites. The revenue of the priesthood the sects among the Hebrews, pharisees, sadducees, essenes, &c. III. Places of worship. The use of high-places; a survey of the tabernacle, and the proseucha’s of the Hebrews. A description of the first temple from the scriptures, and of the second from the rabbinical writings. The sacred utensils. The institution of synagogues, &c. IV. The religion of the hebrews. Their sacrifices; and their libations. The burning of the red heifer, and ceremonies of purification. Their sacraments, publick fasts and festivals, &c. Design’d as an explanation of every branch of the levitical law, and of all the ceremonies and usages of the Hebrews, both civil and sacred. By Tho. Lewis, M.A (3 vols.), London: Samuel Illidge/John Hooke 1724-1725; Adrien Reland: Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata (2 vols.), Utrecht: Willem Broedelet 1714.

[13] Inglis: A charge delivered to the clergy 1789, p. 59.

A Palmyra-shaped Dutch blind spot?

A short network animation of all references to Johannes Braun, Thomas Gale, Adrien Reland and Eusèbe Renaudot between 1750 and 1765 in from the Journal des Savants, the Philosophical Transactions and the Maandelyke uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt, as moving four-year averages. Mind that Reland provides the only link connecting the Boekzaal references to the JdS-PT references.

Saturday, February 9th, 2019, for Friday Nr. 18

I have been busy adding another journal to the dataset I briefly discussed here two weeks ago; this time, it’s the Maandelyke uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt taken from Hathi Trust again for a Dutch perspective to complement the British and the French already in there. In doing so, I noticed an absence that makes me wonder about its possible causes.

I already wrote here about how the rediscovery of Palmyra and the decipherment of the Palmyrene inscriptions played into my research question as it illuminates how references to structurally forgotten scholars can be used to improve one’s own standing in the Republic of Letters. Both Jean-Jacques Barthélemy (1716-1795) and John Swinton (1703-1777) had been building on research carried out, among others, the Dutch philologist Jacob Rhenferd (1654-1712) and two of my persons of interest, Eusèbe Renaudot (1646-1720) and Adrien Reland (1676-1718). Which meant that after a period of comparative absence those names, for a while, became current again as part of the discussion over the decipherment of Palmyrene. As I had already came across this discussion in both the Journal des Savants and the Philosophical Transactions, I would not have been surprised to find a similar increase in references to these names in the Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt also.

There was a significant increase in references to Adrien Reland in the Boekzaal in the 1750s and 1760s; but none to the other proponents of the debate. To make up for this, Johannes Braun (1628-1708), who had been almost completely absent from the former dataset, was mentioned much more frequently than I would have thought during this period.

Upon closer inspection, the respective entries reveal that – as it seems – the Palmyran debate just did not place in the Boekzaal. I cross-checked for references to Swinton and Barthélemy without connections to my protagonists but did not find anything related, either. Given the interest displayed by Dutch oriental scholars and philologists in Palmyrene following the first re-discovery of Palmyra for Europe’s Republic of Letters in the 1690s, that there should be no reaction at all to the second re-discovery in 1753 is a bit puzzling.

So I look around a bit and went through Delpher, the Dutch National Library catalogues, and the STCN, and found nothing much in connection. The only directly Palmyra-related Dutch publication in this time seems to have been a (pirated?) print of Joseph Jouve’s (1701-1758) 1758 novel “Histoire de Zénobie, impératrice de Palmyre” which went off Nicolas van Daalen’s press in Den Haag.  And that was not even in Dutch. Intra-textual references seem to have been as scarce, as far as Delpher is concerned (query results are here). My query only returned four publications during that time: one a geographical work set us as a fake travelogue – the first volume of Joseph de la Porte SJ’s (1714-1779) “Voyageur français”,[1] translated into Dutch as “De nieuwe reisiger; of Beschryving van de oude en nieuwe waerelt”, and the other three parts of a work of similar kind, the “Tafereel van Natuur en Konst” which appeared in 21 volumes between 1769 and 1784 in Amsterdam, a translation from an English model (volumes 1, 10, and the index volume 21).

The most curious of these is “De nieuwe reisiger”, as Jean-Jacques Barthélemy is indeed referenced in it as part of the description of Palmyra, but in a weird way.  After describing the ruins, the fictive letter-writer tells his fictive addressee “that it would be desirable that one or other scholar would try to discover the beginnings of this language, which is completely forgotten.*”[2] Added to this was a footnote indicated by the asterisk running “The abbé Barthélemy has not yet made this renowned discovery public, which justly had won him the respect of all the learned in Europe […]”.[3] Now de la Porte’s French original – which has the same passage –[4] was printed in Paris in 1765, while the fictive letter just quoted from is dated to 1736. And Barthélemy’s lecture at the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres was printed in Paris in 1754.[5] So while the fictive letter-writer in de la Porte’s text could not have known about Barthélemy’s discovery in 1736, both the French author and his Dutch translator could – and perhaps should – have known that this discovery was very public already in 1765.

Coupled with the absence references to the debate in contemporary Dutch-language literature (as far as I was able to make out so far) this points to that the issue, while being a scholarly polemic in France and Great Britain and well-covered in German learned journals,[6] seems not to have been of much interest to the Dutch public. The next reference to it in a publication in Dutch was made – again – in a travelogue, only this time a real one. When the Swedish Arabist and Oriental scholar Jacob Jonas Björnståhl (1731-1779) went on a rather prolonged Grand Tour through Western Europe and via the Mediterranean to the Near East, Istanbul, and Greece in 1767, he wrote letters to the Swedish publisher and librarian Carl Christoffer Gjörwell (1731-1811) who collected them. They went to print in a German edition in 1772, followed by a Dutch translation in 1779; the Swedish edition only was printed from 1780 on.

Now Björnståhl described (in the Dutch translation) in his “J.J. Björnstähls Reize door Europa en het Oosten“, volume one, in a letter from Marseille, 18 November 1770, how he met Jean-Jacques Barthélemy in Paris. He rated Barthélemy’s kindness towards other scholars “higher even than the new and grand discovery by which Mr. Barthélemy has made himself known to Europa, that one can recon from him, who was the first to teach Europe so, the time since when it is possible to read Phoenician and Palmyran inscriptions”.[7] As a curious by-note to this I may add that Björnståhl five years later, in a letter dated Oxford, 10 October 1775, reported that he had also met John Swinton: “I shall conclude my letter with Mr. Swinton. This man is, as is well known, famous for his writings concerning old, and foremost Phoenician inscriptions and coins, which can be found in the English Transactions.”[8] Björnståhl said nothing about Swinton’s role in the Palmyran inscriptions’ controversy.

Adding to these findings that the debate was framed by some of its actors as a struggle for national honour in claiming the first discovery, most of all by John Swinton himself who complained about being subject to attacks by French writers, and recognized as such by others, for instance the German learned journals, it might have fallen out of the Dutch learned discourse of the time because of this national framing which did not include Dutch elements – or, as was the case with Rhenferdt and Reland, not in prestigious roles.

Yet this did not cause a lack in references to especially Adrien Reland in the Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt during this time. Not only where such references there, they also pointed frequently to the same publication, his last major work “Palaestina ex monumentis veteris illustrata”, a two-volume description of the Holy Land as taken from classical sources; they only related to it in connection with other issues. So maybe the supra-national character of the Republic of Letters really was under stress from nationally framed discoursed below the surface already, and the Palmyran discussion might be a point to illustrate this.

[1] Joseph de la Porte: Le voyageur françois, ou La connoissance de l’ancien et du nouveau monde, T. 1, Paris : Vincent ; Moutard ; Cellot 1765.

[2] Joseph de la Porte: De nieuwe reisiger; of Beschryving van de oude en nieuwe waerelt, Uit het Fransch van den Abt de la Porte, Eerste Deel. Behelzende in sich Cyprus, Aleppo, Damascus, de berg Libanon, Palmyra, Egypten, de Barbarysche Staaten, Griekenland, en een gedeelte van Turkyen. Dordrecht: Abraham Blusse, 1766, pp. 58-59: “Het zol dan te wenschen zyn dat de een of andere geleerde trachte om de beginzelen van deze taal te ontdekken, die tans geheel vergeten zyn.*”

[3] Ibid: “*De Abt Barthelemy heeft deze beruchte entdekking nog niet gemeen gemaakt, die hem te recht de achting van alle geleerde in Europa verworven heeft; hy verdiende dezelve reets door zyne doorgronde geleertheit in de oudheden.”

[4] Cf. Joseph de la Porte: Le voyageur françois, ou La connoissance de l’ancien et du nouveau monde, T. 1, Paris : Vincent ; Moutard ; Cellot 1765, p. 80 :

[5] Jean-Jacques Barthélemy: Reflexions sur l’alphabet et sur la langue dont on se servait autrefois à Palmyre, Paris : Guerin et Delatour 1754.

[6] See for instance: Nova Acta Eruditorum, October 1757, pp. 625-630, and November 1757, pp. 671-678; Göttingische Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen 1754, August 24th; September 5th, pp. 927-928; October 17th, pp. 1066-1068; 1755, May 29th, pp. 588-589; 1756, June 10th, pp. 586-590; Neue Zeitungen von gelehrten Sachen 1755, Nr. 24, pp. 209-210; Nr. 27, pp. 233-234.

[7] J.J. Björnstähls Reize door Europa en het Oosten. Eerste deel, Utrecht: G. van den Brink / Amsterdam: Wed. van Esveld en Holtrop, 1779, pp. 201-202: “Zulk eene vind ik al zo groot, en zelfs grooter, dan de nieuwe en groote ontdekkingen, wardoor de heer Barthelemy zig in the waereld zo bekend gemaakt heeft, dat men van hem, die het Europa Europa de eerste geleerd heeft, den tijd kan rékenen, waarin men in staat is, om Phénicische en Palmyreensche opschriften te kunnen lézen, waartoe men te voren niet eens het alphabet kende.”

[8] J.J. Björnstähls Reize door Europa en het Oosten. Deerde deel, Utrecht: G. van den Brink / Amsterdam: Wed. van Esveld en Holtrop, 1782, p. 268: “Ik zal mijnen brief met den heer Swinton eindigen. Deze man is, gelijk men weet, beroemd wégens zijne geschriften, de oude, inzonderheid de Phenicische, munten en opschriften betreffende, en die in de Engelsche Transactions te vinden zijn.“

Recollection by pupils, done properly

Heading of Karl Gottfried Woide’s Mémoir from the Journal des Savants, June 1774, p. 333-343.

Friday No. 18, February 1st, 2019

In one of my last posts I have been questioning if having pupils is indeed conducive to being remembered as a scholar and ended on a somewhat sceptical note. But there is no end to learning, and so I would like to take the opportunity today to shed some light on an example of a pupil’s network that really efficiently did so.

1704 – 1716: A triangular correspondence

To make clear how the following connects to my overall project, let’s first have a look at a (perhaps) somewhat unusual kind of correspondence.

Communication between Cuper, de la Croze, and Reland: Persons in red, letters in yellow, printed publications mentioned in green, and institutions mentioned in black.

This depicts the correspondences between Adrien Reland, Gijsbert Cuper (1644-1716) and Mathurin Veyssière de la Croze (1661-1739) between 1704 and 1716 as far as I have already been able to incorporate them into my database. As it looks like, they were all three very much connected, be it indirectly by way of referring to the same people (red dots), publications (green dots), institutions (black dots) or letters (yellow dots), or by relating to each other directly.  But this picture is a bit misleading, one might say, because if only sender-receiver relations are visualized without taking the content of the letters into account, it looks like this.

Letters (yellow) exchanged between Cuper, de la Croze, and Reland (red); the only three letters between Reland and de la Croze highlighted in blue

There seems to have been almost no direct epistolary connection between de la Croze and Reland; at least, I have only found three letters until now. But as they were taken from the selected edition of de la Croze’s letters, published between 1742 and 1746 (fully digitized by Mannheim university), which includes none of the Cuper-la Croze letters, presumably because they were written in French, it may be assumed that there were some more.

Be that as it may, there was a huge amount of indirect communication going on between de la Croze and Reland by way of Cuper. Both would ask Cuper to deliver questions or answers to the other, and Cuper did so. What emerged was a strange triangular correspondence pattern between these three scholars. Now two of the three letters between Reland and de la Croze mention a certain David Wilkins (Wilke, 1685-1745), and that will become interesting in a minute.

A posthumous publication

In June 1774, the Journal des Savants announced the upcoming publication of the Lexicon ægyptiaco-latinum, to be printed in Oxford at the Clarendon Press in 1775,[1] in a short piece entitled Mémoire de M. Woide, sur le Dictionnaire Cophte qu’il va publier à Oxford, & sur les Sçavans qui ont étudié la Langue Cophte. Adressée à Messieurs les Auteurs du Journal des Sçavans.[2] This piece was remarkable insofar as its author, Karl Gottfried Woide (Charles Godfrey, 1725-1790), the editor of the announced work, not only gave a detailed account of the state of the field of Coptic studies as he perceived it, but also of the genesis of the book itself, which at the time had become something like a lost learned heirloom. It was based on a manuscript that Maturin Veyssière de la Croze had compiled until 1721, but never published, and left to his former pupil Charles-Étienne Jordan (1700-1745) when he died in 1739 together with his library. After Jordan’s death in 1745, the manuscript was sold together with Jordan’s library by Jordan’s brothers, and acquired by Leiden University. In 1750, Woide had gone there to copy the manuscript, and this copy now formed the basis for the printed edition.[3] This would have been less remarkable where it not for the interconnections between the persons entangled in this research action. For, Woide maintained, he originally copied the manuscript for his use and that of Christian Scholtz (1697-1777) from whom he had learned his Coptic. Scholtz, who may have commissioned the copy,[4] was second court preacher in Berlin and had himself learned his Coptic from his brother-in-law Paul Ernst Jablonski (1693-1757), who in turn had learned his Coptic from Maturin Veyssière de la Croze, and who had supplied de la Croze with many of the primary materials needed for the compilation of the dictionary in question. Karl Gottfried Woide thus was, if I may put it that way, a fourth-generation scholarly descendant of de la Croze, working within a net of other former pupils or connections of his teacher’s teacher’s teacher.

As Woide now brought the copy of de la Croze’s manuscript back to Berlin, Scholtz started working on it, preparing it for print and adding annotations of his own. But it fell to Woide to actually secure an opportunity for publication through his contact with Oxford university, where he found a printer willing to publish de la Croze’s Coptic dictionary as edited by Scholtz and revised by Woide.

Back to the beginning

And now the circle closes back to the beginning of this post, for Woide in his Mémoir not only referred to de la Croze and his scholars but also to those other savants of note who had been working on the subject of Coptic. In doing so, he not only mentioned Adrien Reland but also David Wilkins, both of which had collaborated with de la Croze to establish a Coptic version of the Lord’s prayer to be included in John Chamberlayne’s (1668/9-1723) Oratio dominica in diversas omnium fere gentium linguas of 1715,[5] which is precisely what the edited Reland-de la Croze letters I mentioned touch upon. Wilkins in turn had offered de la Croze to print his dictionary in England at some point in time, but de la Croze had denied the offer.[6] Woide also mentioned, although on short notice, Eusèbe Renaudot as one among the number of learned scholars of Coptic; perhaps on short notice as Renaudot had always maintained good relations with the Maurists of St.-Germain-des-Pres whom de la Croze had fled in 1696 to become a Calvinist.

And, last but not least, Woide provided the additional detail that another scholar reoccurring rather often throughout my last posts here also was in on it, for when the proofs for the dictionary were at Oxford they were given to John Swinton (1703-1777), “known for his research in antiquities”,[7] to be seen through and corrected.

Proliferation by pupils

So this seems to be a point in time when at least two of my protagonists were posthumously reunited for a brief moment through their scholarly endeavours. Yet this had only become possible through the collective endeavours of de la Croze’s pupils over a period of more than three decades after his death. This might indicate that if pupils shall benefit a scholar’s posthumous memory, this may only happen through emergent effects from a working network of pupils at the time of the individual scholar’s death, focusing on a collective goal – as the study of Coptic in de la Croze’s case. One more hypothesis to test!

[1] Charles Godfrey Woide (ed.), Christian Scholtz (contr.), Mathurin Veyssière de la Croze: Lexicon ægyptiaco-latinum : ex veteribus illius linguæ monumentis summo studio collectum et elaboratum a Maturino Veyssiere la Croze. Quod in compendium redegit, ita ut nullae Voces Aegyptiacae, nullaeque earum significationes omitterentur, Christianus Scholtz: Aulae Regiae Borussiacae a concionibus sacris, et Ecclesiae Reformatae Cathedralis Berolinensis Pastor. Notulas quasdam, et indices adjecit Carolus Godofredus Woide, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1775.

[2] Charles Godfrey Woide: Mémoire de M. Woide, sur le Dictionnaire Cophte qu’il va publier à Oxford, & sur les Sçavans qui ont étudié la Langue Cophte. Adressée à Messieurs les Auteurs du Journal des Sçavans, in : Journal des Savants 109, June 1774, pp. 333-343.

[3] Ibid., p. 335.

[4] Cf. C. Siegfried: Scholtz, Christian, in: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie 32 (1891), pp. 228–229 [Online-Version], p. 228. URL:

[5] John Chamberlayne: Oratio dominica in diversas omnium fere gentium linguas versa et propriis cujusque linguae characteribus expressa, una cum dissertationibus nonnullis de linguarum origine, variisque ipsarum permutationibus. Editore Joanne Chamberlayno anglo-britanno, Regiae societatis Londinensis & Berolinensis socio,

[6] Charles Godfrey Woide: Mémoire de M. Woide, sur le Dictionnaire Cophte, p. 334.

[7] Ibid., p. 337: „connu par ses recherches dans les antiquités ».

Proof of Concept

Monday, January 28th, 2019, for Friday No. 17, January 25th, 2019

Apologies first: This post took me a little longer than usual, I’m two and a half days late now. This is due to what I wanted to present here: The first two completed data sets for the tracking of processes of forgetting in the humanities from my project. And finishing the second one took me about 18 hours longer than I had planned. You never know what’s in the sources beforehand…

Data Sets

But now these two sets are done and ready to be presented – at least, a rough oversight of the yields of these collections. What I have done here is going through two journals, the Philosophical Transactions and the Journal des Savants, from 1700 until 1800 (well, in the case of the Journal des Savants until 1792). I went through two digitized Hathi Trust collections to be able to use fulltext search, so for everyone who’d like to check on my results, here you go: Journal des Savants and Philosophical Transactions. The few missing issues were added using other similar Hathi Trust collections. I entered all issues bearing references to my four protagonists into my NodeGoat database, identified all persons co-cited with my protagonists in these instances as good as possible, and also all publications cited therein which gave me lists like these here.

December issue of the Journal des Savants, 1782, Reference to Eusèbe Renaudot and co-citations

To fully explore these datasets will take me some time still, but I do already have some preliminary findings to share.

First: Comparability

There is an obvious imbalance between the two journals regarding coverage of my protagonists. The Journal des Savants returned 117 issues with matches, while the Philosophical Transactions returned 8. Yet this is obviously caused by their asymmetric schedules: While the Journal des Savants appeared weekly from the start and monthly later on, the Philosophical Transactions appeared once a year, or once every two years. So to make for a better comparison, the Philosophical Transactions issues cover 12 years between 1744 and 1771, while the Journal des Savants issues cover 54 years between 1702 und 1789. And while the Journal des Savants data set includes about 4,5 times as much issue material over time, these individual issues are richer in both references and co-citations than the Philosophical Transactions issues are, although the exact factor still has to be determined. Overall, the Journal des Savants was definitely much more interested in the results of my protagonists over time than the Philosophical Transactions ever were. Not that much of a surprise, one might say, given that both journals were active in different areas of knowledge production and that the Philosophical Transactions were much more interested in natural philosophy than in what we would today call humanities’ research (as I already discussed some time ago). So please keep this in mind for the following visualisations.

Second: Visualisations!

The combined datasets in full extensions: The complete network of references from 1702 until 1789. Directly visible: Three of my protagonists, Thomas Gale (bottom left quadrant), Adrien Reland (bottom right quadrant), and Eusèbe Renaudot (middle of top half) do have their quite separate circles of references with a shared overlap in the middle.
The full extension of the Journal des Savants dataset: The complete reference network from 1702 until 1789. Directly visible is a much weaker position of Thomas Gale (top right quadrant), and an enhanced position of Eusèbe Renaudot (bottom left quadrant).
Full extension of the Philosophical Transactions dataset. Directly visible is that it is much smaller, contains less references to authors (therefore smaller red circles), and that there is no connection between a shared reference network of Thomas Gale and Adrien Reland on the left and a much smaller Eusèbe Renaudot network on the right hand.

Moving pictures!

A diachronic visualisation of the combined datasets in (something like) moving ten-year-averages for the time in which they overlap, 1740 until 1779.
The Journal des Savants dataset in simple ten-year-averages from 1702 until 1789. The most interesting thing is that this dataset allows you to directly see the falling apart of a once shared reference network from the 1760s onwards. As this is precisely what I want to track and show in this project, I take this result for a preliminary proof of concept: It actually seems to work, if only within a certain framework as I already had supposed (cf. the combined dataset video where this does not become apparent).
And, last but not least, the ten-year-average visualisation of the Philosophical Transactions dataset also, which directly allows to see the huge differences between both journals regarding my protagonists.

To preliminary conclude

This rather fast overview over my first two completed data sets conveys two messages, I think: First of all that a rather more thorough exploration in terms of statistics and metrics is necessary to put my preliminary findings on a firmer basis, and second, that – and these are my preliminary findings for today – my system and framework actually does seem to work. While this is great, it poses a lot of new questions as to the framing: Can both data sets be acutally merged together as I did in the combined visualisations? Or are they so different that such combinations are of no use? And if they are, where do these differences come from? Different perspectives on science? National and/or confessional framings, as might be indicated by the very different weights of the English and Anglican Cleric Thomas Gale and of the French and Catholic Cleric Eusèbe Renaudot in both sets? Or something in between, or something third? 

An institutional memory?

Saturday, January 18th, for Friday No. 16

Histoire de l’Académie Royale des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, Vol. 1, 1717, title page.

In one of my last posts I suggested that none of my four exemplary cases has been able to profit from a memorializing attempt by his institution. Today I would like to examine one case a bit closer, which is that of Eusèbe Renaudot and the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres he was a member of from 1691until his death in 1720. The academy was an institution very actively publishing their member’s efforts. They not only regularly printed research contributions – dissertations – by their members to various subjects in their own journal, the Mémoires de litterature, tirés des registres de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles lettres, but also every couple of years published quite massive volumes recording the institutional processes and progresses made in form of the Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres series, which began in 1717 and only terminated with volume 51 in 1843. And as if this were not enough, in 1740 the historian Claude Gros de Boze (1680–1753), together with the savant Claude-Pierre Goujet (1697–1767) and using materials by Paul Tallemant (1642-1712), compiled a history of the academy up until this time in three volumes, theHistoire de l’Academie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres depuis son etablissement, avec les eloges des academiciens morts depuis son renouvellement, published in Paris.

Commemoration done

There would have been plenty of room, therefore, to commemorate the abbé Renaudot. Yet, if one takes a closer look at these materials, the form in which this commemoration took place turns out to be quite interesting. Starting with the most obvious point, there was no eloge on his behalf when he passed away in 1720, but only in 1729 with the 5th volume of the Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres. This is easily accounted for by the notorious delay of the Histoire volumes in wrapping up the events within the academy. The 1729 volume explicitly only dealt with the years 1718 – 1725;[1] so he was no exception in this. This span of nine years between the publication of the eloge and the actual death is however quite long. It becomes even more pronounced if one takes into account that the following five volumes did not mention Renaudot at all, and he only appeared again within the series in the 11th volume of 1740 – which in itself comes as no surprise because this was the index volume to the preceding ten. From then on, until volume 16 of 1751 there would be no notice of Renaudot in the Histoire series either.

Having a complementary look at the second series of proceedings the Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres produced, the Memoirs, is, unfortunately, a bit more complicated. They are digitally available in very good scan quality via Hathi Trust, yet not fulltext searchable – and it would take quite a while to read through over 70 volumes of around 500 pages each, so I have to restrict my findings to the tables of contents in this case for the time being. Nevertheless, these are quite instructive. Although the first volumes to move beyond Renaudot’s lifetime were seven to nine (covering 1718–1725), there are only four dissertations by him in all of the first nine volumes, two in both volumes two and three,[2] which basically means that he ceased publishing on behalf on the academy before 1710; and obviously there was no posthumous material published after 1720. [But as long as I haven’t done an analysis of reference to him at the intratextual level, this is not necessarily indicative of his overall presence in the epistemic community formed by the academy’s members.]

Commemmoration achieved?

Now one might argue that this was just what was to be expected as someone who was thirty years dead by then would in all likelihood not be able to play a large role in the current affairs of the academy. He perhaps should not turn up there at all. But it is a bit more complicated than that, as the 1751 volumes 16 and 17 of the Histoire series show upon inspection. Renaudot was mentioned thrice in them, once in no. 16 and twice in no. 17. The first instance was a reference to the correspondence between Bernard de Montfaucon (1655–1741) and Jacob Gronovius (1645–1716) which had once been triggered by a Renaudot letter.[3] The other two instances of reference to Renaudot quoted some of his work on the history of the Eastern churches within a dissertation about the Assassins.[4] And then there was silence – at least for another ten volumes.

But before I turn to the reappearance of Renaudot in volume 26 of the Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres series, let me jump back to the year 1740 and have a look at the other history of the academy, de Boze’s Histoire de l’Academie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres depuis son etablissement, avec les eloges des academiciens morts depuis son renouvellement. As if to make up for the delay in publishing the eloge on the abbé, this second history also contained it,[5] as well as some references to Renaudot in its records of the academy’s workings.[6] 1740 thus serves as first peak year of institutional references of the Academie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres to its former member, the abbé Renaudot. But as already said, with that obligation fulfilled, there was nothing said about him anymore apart from the three rather peripheral references in 1751.

Collateral commemoration

This only changed with the 26th volume of the Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres series of the year 1759, in which Renaudot was referred to in a particular context,[7] which I, not incidentally, already wrote about on this blog from the perspective of the other party. It was the dispute between John Swinton (1703–1777) and Jean-Jacques Barthélemy (1716–1795) about the honour of having been the first to be able to correctly interpret the Palmyrene inscriptions. There is nothing contemporary in the Memoirs series, which is due to the fact that this series over the years had built up even more delay in publication than the Histoire – the proceedings for the years 1749-1760 were only printed in 1771. The Barthélemy version of the decipherment of Palmyrene[8] does have certain advantages over the Swinton version, one of these being that Barthélemy unlike his English colleague and/or competitor referred back not only to Adrien Reland and Jacob Rhenferd (1654-1712) as Swinton had done but also to Eusèbe Renaudot and Gijsbert Cuper (1644–1716) who both were included in his account for good reason. Renaudot had studied the inscriptions himself and then decided it was not worth the effort given the situation at his time; and Cuper had been instrumental in providing the additional inscription brought forward first by Rhenferd and later Reland.

To assume that this was what brought Renaudot back into the reference flow once again would certainly be very far-fetched. I would rather like to argue that Barthélemy represents a general trend here, the trend towards antiquarian topics the likes of which Renaudot had been dealing with which brought him back into the focus of the academy’s members now. Unlike in the years between 1729 to 1740 and 1741 to 1758, Renaudot was referred within the Histoire series now on a regular basis, even if with rather low frequency. From the 1790s onwards the remarks become increasingly critical,[9] but they are still there.

So what can be seen from these patterns of references? Although the institution the abbé Renaudot belonged to had done him the customary honours of memorialization, it had done so a bit belatedly, and without lasting effects. The modest Renaudot comeback since the middle of the 1750s, more than 30 years after his death, had nothing to do with the commemorative efforts undertaken by the academy but was due to an external event outside the institution’s control.

[1] Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Vol. 5, Paris : Imprimerie royale 1729, title page: “depuis l’année M. DCCXVIII. jusques & compris l’année M. DCCXXV.”.

[2] Mémoires de litterature, tirés des registres de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles lettres, Vol. 2, Paris : Pancoucke 1722 [reprint], pp. 318-342, 343-360;  Mémoires de litterature, tirés des registres de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles lettres, Vol. 3, Paris : Pancoucke 1722 [reprint], pp. 152-184; 236-245.

[3] Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Vol. 16, Paris : Imprimerie royale 1751, p. 326.

[4] Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Vol. 16, Paris : Imprimerie royale 1751, p. 146, 148.

[5] De Boze, Histoire de l’Academie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres depuis son etablissement, avec les eloges des academiciens morts depuis son renouvellement, vol. 2, pp. 188 – 222.

[6] De Boze, Histoire de l’Academie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres depuis son etablissement, avec les eloges des academiciens morts depuis son renouvellement, vol. 1., p. 16, 45, 122, 128 ; vol. 3, p. 404, 451.

[7] Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Vol. 26, Paris : Imprimerie royale 1759, pp. 61, 581.

[8] Jean-Jacques Barthélemy: Réflexions sur l’alphabet et sur la langue dont on se servoir [sic] autrefois a Palmyre (12 Février 1754), in: Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Vol. 26, Paris: Imprimerie royale 1759, pp. 577–597.

[9] Cf. Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Vol., 45, Paris: Imprimerie Nationale 1793, p. 178, and Vol. 49, Paris: Imprimerie Impériale 1808, p. 106.

Questions unsolved

Time tracking sample: Auction catalogue, entered 26/09/2018
Time tracking sample, 26 November 2018

Saturday, January 12th, 2019 (for Friday No. 15)

I am bit late this week with my state of research entry not because of one of the many good reasons to be brought forward at such an occasion – delays caused by family matters, urgent appointments, events which cannot be rescheduled, etc. – but because of something which happens to me only very rarely. I just did not know what to write. And to be honest, I am not entirely sure if I do now as I am writing this. The problem is that with the first three months of my project year now done, I should now know what to do and what to expect in the remaining nine months’ time, so that if any changes need to be made to the general design, I should recognize this now and implement them. But I am not so sure if that is really the case. So let’s have a quick overview over the project so far and then see what’s to be done.

The state of the project

At first view the project as such is looking quite healthy and running good. First of all I have collected a lot of data for my database (main categories, project start/now):

  • Persons: 530/1.511 (+981)
  • Letters: 720/737 (+17)
  • Publications: 230/1.215 (+985)
  • Institutions: 120/196 (+76)
  • Publishing houses: 224/644 (+420)

Which means that around 2500 entities have been added to the database, ranging from simple person entries only containing name, gender, date and place of birth and death, data source(s), external identifier(s) and confession (if available) to complex publications citing scores of other publications and people. While this may look impressive, the problem is that it is time-consuming, because I could not yet retrieve anything automatically. It all has to be entered manually. On average it now takes me around five minutes to identify a new entity and to add it to the database. Which means it took me around 210 hours of time only to enter my data (that’s five weeks of work). The work necessary to gain the data – finding possibly interesting archival collections, going to archives, reading through sources, taking notes; finding the necessary literature, getting that literature, reading through books and papers, taking notes – is not yet included in this figure. On a very rough estimate, it took me about as much time, perhaps a little less. So that’s another 200 hours, or another five weeks of work. The rest was spent thinking, writing, and talking it through with other people; and suddenly, three months are gone.  

As to the writing, always the other side of things, it does not look that bad, either. 100 pages are written, all chapters at least begun, so that around a third of the work is done there. The project has already spawned two chapters in edited volumes, one finished, the other still in the process of being written, and I am sure there are some other interesting shorter pieces hidden within the material.

So why am I complaining?

There is a downside to all of this: I am not nearly finished. As the timespan it takes me to identify a new entity and to add it to the database has been fairly stable throughout the last two months (I checked every now and then), I do not suppose I’ll ever become faster than these five minutes per entity. And as the project time is limited, this naturally limits the number of entities I will be able to still add to the database. There are a lot more things to do than just entering data, so that my calculations allow for about 3.000 to 4.000 entities to be added to what I have now; and that needs to be it. If the distribution of data over time would be as I had thought when starting the project – hyperbolically converging towards a relatively low level as approaching the present – this should suffice. But I am no longer sure if that really is the case, because most of my data still stems from the time between 1700 and 1750. The density of references diminishes but slower than I thought; and the epistemic communities within which such references were made turned out to be much more diverse than I thought, which means that the number of entities multiplies as the number of shared persons and publications between individual epistemic communities is lower than originally assumed. So apart from a few samples, from a database point of view I am still stuck in the 18th century but do have the 19th and 20th ahead of me still.

Those episodes from the 19th and 20th centuries I have digested so far I discovered without the help of the database, and for the most part they are not yet entered into it – although already covered in writing – because I wanted to keep at least data collection roughly homogenous to rather have good data for a lesser than unevenly dispersed data for a larger timespan.

What’s the plan?

So I fear that if I go ahead as planned, I just will not be able to finish in time. Which calls for a change of plan. But what kind of change?

There are some possible solutions, but none of those I have thought of so far are satisfactorily. I am not sure that I will have found a good one until next Friday, so it’s going be some anecdotal evidence from the sources again next week. And in time again this time. I hope.

Institutions vs. Forgetting

Friday No. 12, January 4th, 2019 (a real Friday post once again)


So far I have mostly tried to frame structural forgetting in terms of individual persons, of their acts or omissions. This corresponds with my deeply held conviction that individual persons are at the core of history, and tracing them therefore the first task set to any historical inquiry. But, unfortunately, individuals do not only act as individuals but have a tendency to coalesce into groups or collectives. Institutions might be thought of as structured collectives of individuals following that line of thought, as social (sub)systems might also. I always found Norbert Elias’s concept of figurations very helpful to come to terms with such supra-individual entities.[1]

…and Institutions

Now both institutions and social (sub)systems provide me with frames within which I conduct my research on structural forgetting, whether I like it or not – it is about forgetting scholars in the Humanities. Large parts of 18th to 20th century Western and Central European academia with all its peculiar institutions thus come into view and have to be accounted for, because they formed the environment the individuals I look at lived and acted in.

Social (sub)systems are characterized by specific memory practices.[2] One might even argue that they are constituted by memory practices, as they make stabilizing fleeting figurations of individuals into structured supra-individual entities possible over longer spaces of time. The same holds for institutions, on a smaller scale maybe. So both should be quite antithetical to forgetting as it might damage their very foundations. Which then prompts the question:

“If you are part of an institution, does this prevent you from being structurally forgotten?”

There are two possible ways to approach this question, the theoretical and the empirical. Let me give both a short try here (for the answers in both ways are much in the open still, at least for me).

1 – Theoretically…

The most basic observation regarding institutional memory practices is simply that they can never be exhaustive: No institution can structurally remember everything about itself. Memory practices therefore always include elements of forgetting by sorting out and discarding what is no longer relevant to the upkeep of the institution in question. An institution’s memory practices normally do not only entail information circulation but also storage and retrieval. What is deemed relevant is circulated; what is not (at the moment) deemed relevant is stored away where it can (probably) be retrieved again if need be, is no longer circulated, and, in consequence, is structurally forgotten. The larger and older an institution is, the more likely it is for any individual that took part in it to be sorted out and to be removed from circulation by being stored away. But the larger an institution is, the more capacities it may have to circulate those kinds of information it still sees as somehow relevant. The theoretical way to answer the question thus seems to be a definitive yes and no: Yes, you may be structurally forgotten even as a former part of an institution; and: No, if referring back to you is of importance to the institution, you might not be forgotten so easily. That said, structural forgetting and/or remembrance may even serve as an indicator of an individual’s importance to a given institution. But there is a hen-and-egg-problem coming along with this as well: Is an individual of importance because it was (and is) remembered, or was (and is) it remembered because it was important? And vice versa for forgetting. Seems like a typical example of scientific “Well, it’s not that easy to generalize…”

2 – Empirically…

Now do my four cases provide any illumination if sorted into this framework, as an empirical take on the question?

For Adrien Reland and Johannes Braun the answer seems to be deceptively simple. Both were professors at universities – Reland at Harderwijk and Utrecht, and Braun at Groningen. Harderwijk University does not exist anymore, which leaves Utrecht and Groningen to look at. At Utrecht there has some effort been made to keep Reland in the memory of the institution, but this is a development of the 19th century and subject to ups and downs (at the moment, it’s more on the upside). At Groningen Braun is mentioned but rates a poor second, not even a likeness of him survives. Both might be held to be, at least for most periods up until now, structurally forgotten by the institutions they once belonged to. This is nothing extraordinary, as most professors are. The typical university has had just way too many of them and remembers only some chosen few. The really intriguing questions now are: Why and how came these patterns observable today into being? What was the hen, and what the egg? 

So what about institutions with fewer members – which at least statistically raises the chances for any given individual to be remembered rather than forgotten – and individuals who once played key roles in these institutions?

This brings Eusèbe Renaudot and Thomas Gale into focus. Both served rather prestigious scientific institutions in important positions. Renaudot was a member of the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres, founded in 1663, and was instrumental in the restructuring of the Academie early in the 18th century. Gale in turn was one of the early members of the English Royal Society, founded in 1660, and served as its secretary from 1679 to 1681 and from 1685 to 1693.

Now both institutions still exist – although one might argue that the Academie des Inscriptions has undergone more transformations during its history than the Royal Society – and both acknowledge their former members, Renaudot and Gale, publicly, yet not very prominently.  From the point of view of both institutions I would label both Gale and Renaudot structurally forgotten: The information is there, but it is out of circulation, stored away, and not easily retrieved.

At the moment I can’t say when these patterns emerged, much less how and why – this needs further enquiry. But what I can say is that in all four cases the institutions did not shield my protagonists from being structurally forgotten in the end. What remains to be studied is whether they had serious impacts on the processes of becoming structurally forgotten at all, and if, how and why. Still a bit of work to do, but the year is young.


[1] Elias, Norbert (2009): Was ist Soziologie?, 11th ed., Weinheim/Munich 2009, pp. 10–11.

[2] Sebald, Gerd; Weyand, Jan (2011): Zur Formierung sozialer Gedächtnisse. On the Formation of Social Memory. In: Zeitschrift für Soziologie 40 (3), pp. 174–189; see pp. 179–181.

Where journals lead, I shall follow…?

Saturday, December 21st, for Friday No. 11, December 20th, 2018

This is the last one! No, not the end, it’s just the last one for this year, as I’m off for vacation from – what was it – ah, now. But only until January 2nd, so come next year, come new research posts.

This should be a good time to reflect upon the state of the project so far. And to take some time to see what might still be changed for the better. So what I want to present you today is no fully-fledged piece of research but rather some thoughts on the limits of the project as it stands now.

What it’s all about

To sum it all up in a few lines again, my aim was (and is!) to work out the patterns that emerge as remembrance fades and structural forgetting sets in. More precisely, I wanted to show these patterns for the societal subset of what I call the academic metier, and for humanities’ scholars whose memory faded. To do so, I follow four specific scholars – Thomas Gale of Cambridge, Johannes Braun of Groningen, Adrien Reland of Utrecht, and Eusèbe Renaudot of Paris – and track the frequency of references to them across the centuries after their deaths. For when such references dwindle and their pattern changes from one of being frequently referenced to one of only intermittently being referenced, structural forgetting can be actually made visible.

This was my basic assumption at least, and I still think that it is sound in principle. I am using a relational database and network visualization program, NodeGoat, to gather my data and visualize them diachronically, and by now patterns really do start to emerge. The question now is: Which patterns are these?

References and framing categories

I already hinted at the problem of measuring the frequency of references to a dead scholar. Of course citations and quotations can be counted – but within which kind of frame? For early modern scholarly communication, there are basically three categories of materials still available for me: letters; publications (both manuscript and print); and journals. Everything else is either no longer extant or not available in accessible format. Perhaps auction catalogues provide something like a three-point-fifth category – they survive as printed books, so basically they are publications – but that is about it.


Now each of these categories is tricky. Letters only survive in some cases, and in those cases then most often too many survive to make it possible to scan them all for metadata such as “mentions person X”. There are projects like Early Modern Letters Online, ePistolarium, Mapping the Republic of Letters, Electronic Enlightenment and such, but they either do not fit my timeframe or do not provide the information I am looking for. So while it is crucial to keep an eye on letters wherever possible, I cannot do so in a systematic way. Which means that I will only with great care be able to extract intermittent reference patterns from this part of my data set.


Publications do survive in massive numbers, and in massive numbers are electronically available and searchable by now. Countless digitization projects have made available masses of material. Yet the masses produced are always larger still. There is still so much out there which is not digitized, and which I therefore would have to search in a library and go through manually, that I will not be able to establish a suitable framework for my reference patterns this way, too. Even if I reduced my research to a certain discipline, area, or language, it would still be an insurmountable task. And most of it would be very frustrating, too, because the majority of these books – by far! – would not contain any references to my four protagonists (and presumably the more so as I advance in time towards today). So while I will use all means of automatically extracting information from publications that there are to find references to my protagonists where I don’t expect them, I cannot claim to establish something like a representative sample this way.


Which leaves me with journals, as it seems. And journals certainly do have many advantages compared to my other two sources types. First of all, they do survive in sufficiently complete form as to make general inferences possible. We know with great certainty which journals there were, and most of them survive. Second, they have been subject of lots of research by now, so that their relative importance and their outreach can be determined at least fairly well, and their workings and peculiarities are known to a large extent. Third, they are – at least the larger and more important ones – available in good editions, either in print or digitally, and thus searchable (via index or query). So I can draw up a sample of important journals for the fields, times, and places I am looking at, go through these journals, and have a data set which allows me to really infer reference frequencies for the first time. Or, given the only very partially comparable character of these early modern and 19th century learned journals, several data sets most probably. Reference spikes in the journals then would point me to the relevant developments in the reception of my protagonists.


This does work. I found John Swinton this way (Philosophical Transactions are already done up to 1800, which was easier as thought because they only contain very few references of interest to me, fewer even than I thought they might). And, to give a less obvious example, I found the dead predikanten of the 1730s this way who by their obituaries gave occasion to reference Johannes Braun.

Everything alright, then? I frankly don’t know. It somehow doesn’t feel alright. I can only do a certain number of important journals, and I am not completely comfortable in just going where they point me. It feels a bit like being told what to do. And I am not sure if I want my enquiries directed by anonymous journalists three centuries gone. Well, time to think about it.

Have a good time, and see you next year!

What’s a pupil worth?

Saturday, for Friday No.10, December 15th, 2018 (Holidays are coming and everything is getting complicated to schedule…)

I do not have touched upon one facet of scholar’s posthumous reputation yet, although it is commonly believed to possibly have a powerful influence upon it. And that ist he impact a scholar’s pupils can have on his or her memory.

The pupil hypothesis

The hypothesis behind this is quite simple. If you study with someone, who provides you the starting point for your own learning and perhaps even your career, you might be especially likely to keep that person not only in fond memory privately butalso to refer him or her professionally by quotation, citation or other forms of reference. This would then contribute to the overall reference frequency of the teacher. And you might even pass his or her theories, ideas, writings or whatever to your own pupils as a kind of intellectual legacy. At least this is what is commonly thought to be happening in the formation of intellectual communities, schools of thought, or scientific disciplines.

 As with all hypotheses this one also should be tested before being assumed too easily. Toput it to the test is unfortunately a bit tricky. The problem with it is that it has been drawn from the showcase examples. For those cases in which we areable to see such a pattern at work clearly are the successful ones, those that really did establish intellectual communities, schools of thought, or scientific disciplines and framed them as certain person’s legacies. They are present, powerful, and seem to indicate the value of the hypothesis because it is able to explain them. The question now should be, are these cases representing the standard against which all others should be measured, or are they exceptional? If they are exceptional, the patterns that formed them are likely to be exceptional, too. They should, therefore, only with care be applied to other cases as long as this possibility cannot be ruled out.

How to test this?

If I now want to test this hypothesis with my four protagonists which clearly do not represent successful showcases of establishing intellectual legacies, this raises a number of follow-up questions. The first and perhaps crucial of these is simply: Who is a pupil? Obviously not every student who ever heard a lecture by one of them should qualify for that. And also not every younger scholar who ever exchanged letters with one of them should do so. But if the source material is scarce anyway, how am I to determine the closer kind of relationship which would qualify as a teacher-pupil-relationship?

The second and third questions are not very much more easily solved either. For having identified someone as qualifying for a pupil in the sense of the hypothesis, I would have to determine his (in my cases there are no hers, unfortunately) overall impact; and then to single out from this impact his references to his teacher to be able to determine how much this particular individual contributed to the reference pattern.

I do not have very conclusive evidence to present yet (for two select cases see below) but from what I have seen so far I strongly suspect that for the average scholar, the impact of pupils is highly overrated by the standard hypothesis. It really does not seem to matter so much. But before I go into speculation about why that might be so, first let me present two very contrary examples which are completely non-representative but which may give you an idea what I am after here.

First: a forgotten scholar’s unknown pupil

In 1713 the Journal des Savants (issue 34/1713, August 21th) reviewed a scholarly commentary of some Hebrew texts, the Hilkōt maʿśerōt Seu Commentarius Philologicus De Decimis Judaeorum[1] by Johann Conrad Hottinger (1688?–1727?). The young author was characterized in this piece intwo ways: First, as he was himself kind enough to tell in the title of thereviewed book, he was a member of the Zürich Hottinger family of reputedscholars for all matters theological and oriental. It even detailed the precisenature of this connection: He was a nephew of Heinrich Hottinger (1647–1692) by being a son of Heinrich’s brother Conrad, most likely Johann Conrad Hottinger (1655–1730). This would make “our” Johann Conrad Hottinger the second of the name, and stemming from something like a sideline, as his father was none of the celebrated scholars of the name but a physician and numismat of lesser fame. That his uncle rather than his father was named as the reference point for the family connection on the title page of Johann Conrad the younger’s printed work would make perfect sense then. Second, and not directly forthcoming from the title of the work, Adrien Reland was referred to by the reviewer as “the young author’s teacher”.

Journal des Savants, 34/1713, August 21th, p. 450. 

It is always a bit risky to trust your sources too much but in this case there is no other evidence I yet know of contradicting this, so I trust the anonymous reviewer to have done his homework and to have known what he wrote. That a complimentary letter from Reland to the author was added to the work makes it an interpretation highly probable. So what I have here is a prime case fulfilling the hypothesis, at least on the face of it. There is a teacher-pupil-relationship in which the pupil uses the name and fame of his teacher to proliferate his writings, and by referring back to his teacher in return circulates his name. The problem is that this in all likelihood did not benefit Reland much, as the young Hottinger seems never to have made himself much of a name. It is quite hard to find any reliable information about him; even the larger catalogues have problems disambiguing him and his father. And even if one of his publications surely had the potential to be influential interms of circulating references to his “maitre”, the Journal “Altes und Neues aus der gelehrten Welt”, it seems to have been rather short-lived and not to have spread very far. So as a first preliminary conclusion from this case the hypothesis would have to be specified in that you may only expect substantial returns in terms of reference frequency from your pupils if they are either at least modestly successful themselves – so as to have an audience – or if they are very many (to compensate for little individual success).

Second: a famous pupil of two forgotten scholars?

Johannes Braun, professor of theology in Groningen and himself often busy with the exegesis of scriptural Hebrew, had many pupils of minor fame who later ventured to become predikanten in Dutch churches, an occupation for which a solid theological education was necessary. But there were also others among those who listened to his lectures. One of these, the young Albert Schultens (1686–1750) in 1706 defended a thesis on the utility of Arabic in the study of scripture presided over by Braun. In an age where the defended thesis often was acollaboration between president and respondent, this points to a rather close relationship, as does the theme. And moreover, Schultens afterwards relocated to Utrecht in 1707 to further study Arabic under Reland, living in his house. His first publication, the “Animadversiones philologicae in Jobum” is said to have been written under Reland’s direct guidance, and as Hottinger’s book also contained a letter to the author by Reland as a prelude – as well as a laudatory examination verdict by Johannes Braun and his colleague Paulus Hulsius (1653–1712). Now Schultens embarked on a very solid career, became an appreciated Orientalist and Arabist, and the founder of a dynasty of three generations of renowned Arabists. This, then, would be the ideal pupil for the hypothesis: Building on the knowledge inherited from his or her teachers an own career, becoming esteemed, and also creating a family tradition of proliferation of this intellectual legacy he or she should be perfectly able to carry on the name and fame of the teachers who had been instrumental in laying the foundations to these accomplishments.

Only that Schultens does not seem to have done so, at least not overly zealous. As far as I am able to determine at the moment. So even famous pupil might net you not much return for your own reference patterns in the end, perhaps – one more preliminary conclusion – because they are too much taken up by building their own reputation. 

But if neither minor nor major pupils really add to your reference patterns as the hypothesis supposes, who then does? Well, I don’t know yet, but I’ll going to try to find out.

[1] Johann Conrad Hottinger: Hilkōt maʿśerōt Seu Commentarius Philologicus De Decimis Judaeorum: Decem Exercitationibus absolutus. In quo omni, quae ad hanc materiam illustrandam pertinent, tum è Sacris Litteris, tum ipsis Judaeorum veterum monumentis explicantur, variaque alia Sacrarum Antiquitatum themata ex occasione tractantur. Auctore Joh. Conr. Hottingero, Henr. ex Conr. Nep. Helv. Tigurino. Praemittitur celeberimi viri Hadriani Relandi Epistola ad Auctorem. Cum Indicibus necessariis, Leiden: Isaac Severinus 1713.

Who is John Swinton?

Adrien Reland, Inscriptiones duae Palmyrenae, in: Palaestina Illustrata, Vol. 2, 1714, p. 526.

Friday No. 9, Devember 7th, 2018

And what does Swinton do around here? Well, to tell this story let me begin anew, this time from another starting point.

My basic assumption was that structural forgetting can be observed by looking atreference patterns. When they fall into an intermitting cycle of referencing and non-referencing, that’s where forgetting comes in.  To be able to detect this means browsing through a lot of potential reference sources to unearth patterns of actual references. To provide a not completely random selection, I took my tour through the major learned journals of the 18th century first of all. And that is where today’s story really starts, for in the course of doing so I finally also came to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 

A pattern of nothing?

Now the problem with the reference pattern in the 18th Philosophical Transactions was that there simply was none, or so it seemed. In the firstcouple of volumes neither Adrien Reland nor Johannes Braun nor Eusèbe Renaudot nor, to my surprise, even Thomas Gale (the English scholar in the sample) where referenced once. This continued during the 1710s, 1720s, 1730s, and 1740s, until I began to wonder whether it was not simply the case that the Philosophical Transactions just had ignored them, as the journal had only infrequently published humanities research at all.

I was already considering to skip going through all issues and sample only one every five years from the Transactions as this was obviously a useless pursuit, when all of a sudden John Swinton popped up and made my day. In volume 48, 1753/54. Doing dull work has its advantages.

Hooray for Swinton!

Enter John Swinton (1703–1777), philologist, numismatist, and antiquarian searching for obscure inscriptions.[1] His hour came when in 1753 Robert Wood (1716/17–1771) published “The Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tedmor in the Desart”,[2] his account of the journey undertaken by James Dawkins (1722–1757) and himself into Ottoman territory in the Syrian desert to re-re-discover the ancient Graeco-Roman city of Palmyra, (which has recently been devastated by the so-called “Islamic State” much more efficiently than seventeen centuries of desert climate had been able to do before). Swinton was most of all interested in the inscriptions transcribed and added as illustrated plates to Wood’s Ruins of Palmyra because they enlarged the corpus of known bilingual Greek-Palmyrene inscriptions sufficiently to decipher the Palmyrene alphabet and language, an extinct Semitic tongue. And that was exactly what Swinton claimed to have accomplished in his first contribution to Philosophical Transactions, the “Explication of all inscriptions in the Palmyrene language and character hither to publish’d. In five letters from the Reverend Mr. John Swinton, M. A. of Christ-Church,Oxford, and F. R. S. to the Reverend Thomas Birch, D. D. Secret. R. S.”[3] Although Swinton had been admitted into the Royal Society already in 1729, thiswas his first printed contribution to the Transactions.

Who’s first?

It must, of course, be noted that Swinton’s discovery was not unparalleled, as PeterDaniels has shown in 1988 already, and that it is much more likely thatJean-Jacques Barthélemy (1716–1795) of the Academie des Inscriptions in Pariswas actually faster than Swinton in deciphering and translating Palmyrene.[4] Swinton and Barthélemy moreover were not working in isolation but were in correspondence already.[5] Swinton’s previous work on had on Roman and Etruscan inscriptions,[6] and only from the 1750s onwards taken to Phoenician and Samaritan inscriptions also,[7] which provided the basis for his Palmyrene research. In his Explication of all inscriptions in the Palmyrene language and character hither to publish’d Swinton nevertheless took care to style things it in a way as to indicate that not only he had the claim to primacy in the discovery but also that Barthélemy had not really comeas far as he had.[8] I suppose Swinton did so for good reason. This does not necessarily mean that thestory he told about his discovery was not true; it is reasonable to suppose that he was capable to do as he claimed to have done. It just was not the whole story. The reason why it was good for Swinton to tell it in a, so to say, condensed way was that this was his chance to get back into the scientific discussion of his day, and he took it when he saw it.

Swinton’s way back in

Swinton’s track record had been quite good until 1737; he had studied in Oxford, graduated MA in 1726 and priest in 1727, had been admitted as a probationer fellow to Wadham College (and into the Royal Society) in 1729, and from 1730 to1734 had been appointed chaplain to the English factory in Leghorn (Livorno), which gave him the opportunity to travel through Portugal, upper Italy, and through Vienna and Hungary on the way back to England. It might be that in 1733, while he was in Florence, he laid the grounds for his later acceptance into the learned societies of the Accademia degli Apatisti of Florence and the Accademia Etrusca Delle Antichità ed Iscrizioni of Cortona.[9] Back in Oxford, he took the post of humanities lecturer, until in 1737 he was involved into a scandal about homosexual relations at the college which sparked at least three publications[10] and two lawsuits until 1740 and at the end of which Swinton was de facto found guilty of “sodomy”, as male homosexual intercourse was legally framed at thetime. He resigned his fellowship and left the college for a church post. In 1745 he joined Christ Church College, Oxford, this time as a student of theology, and in 1750 published the first edition of his largest publication ever, the “Inscriptiones citiae”. This was the situation he was in when in 1754 his first Transactions piece got published. In the following twenty years he submitted another 37 pieces to the Transactions, almost two per year, besides also publishing several of his smaller pieces for the print market and putting out a second revised edition of his Inscriptiones citiae in 1755.  That he was elected keeper of the Oxford University Archives in 1767 might well have been facilitated by this steady stream of publications since 1753/54.

An old acquaintance

Now the interesting thing for me was that I had already stumbled over Swinton before when I cameacross his only major book publication, the Inscriptiones citiae of 1750, during my Eighteenth Century Collections Online search for references to Adrien Reland; and a closer look revealed that Swinton had citedReland as early as 1738 already in his De lingua Etruriæ regalis vernacular dissertatio.[11]He therefore obviously was already familiar with Reland’s oeuvre, which tied into the Palmyrene case as in his description of ancient Palestine Reland had also given an illustration of a Palmyrene inscription – unfortunately one which, as Swinton claimed, neither he nor Barthélemy had been able to put togood use because of its bad likeness until Barthélemy somehow acquired a better copy.[12]

John Swinton, Reland’s Inscriptiones duae, quoted in PT 48, 1754, p. 691.

A pattern of re-use and recurrence

 The pattern which becomes visible here is one that connects several developments which lead to an – albeit not completely flattering – modest resurgence of the writings of Adrien Relands in the hands of John Swinton. On a structural level Swinton is exemplary for the enhanced standing of Antiquarianism as a discipline since the middle of the 18th century, and he was directly connected to the Oxford group of Orientalist scholars. He moreover profited from the growing influence of European powers in the Levant region, which facilitated expeditions into the ancient sites there, and the risen interest for all matters oriental connected to this, exemplified by the enormous success of Woods Ruins of Palmyra. On a dynamic level it was exactly this unforeseeable event provided the chance for Swinton to position himself with his Antiquarian interests in the centre of the current academic discourses of his time and place, and with this to en passant reintegrate his literature back into that discussion.

John Swinton’s position (red) in the overall epistemic network of the project

The smaller the fish that feed off you…

That this would happen was outside the horizon of calculation of those he cited, and that they would be referred to in this context not to be expected. A good point of illustration is that the Abbé Renaudot was not in the bundle of those Swinton referred to – because he as secretary of the Academie des Inscriptions had declared the Palmyrene inscriptions to be no field of research for the academy as there was no sufficient source corpus to reliably do so.[13] That he disqualified himself from being re-used as literature in an academic discussion starting 30 years after his death was something he could not know; and neither did Reland know that quoting the Palmyrene inscriptions he knew, albeit in an unsatisfactorily manner (to Swinton at least). Structural forgetting emerges once again as a phenomenon ruled much more by chance than by scientific results. And I would like to use Swinton to formulate a new measure criterion for being structurally forgotten: The smaller the fish that feed of you, the smaller you have become.

[1] See E. I Carlyle, Rictor Norton: Swinton, John (1703–1777), in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.

[2] Robert Wood (ed.): The Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tedmor, in the Desart, London: n.p. 1753.

[3] John Swinton: “Explication of all inscriptions in the Palmyrene language and character hither to publish’d. In five letters from the Reverend Mr. John Swinton, M. A. of Christ-Church, Oxford, and F. R. S. to the Reverend Thomas Birch, D. D. Secret. R. S.”, in: Philosophical Transactions, Vol. 48, 1753/54, pp. 690–756.

[4] See Peter T. Daniels: “Shewing of Hard Sentences and Dissolving of Doubts”: The First Decipherment, in: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 108, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1988), pp. 419-436.

[5] Daniels, “Shewing of Hard Sentences and Dissolving of Doubts”, p. 435.

[6] John Swinton: “De lingua Etruriæ regalis vernacula dissertatio. Authore Joanne Swinton A. M. Soc. Coll. Wadh. Oxon. & R. S. S.”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1738; —: “De primigenio Etruscorum alphabeto dissertation”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1746; —: “De priscis Romanorum literis dissertation”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1746.

[7] John Swinton: “Inscriptiones citie : Sive in binas inscriptiones Phoenicias, inter rudera citii nuperrepertas, conjectur. Accedit de nummis quibusdam samaritanis & phoeniciis, vel in solitam per se literaturam ferentibus, vel in lucem hactenus non editis, dissertatio. Autore Joanne Swinton, A.M. ex de christi, Oxon. & R.S.S”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1750; —: “De nummis quibusdam Samaritanis et Phoeniciis: vel insolitam prae se literaturam ferentibus, vel in lucem hactenus non editis, dissertatio”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1750; —: “De nummis quibusdam Samaritanis et Phoeniciis : vel insolitam prae se literaturam ferentibus, vel in lucem hactenus non editis dissertatio secunda”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1753;—: “Inscriptiones Citieae, sive, In binas alias inscriptiones Phoenicias interrudera Citii nuper repertas conjecturae”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1753; —: “Inscriptiones citieæ: sive in binas alias inscriptiones Phoenicias, inter rudera citii nuper repertas, conjecturæ”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1755.

[8] Swinton, Explication of all inscriptions in the Palmyrene language and character hither to publish’d, p.743: “Not long after I had finished my conjectures upton the Palmyreneinscription published by Gruter and M. Spon, I received a most obliging letter from M. l’Abbé Barthelemey […] wherein he informed me, that he had taken great pains to explain that inscription, and another drawn in the same character, published likewise by Mr. Spon. As he seemed to think, that he had not intirely [sic] deciphered those inscriptions, he recommended it to me to take them both into my consideration, and to what I could make of them.”

[9] Although this might also have beena later development as he flagged these memberships only from 1763 (Cortona) and 1764 (Florence) on in his publications.

[10] Anon.: “College-Wit sharpen’d: or, The Head of a house, with, a Sting in the Tail: being a New English Amour, of the Epicene Gender, done into Burlesque metre, from the Italian. Address’d to the Two Famous Universities of S-d-m and G-m-rr-h. London: printed for J. Wadham, near the Meeting-House in Little-Wild-Street, where the Supplement, which will shortly be published, may be had; and Sold at the Pamphlet-Shops of London and Westminster, M.DCC.XXXIX”, London: n. p. 1739; Anon.: “A faithful narrative of the life and character of the Reverend Mr.Whitefield, B. D. From his Birth to the present Time. Containing An Account of his Doctrine and Morals; his Motives for going to Georgia, and his Travels through several Parts of England”, London: Watson 1739; Anon.: “A faithful narrative of the proceedings in a late affair between the Rev. Mr. John Swinton, and Mr. George Baker, both of Wadham College, Oxford: wherein the reasons, that induced Mr. Baker to accuse Mr. Swinton of sodomitical practices, and the Terms, upon which he signed the Recantation, industriously publish’d in the Daily Advertiser, London Evening Post, &c. are circumstantially set down, and submitted to the Publick: To which is prefix’d, a Particular Account of the Proceedings against Robert Thistlethwayte, Late Doctor of Divinity, and Warden of Wadham College, For a Sodomitical Attempt upon Mr. W. French, Commoner of the same College”, London: n. p. 1739.

[11] Swinton, De lingua Etruriæ regalis vernacula dissertatio, p. 7.

[12] Swinton, Explication of all inscriptions in the Palmyrene language and character hither to publish’d, p.744.

[13] Daniels, “Shewing of Hard Sentences and Dissolving of Doubts”, p. 427.

Second-hand Science

Mears, William, Auction Catalogue (title page snippet) (1723)






Friday No. 8, November 30th, 2018

The early modern academic book is a used book. Of course new books were printed and put onthe market always and everywhere. But long is art, and life is short, and books frequently outlive their owners. In the 18th century this created a market which lived off second-, third-, fourth, x-th hand books which were sold and resold every so often: when their owners died, or when they were in especially dire need for money; when libraries where confiscated or scattered in war, revolution, or as punishment. And on the whole this market was rather larger than that for new books. The early modern printed book was a commodity made to endure and as such had a very long commercial lifecycle.

This is hardly a new insight, and a lot has already been said about used-book markets and practices (see the Book History and Print Culture Network). Now, apart from a few collectors who bought books just for the sake of collecting, most of these changes of hand of early modern academic books took place for reasons of research and teaching.They were bought because they were needed. Even though they were sold second-or-more-hand, these volumes were still costly items, and the average scholar did not buy them without good reason. So I may assume that if a book changed hands there possibly also was an intellectual reason behind this economic transaction.  

The Second-hand thesis

This means that ideas, notions, names and theories can not only travel openly by citationand quotation but also in a more hidden way along with the books they are contained in. In theory this opens new avenues for my quest to research processes of forgetting within science and learning, for the circulation of an author’s books might provide at least an indicator of his after-death impact.

Four first-hand problems

Practically this poses a whole bunch of new challenges to the project:

  • Figuring out how such indirect clues relate to direct ones and how they can be measured against each other. For it seems intuitively plausible that citing or quoting a scholar directly is stronger evidence of this scholar being structurally remembered than having a scholar’s book somewhere deep down in one’s library.
  • Coming to terms with indirect clues which can be directly referred to an individual person as well as indirect clues which are generic by their very nature. The difference is that of, say, the auction catalogue of a late owner’s library, which allows to ascribe the featured books to this owning individual, and the auction catalogue of the annual grand sale of a bookshop or store which gives no indication of the provenance of the volumes listed.
  • Accounting for the difference between books I know from such sources as the above-mentioned auction catalogues to have been offered for sale and books which I happen to know of being actually sold, and factoring this into the measure of ‘indirectness’ of the clue this gives me about the work in question being in circulation. Now this point mightseem to raise an issue a bit hair-splittingly, but it really poses a serious problem. Normally all that is left of such transactions are the auction catalogues some of which have survived – only a tiny fraction of those thereonce were, but that’s the same as with other sources. The problem is that these catalogues do allow me only to establish that at the time the sale was announced these books had been in the possession of the deceased or were in the possession of the offering entrepreneur. They normally do not allow to make any inference whether the books actually were sold at this event. Sometimes the catalogues carry annotations of certain items being underlined, check marked, or added prices which may point to someone at least being interested in buying them, but these are only very rarely conclusive evidence. So the question is, what happened to the leftovers? Were they sold off at a discount, given away, scrapped, recycled, or kept? For it would it certainly make a difference in estimating the value of an author’s name if the books announced under this name all sold highly after being battled over at the auction, or if they were all taken to the paper mill afterwards. (Which is quite unlikely unless indicated very clearly, to be honest, but to illustrate the possible spread let’s just assume it for the sake of argument).

    Mears 1723, p. 25

  • And, last but surely not least, how can the data to be drawn from the catalogues be integrated into my co-citation approach to the framing of bygone epistemic communities? For normally these catalogues do not just list some thousand books one after the other but structure their content in a manner accessible to the potential buyers, and that is, by formal criteria on the one hand (format, features, and condition) and by contextual criteria on the other hand, so that a rubric would read “Libri Miscellanei & Juridici, Octavo”[1]or “Theologici in quarto” for instance. But should I then add all other books from that rubric as being co-cited with, say, Johannes Braun’s “Vestitus sacerdotum Hebraeorum” of 1680 which might be found in the latter category?[2] This might seem an obvious choice, but unfortunately it is utterly impracticable because of the sheer number of entries I would have to process then. Should I, then, restrict myself to only recording those works appearing on the same page as, for instance, Adrien Reland’s “De religione mahomedica”, 2nd edition 1717[3] (see picture) as I would do for citations/quotations in a text? This might give a compromised picture because such rubrics tend to have an inner order – some reproducing that of the library’s former owner (which would be a good thing), some ordering the volumes alphabetically to facilitate browsing, or ranked by estimated value or anything else. So a consistent method might give me inconsistent results if I cannot process an amount of data large enough to even out such imbalances statistically.

So what to do now?

Already a while ago I tracked references to my protagonists in those auction cataloguesonline available via Eighteenth Century Collections Online. This provided me with a quite special sample because it is very much Britain-centred, but as the United Kingdom imported vast quantities of second-hand academic books from the continent during the 18th century, this is really not so bad at all. Here are the graphs for the frequencies I was able to establish for Adrien Reland and Johannes Braun through 81 catalogues between 1723 and 1796.

Reland’s books in the ECCO sample

Braun’s books in the ECCO sample


This surely looks nice, and it interestingly tells a story completely different (from what I know so far) from that told by the pattern of references to my protagonists in scholarly journals. To put it shortly, as the journal references decline, the mentions in auction catalogues rise. But what does that mean? Does it point to their ideas being in circulation through their circulating books even after they went out of fashion in the rather short-lived business of academic journalism? Or does it rather tell that as the authors went out of fashion in the journals, so did their books, being put on the second-hand market in something like a grand sell-out with a little delay?

This depends much on the answers I find to my four problems posed above, so I guess it’s fair to say that until now, this is still an open question. One hint might be that of the 81 relevant catalogues from between 1723-1796 I found, 56 may be counted as commercial, and 25 as owner-based (and 5 of these really are no sales catalogues but presence library catalogues and should only with care be included in the calculations). So what I have here is a very indirect picture – one that still has to be unravelled.

[1] Mears, William (seller): A catalogue of books in Greek, Latin, English, Italian, and French. Being a collection of trade, […] to be sold on Wednesday the 15th of this instant May, 1723, at W. Mear’s shop, the Lamb without Temple Bar; at Nine of the Clock in the Morning, [London]: n.p., [1723], p. 25.

[2] Johannes Braun: Bigdê kohanîm id est, Vestitus sacerdotum Hebræorum, sive Commentarius amplissimus in Exodi cap. XXVIII, ac XXIX. & Levit. cap. XVI., 2 vols., Leiden: Elzevier, Doude 1680.

[3] Adrien Reland: De religione mohammedica libri duo, 2 vols., 2nd enlarged edition, Utrecht: Broedelet 1717.

Does this look like an epistemic community to you?

Persons connected by citations and quotes (2018-11-22)

Friday No. 7, November 23nd, 2018

I have proposed that the structural forgetting I want to track might be represented by declining reference frequency and the emergence of an intermittent reference pattern. To put it simply, I take becoming structurally forgotten to consist of people being referred to less often, until they are only occasionally referred to. So far, so good. But this raises the question of the frames these patterns evolve in. Against which background might citations be counted, and frequencies be measured?

Epistemic communities are the problem, not the answer

A full-scale scan of everything there ever was written to see if somewhere inthere the names and writings of my protagonists are mentioned would not only be practically impossible, it would also be conceptually very loose. A frame around everything equals no frame at all. So I need to come down to some handier frames which provide me with a conceptually sound field against which the prominence of an individual might be meaningfully established – and also the fading into oblivion. And as the overall context which I am inquiring into is one of scholarship, learning, and letters, an obvious solution might be to say, well, these guys are part of epistemic communities, and the other members of these communities are those people who really take an interest in referring back to my protagonists. While this is obviously right, it just shifts the problem to another level – and that is: How to identify such epistemic communities? For even if I would assume that they are coextensive with disciplinary boundaries (and that would be a bold assertion to make, and I would rather not do so) this then presents me with the problem of delineating early 18th century disciplinary boundaries. And all the shifts these boundaries undergo during the next centuries, with new disciplines being formed, old ones disappearing, with every merging, splitting, and reshaping of disciplines and fields.

In such difficulties it’s always good that scientific inference works in two ways. If deduction will not work: try induction! So perhaps I might identify my epistemic communities bottom-up rather than top-down. I tried to set my database up in a way that enables such inferences from the start; the only question now left is: does that work?

Do it the other way round!

My basic assumption (one I am bold enough to make, this time) in doing so is that such epistemic communities can be established by tracking two ways of relating to other people and their thoughts: citation and quotation. Citation shall cover references to persons, while quotation shall cover references to publications. This works with publications as well as with letters, and so the letters may provide me a second perspective and perhaps a corrective to the printed works. Yet the database structure is not completely analogous: For building the letter model Iused a structure patterned to reproduce letter co-citation analysis as Gingras had done[1],so that for each letter, each person and publication referenced are only recorded once.

References via citation and quotation to different protagonists in Maandelyke Uittreksels, 02/1736

For printed publications, these results are stored in individual sub-objects, which gives me the possibility to fine-grain analysis here. In my view this becomes necessary because unlike in letters which seldom cover many different topics in depth longer works – and some of those in my database run to over a thousand pages! – may do so. So that being referenced in the same book must not inevitably mean a thematic connection also. To account for that, I tag every reference and quote not only with date and place, but also with the respective page number.   

It is now possible to use these data not only to get an overview over such connections but also to visualize them. At least from the level that I have now. So what I have done is to visualize connections from persons to persons via 1) citation references in publications; 2) quotation references in publications; 3) authoring and editing of quoted publications (whether in letters or printed works) and contributing to them; 4) citation references in letters; 5) quotation references in letters.

Wanted! Do you recognize this epistemic community?

Persons connected by citations and quotes in letters and publications, 1701-1710

The question now is: Does this look like an epistemic community to you?

It becomes a bit trickier still when the diachronic dimension is taken into account. For the patterns for the years 1701–1710 are looking quite different from the aggregated account of relations over this period – compare the video and the graphic you have just seen.

And if you then compare the 10-year-period with the 300-year-period from the header visualization, there is obviously even more difference.

As such this seems a good outcome because it points to changes in the formation ofthese epistemic communities over time, to reconfigurations and shiftingboundaries – and this was exactly what I inductively wanted to account for. But caution is of course necessary: At the moment there are only quite few data in this set, about 300 publications with references and about 400 letters. In addition to this the set is mostly focused on Adrien Reland, who because of this shows up more prominently than my other three protagonists (see the four pictures below). All these reservations aside, I think this is going to work and will provide me with the frames against which I then may come to better terms with my references. Depending on how an epistemic community should look like…

Epistemic community, 1701-1710: Position and connections of Adrien Reland

Epistemic community, 1701-1710: Position and connections of Johannes Braun

Epistemic community, 1701-1710: Position and connections of Eusèbe Renaudot

Epistemic community, 1701-1710: Position and connections of Thomas Gale


[1] Yves Gingras, Mapping the structure of the intellectual field using citation and co-citation analysis of correspondences, in: History of European Ideas 36 (2010), pp. 330–339.

What to do with a heap of old manuscripts?

From the letter of the conservatory of the Bibliothèque nationale to the minister of the interior, May 18th, 1798

Friday No. 7, November 16th, 2018

Close your eyes, and imagine that among your worldly possessions there is a heap of old manuscripts inherited from your maternal great-uncle who died almost 80 years ago. A rather large heap of old manuscripts, by the way. Now imagine that you belong to a noble lineage, and that you want to get rid of these manuscripts. Done? Good. Now imagine that you are negotiating a settlement between you and the national library about the destination of these writings. Still comfortable? Good. Now imagine that it is the year 6 of the French Republic, you are negotiating with the Directoire Government, and you are dead set to barter your manuscripts against books, not to sell them. Now I’ve overdone it, right?

Bartering for books, first round

But I haven’t. This is what actually happened in 1798/99. The family in question – that’s you! don’t forget to imagine – really had something extraordinary in their hands, as the director of the French national library stated:

“There is no person who doesn’t know the reputation the late Eusebe Renaudot enjoyed within the Republic of Letters. Equally accomplished in the knowledge of the most difficult and most ancient oriental languages and in the study of Greek and Latin, and moreover very apt in handling worldly affairs; this savant has left at his death a large collection of manuscript treatises other than the works published in his name during his lifetime; its existence was known throughout all of Learned Europe, and through succession it now has passed into the possession of the Menou family, related by marriage to that of Verneuil, the heir of Eusebe Renaudot.”[1]

The manuscripts in question were those of the abbé Eusèbe Renaudot (1646–1720), Oratorian, member of the Academie française and the Academie des Inscriptions since 1689, specialist for the early history of the Eastern churches and for languages such as Arabic and Aramaic. At his death, Renaudot had bequeathed his considerable library to the monastery of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, but a part of his collections – perhaps not really just “a small number which was of no use to them”[2] – had gone to the executor of his testament, his nephew Eusèbe Jacques Chaspoux de Verneuil (1695–1747), “Secrétaire de la chambre et du cabinet du Roi”, who was the son of Renaudot’s younger sister Anne-Claude Claire (1664–1720). Chaspoux de Verneuil had left the manuscripts to his son, Eusèbe Félix Chaspoux de Verneuil (1720-1791), and Eusèbe Félix in turn to his daughter Anne Michèle Isabelle Chaspoux de Verneuil (1751-1829) who had married René-Louis-Charles de Menou (1746-c.1820) in 1769. René-Louis-Charles’ father had been “Maréchal-de-champ” of Louis XV,[3] and his younger brother was the notorious Jacques-François Abdallah de Menou (1750–1810) who in 1798 was fighting with Napoleon in Egypt and would soon convert to Islam to marry an Egyptian woman. These were the “citoyens Menou” who now owned 94 of Eusèbe Renaudot’s manuscripts, and had offered them to the Bibliothèque nationale in exchange for printed books. They didn’t want money, they wanted books.  So they submitted a wish list to the director of the national library, but it turned out to be a bit more complicated than that.

Bartering for books, second round

The director of the Bibliothèque nationale was either not capable or not comfortable deciding such an issue on its own, and thus forwarded the request to the minister of the interior, who already six days later approved of the exchange.[4] But now it happened to be the case that the books the citoyens Menou had wished for were not all found in the “dépôts littéraires”, and the negotiations entered a second stage. Because, as the next report to the minister of the interior stated on June 1st, 1798, “The curators of manuscripts at the Bibliothèque nationale have thoroughly examined this collection and found it to be of major importance and utility“,[5] he was urgently advised to stay with his decision to approve of the exchange nevertheless and to let the citoyens Menou make another selection from the holdings of the “dépôts littéraires”. Only that finding another suitable set of books for the exchange seems to have been somewhat more difficult than thought of. It took its time at least. When the conservatory of the Bibliothèque nationale addressed the issue to the minister the next time, half a year had gone by.[6]

Bartering for books, final round

This time, everything seemed settled. The Menous had taken a good look around the depots, had made their list, and the conservatory reported to the minister: “See the list of books the Menou family wishes for: to us they seem acceptable given the material and immaterial worth of the manuscripts.”[7] Now this is indeed interesting because it gives a hint as to how highly the librarians really thought of the manuscripts and their value. What could one get for 94 Renaudot autographs? Well, here’s the list (the links point you to the edition I established as the most probable one to have been meant here):

“Livres demandés pour le Citoyen françois Menou, en Echange des Manuscrits d’Eusebe Renaudot qu’il a remis à la Bibliothéque [sic] Nationale.

Taken together this amounts to 106 volumes in duodecimo; 107 volumes in octavo; and 19 volumes in quarto. Or 232 printed books altogether. Quite impressive I think. It’s amazing what the memory of a long-dead great-uncle can do for you if you want to clean up the house.

I might add that something is clearly wrong with my working strategy: I spent one and a half hour in the archive on the sources, another hour transcribing those documents I photographed, and then more than four hours this morning in identifying those damned editions. And I didn’t even get them all right!

[1] Archives Nationales, Paris, F/17/3468-I, Acquisitions de l’an IV à 1830, an VII: Acquisition des manuscrits d’Eusebe Renaudot. Capperonier to the minister of the interior, 23. Floreal an VI (May 12th, 1798), p.1.

[2] C. Detlef G. Müller: Renaudot, Eusèbe, in: Bautz, Traugott (ed.): Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, Vol. 8, Hamm: Bautz 1994, col. 34-44, online version: (11/16/2018): „Eine kleine, für sie nicht brauchbare Anzahl erhielt der Neffe, Herr Verneuil.“

[3] François-Alexandre Aubert de La Chesnaye Des Bois: Dictionnaire de la noblesse, 2nd ed., vol. 10, Paris: Antoine Baudet 1775, p. 46.

[4] Archives Nationales, Paris, F/17/3468-I, Acquisitions de l’an IV à 1830, an VII: Acquisition des manuscrits d’Eusebe Renaudot. Ministre de l’Interieur to the Conservateur de la bibliothèque Nationale, 29. Floreal an 6 (May 18th, 1798).

[5] Archives Nationales, Paris, F/17/3468-I, Acquisitions de l’an IV à 1830, an VII: Acquisition des manuscrits d’Eusebe Renaudot. Rapport présenté au minister a l’interieur, 13. Prairial an 6 (June 1st, 1798): “Les Conservateurs des manuscrits de la Bibliotheque nationale ont éxaminé attentivement cette collection et l’ont trouvée d’une importance et d’une utilité majeure […].”

[6] Archives Nationales, Paris, F/17/3468-I, Acquisitions de l’an IV à 1830, an VII: Acquisition des manuscrits d’Eusebe Renaudot. Conservatoire de la bibliothèque nationale to the ministre de l’interieur, 12. Frimaire an 7 (December 2nd, 1798).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Obviously not the complete edition which was 70 volumes in total.

[9] The only Buffon edition approximately matching this number was the edition linked to, but that is slightly at odds with its printing date. Of course it might be that the books in being rebound had been split, and the original number of volumes was smaller. Anyone a good idea?

[10] Only a selection of the original edition which totalled 125 volumes.

[11] I must confess I don’t know what this is. The only publication Gaillard dedicated to Charles V I have been able to find was the linked “Eloge of 1767, but this is not likely to have been bound as six separate volumes.

[12] Archives Nationales, Paris, F/17/3468-I, Acquisitions de l’an IV à 1830, an VII: Acquisition des manuscrits d’Eusebe Renaudot. Conservatoire de la bibliothèque nationale to the ministre de l’interieur, 12. Frimaire an 7 (December 2nd, 1798).

Something like a parable

Friday No. 6, November 9th, 2018

Fairy tale time! Today I will tell you a strange story of a man who survived all revolutions, of how he did so, what this has to do with my topic of structural forgetting, and whether there is a moral at the end of this story (or not). Only that this time, the story is real.

Revolution No. 1

The protagonist of this tale was a Frenchman – that’s one of the reasons that took me to Paris these days – and went by the name of Louis-Charles Solvet, born in Paris on the 6th Brumaire of the Year IV, or on October 28th, 1795, as you would rather have it. He was the son of Pierre-Louis Solvet (1772–1847), bookseller, and Anne Marie Charlotte Lemoine.[1] In 1812 the young Louis-Charles joined Bonaparte’s imperial army, and until 1813 advanced into a regiment of the imperial guards. In 1814 he quitted service, apparently just in time to survive his first revolution (the guards may not surrender, but quitting seems to have been alright). He began to work as a private secretary, until in 1827 he was able to get a job in the royal French administration. Solvet entered the service of the king as a lawyer at the royal court, and in 1829 had advanced to the post of secretary general of the departement of Oise.

Revolution No. 2

The revolution of 1830 may have cost him his job, but fortunately nothing else besides, as it seems. In any case he felt the need to explain about this first demission from state service in the reports in his personnel record file. Some reports signed by Solvet state as reasons for him resigning “The revolution of 1830 and [that I was] my duty’s lover, what has happened not so rarely.”[2] In other versions, the explicit reference to the revolution of 1830 is dropped, and he only stated “[That I was] my duty’s lover, what has happened not so rarely amidst great changes.”[3] Having however survived his second revolution, he just applied again for a post in the state administration, and obviously got one, for in 1832 he was deputy crown prosecutor in Vassy, and in 1834 in Soissons. So his ‘love of duty’ might well have been a move to explain why he had changed coats so quickly. But there must have been more than a grain of truth in it also; he never married, and his superior’s assessments stated things like “zeal: tireless.”[4]

Assessments from Solvet’s personal file, 1861

Did I mention forgetting?

So far, so good, and a not unremarkable career that Louis-Charles Solvet had already made at that point, being 39 years old by now. But there has not much been about forgotten scholars in the story so far, and I promised there would be. And in indeed there was a connection between the learning which had been produced by the likes of Reland, Braun, Gale, and Renaudot, and the life and times of Solvet. During the 1820s, when he was still a private secretary, Solvet had studied in Paris, graduating in 1827. He had turned his attention not only to law but also to a subject somewhat fashionable at the time, namely Arabic. Obviously he was quite talented, for having studied under Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy (1758–1838) he had not only passed his exams with distinctions but a bit later, in 1829, also published a collected translation of Arabic sources which won some critical acclaim. With this work, entitled “Instituts du droit mahométan sur la guerre avec les infidèles”, ‘Institutions of Muslim law for the war against the unbelievers”, Louis-Charles Solvet had not only joined his two fields of interest. He also had commended himself for higher posts, as one French observer put it.[5] He really had, and his publication directly pinpoints for which kind of posts. When the French holdings secured on the North African coast in the wake of the first French intervention in Algier in 1830 were administratively restructured in 1834, Solvet successfully applied to be posted there. He was appointed judge for the French North African possessions.

Colonial aspirations

In Algier he settled into French colonial society, only that Algeria at this time still was no French colony. France only commanded some outposts. But some of the French in Algeria, as, for instance, a certain Louis-Charles Solvet, saw it as their mission to change this. In 1838 Solvet was listed on the title page of one of his publications as vice-president of the “Scociéte coloniale” of Algiers,[6] a position in which he campaigned for a more thorough French grip on the land. In the same year of 1838, he finally published a second translation, this time from Latin to French: An edition of Adrien Relands “De jure militari mohammedanorum contra christianos bellum gerendum”, which had been published among Relands collected dissertations in 1708.[7] Solvet’s version went as “Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte” from the government’s press in Algiers, something official permission by the minister of war was necessary for. Solvet had applied for this successfully in 1837,[8] as his translation was intended to be something like a manual for French soldiers, to mentally arm them for the coming colonial war that French expansionists envisioned. They should know what to expect from a Muslim enemy.[9] Whether Reland’s very scholarly and sober philological commentary on Muslim legal provisions for the jihad might have actually been of any help in this case I would consider as highly doubtful. 

Revolution No. 3

But Solvet not only claimed that in a situation such as his – and the French in general – in a foreign country faced with potentially enemy Muslims Reland’s commentary quite naturally resurged from his memory.[10] It really might have been yet one more stepping stone for his administrative career afterwards. For when in 1840 the war that Solvet longed for finally started, he in the wake rose to the post of counsellor at the royal court (in 1842). A position in which he, perhaps not too surprisingly given his former luck in such circumstances, survived his third revolution, that of 1848. Though no longer a royal counsellor he still had his judicial post, and in 1850 was accepted as chevalier de la Legion d’honneur. It is not entirely clear why, because his file has not survived in the records of the Legion, but from his personnel file it seems that his long-time services in the colonial administration were the reason.[11] The family actually had a stroke of luck there, for his almost twenty-two years younger brother Jean-Alphonse Solvet (1817–1896) also was dubbed chevalier de la Legion d’honneur in 1880 for his services to the Paris magistrate as long-time secretaire général of the 7th arrondissement.[12]

Revolution No. 4 1/2 

But back to Louis-Charles Solvet: The coup d’etat of Louis Napoleon in 1852 – which was not really a revolution – he survived, too, only to become president of the chamber of the imperial court of Algiers in 1862. He died in Algiers in 1868, which but deprived him of his chance to finally also survive the fall of the Second Empire.

Did I mention my theses?

This is a story which seems to be a good proof for my general thesis that there is nothing like an innocent reference. If one refers to one’s predecessors, one does that for one’s own benefit, otherwise one would not do so. In the case of Solvet it is clearly visible how he applied his talents and crafts to make those references which fitted the social and political climate of the France of his times, allowing him to rise through all mutations of the French state to the rather high post he held in the end, and gratifying him with seeing his colonial visions fulfilled during his lifetime. It is highly probable that he had picked up his knowledge about Reland during his Arabic studies in 1820s Paris, most probably from his readings of George Sale’s (c.1696–1736) translation of the Coran, as he himself claimed later.[13] A couple of years later in North Africa, he took the opportunity to establish those connections between him and these scholars and their publications which would benefit him, and successfully so.

Solvet’s signature from his 1865 request to continue on his post.

The morale of it all (if there is one)

Now the point of the whole story is that notwithstanding all acclaims which his publications got during his lifetime, today Louis-Charles Solvet has plunged even deeper into oblivion than Reland whom he used to advance his career. Perhaps this became already visible in 1865, when his secretary Pierry filed two requests to the Keeper of Seals, the French minister of the interior, to elevate Solvet from his 3rd grade rank of Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur to the 2nd grade rank of Officier. Pierry explicitly mentioned Solvet’s scientific activities on a par with his contributions to the colonial administration. The superimposed note on the second request only reads: “Spoken with Mr. Lent. Respond negatively.”[14] And although I do have some ideas of why that would be so, I am not sure yet – and neither if there is a morale to the story or not. So feel free to decide that for yourself, and please keep me posted! I will.

[1] Archives Nationales, Paris, LH/2533/33, Dossier du Jean-Alphonse Solvet, p. 5.

[2] Archives Nationales, Paris BB/6 (II)/396, Ministère de la justice: Notice individuelle 1861, 1859, Etat des Services: „Cause de la cessation du service: revolution de 1830 et officii amator mei, ut non raro accidit.“

[3] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Ministère de la justice: Notice individuelle 1863, Etat des Services: „Cause de la cessation du service: Officii amator mei, ut non raro accidit magna rerum commutatione”, signed Ch. Solvet, Algiers, July 15th, 1863.

[4] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Ministère de la justice: Notice individuelle 1861, Renseignements confidentiels: “Zèle: infatigable.”

[5] G. T.: 10. Instituts du droit mahométan sur la guerre sainte avec les infidèles, ou Extraits du livre d’Abou-l-hoçain-Ahmed-elKodouri, et de celui de Séid-Ali-el-Hamadani, traduits de l’arabe en français; par Ch. SoLvet. In-8° de 4o p. Paris, 1829; Dondey-Dupré. in: Bulletin general et universel des annonces et des nouvelles scientifiques, publie sous la direction du baron de Ferussac, 13, 09/1829, pp. 11-12; p. 12.

[6] Solvet, Louis-Charles: Voyage à “la Rassauta” [en Algérie], lettre à M. A… député, Marseille 1838, title: “vice-président de la société coloniale d’Alger”.

[7] Reland, Adrien; Solvet, Louis-Charles (transl.):  Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte. Dissertation de Hadrien Reland, traduite du latin en francais par Ch. Solvet, Algier: Imprimerie du Gouvernement 1838; Reland, Adrien: Hadriani Relandi Dissertationum miscellanearum pars tertia, et ultima, Utrecht: Broedelet 1708.

[8] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Secretariat du Government des possessions francaises dans le nord de l’Afrique to the Minister of War, August 12th, 1837.

[9] Reland, Adrien; Solvet, Louis-Charles (transl.):  Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte. Dissertation de Hadrien Reland, traduite du latin en francais par Ch. Solvet, Algier: Imprimerie du Gouvernement 1838, p iii: “enfin qu’elle contribuerait à faire mieux comprendre les préjugés et le genie des peuples que nous avons a combattre.”

[10] Reland, Adrian; Solvet, Louis-Charles (transl.):  Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte. Dissertation de Hadrien Reland, traduite du latin en francais par Ch. Solvet, Algier: Imprimerie du Gouvernement 1838, p ii.

[11] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Extrait de la partie individuelle de Mr. Solvet, Conseiller à la cour d’appel de Alger, June 1850.

[12] Archives Nationales, Paris, LH/2533/33, Dossier du Jean-Alphonse Solvet, p. 7.

[13] Reland, Adrian; Solvet, Louis-Charles (transl.):  Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte. Dissertation de Hadrien Reland, traduite du latin en francais par Ch. Solvet, Algier: Imprimerie du Gouvernement 1838, p. ii.

[14] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Pierry to Mr. Garde du Sceaux, Algiers, December 12th, 1865.