Tag Archives: 19th century

Charts and Dictionaries

My protagonists as they appear in 93 encyclopaedic works covering the 18th and 19th centuries

Sunday, 4th of August, 2019, for Friday n° 42

PS: There will be no post for Friday the 9th and 16th of August as I will be on vacation. I’ll be back with new stuff on August 23rd. Have a good time!

80.8 %

Over the last week I have been busy finalizing my sample of encyclopaedic works in which I tracked the appearances my four protagonists made over the course of almost two centuries, from 1715 until 1898, when the earliest[1] and latest works[2] from that list got printed. It now consists of 115 titles, 98 of which are bio-bibliographical dictionaries, and 17 are general encyclopaedias (such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, for instance).[3] My aim in compiling this set of dictionaries was to get a grip on the representation of scholars in general and especially my protagonists in biographical dictionaries, which – alongside other kinds of encyclopaedic titles – constituted a hughely popular medium for the communication and circulation of information in the 18th, but even more so in the 19th century. To be able to do so I have included specialized biographical dictionaries focusing on scholars and men of letters as well as general biographical dictionaries promising to include the famous men (and sometimes women) of all ages and nations. I did include re-editions, but no reprints, that is, I left out textually unchanged re-editions, because I am interesting in changes rather than continuities; but I admit that this might be a questionable decision (but you just have to cut it somewhere). There are works in five languages in my sample – Dutch, English, French, German, and Latin – to cover the main areas my inquiries so far have revolved around, although English and French works, quite to my suprise, really seem to have dominated the field. Only six titles are in Latin, five from the 18th century and one from 1819 (but that was a dictionary of Latin-writing poets, so the subject matter dictated the language of the book, I guess). That all the rest are in the vernacular testifies to the genre catering to an at least semi-popular audience from early on, at least from the middle of the 18th century. All the more interesting is that 93 out of these 115 titles I surveyed feature at least one of my protagonists, which amounts to 80.8 % of the sample, and was a lot more than I initially expected.

Some Charts for more Details

The work-in-progress charts I have given in my earlier posts on this subject (see here, here, and here) have not been rendered unusable by those I am now able to draw from the full set, which is a good thing because I don’t have to litter those blog posts with disclaimers now but most of all because this indicates that I really have captured a broader trend now, and that adding more dictionaries would perhaps add some details here or there but would not change the general message of the sample. So in breaking the somewhat unwieldy general graph for all my protagonists over the whole sample combined (as seen above) down into some more selective charts I can now throw these general trends into sharper relief than before. Alright, then, let’s have some colorful diagrams. [One disclaimer ahead: Since there are only six Latin dictionaries in the sample, I did not draw separate charts for them.]

Four National Diagrams

I have been hesitating a bit if this heading would be the right way to put it. But the longer I think of it the more I am convinced that it actually is. For what I did do in putting together the four graphs you will now see below was first of all assembling them into language groups irrespective of national delineations, which meant that French-language dictionaries from today’s Belgium or the Netherlands ended up in the French sample, and British and US dictionaries in the English sample, and – at least theoretically – dictionaries from all over central Europe in the German sample. It turned out that the last just was not the case, and that the others did not present much of a problem, with the only exception of two French-language Dutch dictionaries which took a very firm Dutch nationalist stance. In each of these graphs, therefore, the general trend is one that is points to that sharing a language obviously also meant to share certain points of view in 18th and 19th century biographical dictionary making.

German Dictionaries

My protagonists in German-language dictionaries from my sample

Let’s start with the German dictionaries, as they are chronologically the earliest. What’s interesting here is that there are three clearly separated periods visible in the diagram, each with its own peculiar characteristics. First there is a strong start in the early 18th century, and during this time all my protagonists do get quite an equal share of attention. This changes when, after a slump in the 1760s and 1770s, in the closing decades of the 18th and the opening decades of the 19th century Johannes Braun gets out of focus, and Adriaan Reland and Eusèbe Renaudot attract more attention than Thomas Gale. And finally, there is a rise towards the end of the 19th century, this time centering exclusively on Adriaan Reland, and re-introducing Eusèbe Renaudot who like Johannes Braun had disappeared from this sample since the 1810s (only that Braun did not make it back).

All three periods are most likely attributable to disciplinary rather than nationalist patterns. The first ties in with the German preeminence in the discipline called historia litteraria in the early 18th century, that is, learned biography and history of arts and sciences, as we would call it today. As the main criterion for inclusion into this was learning, not origin, all my protagonists stood a fair chance. The second seems connected to the rise of philology and Oriental studies in German universities, which focused attention on those two of my protagonists who had conducted most of their work in this direction, Reland and Renaudot; and the third is directly attributable (but this is a story for a post of its own) to the rise of Religionswissenschaft, religious studies, and the accompanying dictionaries, from the middle of the 19th century, which lead to an interest in Reland because of his Islamic studies, and to a renewed interest in Renaudot as an editor of sources from the Eastern churches. That German nationalism does not play much of a role in this part of the sample seems caused by the simple fact that none of my protagonists seemed to qualify as German to 19th century observers. In those dictionaries which had a clear focus on the German-ness of those portrayed, none of my protagonists is listed. Which is interesting as Johannes Braun was of German birth, but as he emigrated with his mother at the age of seven in 1635 and permanently settled in the Netherlands, this seems to have disqualified him from being taken into account in biographical works of this kind.

English Dictionaries

My protagonists in English-language dictionaries from my sample

English-language dictionaries are the next to rise, so they come in second. The pattern is visibly distinct from that of the German case, as it shows a steady and steep rise in the first half of the 19th century after a slow take-off in the late 18th century, with only a slight decline in the second half of the 19th century. This is connected to a characteristic of the British dictionary production which becomes pronounced in the 19th century, and that is a predilection for popular works on the one hand – or perhaps I should better say, works accessible to and catering to a broad audience – and a similar predilection for one-volume handbooks even if they frequently ran to 1000+ pages (it seems to have been important that you only needed to buy one volume). Of course there were larger series, too, titles with 10, 20, or 30 volumes, but alongside these there were plenty of their one-volume companions. That they catered to a broader audience meant that they were less oriented to specialists and more to the average educated and at least middle-class Englishman who would and could be interested in buying such a book. This in turn made them put a heavier accent on British nationals, since the average educated middle-class Englishman was supposed to be more interested in those then in reading about foreigners, however famous they might be. This explains the preponderance of Thomas Gale in this sample; and the focus on persons somehow connect with Britain explains why Johannes Braun is almost absent. He had no direct connections to anything British, whereas Adriaan Reland had been in contact with a range of British scholars and had been a member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and accordingly his works had been picked up by other British scholars in time. And Eusèbe Renaudot was, although this was a bit more indirect (which might serve to explain the lower figures for him), as a member of two French Royal Academies and thus part of the scholarly elite of the n°1 rival to Britain during most of the 19th century of interest to a British public, too. That Johannes Braun did make his way in, though, was due to the sheer size of the English-language market (which included the US after all), where there were niches for many bio-bibliographical dictionaries, including some more comprehensive in scope or more specialist in approach, which would feature him.

French dictionaries

My protagonists in French-language dictionaries from my sample

Now it’s time for the French dictionaries. The pattern is interestingly similar to the English case, but different enough to tell its own story. After a moderate peak in the late 18th century – the last days of the Ancien Regime – the great rise comes a bit later than for the English-language works and reaches its peak in the 1840s and 1850s before declining more visibly towards the end of the century. As in the English case this seems mainly to be due to the preeminence of a certain form of biographical dictionary on the French market, and that was the completely comprehensive all-encompassing multi-volume series. The prime exponent of these was the Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne of the brothers Michaud, who produced 56 volumes plus another 29 supplementary volumes of this dictionary between 1811 and 1858 in Paris; but there were other rivalling and not much smaller series, too. To me this seems to have been due to the greater marketabiilty in a pan-European context of a French-language against an English-language dictionary. The British and the Americans spoke English, but all of Continental Europe knew French as a second language. This made it lucrative not only to produce handbooks for domestic use but those larger series which would only net interesting returns if enough items sold; but if enough demand was there, they would net these profits over decades. One the one hand the universal scope and the enourmous breadth of these universal biographies made it likely that almost everyone who had ever distinguished himself had a chance of ending up there; but on the other hand the French language and the production in France made a national bias quite likely, and that frequently came to pass.

And this now is what explains the surprising high frequency of Johannes Braun, who largely was absent from the previous two samples. Although Braun had had almost no ties to his native Germany and even less to the British isles, he had lived in French-speaking Lorraine for a while before moving to the Netherlands and had for several years served as the preacher of the French Calvinist church of Nijmegen. He also had published some writings in French. All of this made him appear frequently in French dictionaries, although the question of his nationality was almost always discussed in the respective entries – was he German or Dutch?

That Eusèbe Renaudot figures prominently in the French dictionaries does not come as a surprise; it is rather surprising that he does not figure even more prominently, and that Adriaan Reland outstrips him towards the end of the century. I am not yet sure about the reason for the first, but the seconds seems to be connected to French Orientalism and the colonial conquests of Northern Africa which made anyone writing about Islam and Arabic interesting for political reasons; and although Renaudot had been knowledgeable on both these subjects, he had not written about them and rather edited Coptic liturgies, which were not so much in fashion in 19th century France (what of course cannot be blamed on him in any way).

Dutch Dictionaries

My protagonists in Dutch-language dictionaries from my sample

Last but not least: the Dutch case! Well, to be honest, the number of Dutch language dictionaries is fairly low in the sample compared to English and French; I found only 13 relevant titles (and one of them does not mention any of my protagonists). But these titles are interesting nevertheless as they exemplify every type of dictionary the other cases feature – from one-volume handbooks to large series to general encyclopaedias, from specialist to popular works – and as they, being produced solely for a domestic market, from the beginning had a very strong Dutch focus. This becomes instantly visible from the diagram where Gale and Renaudot are virtually absent and Braun and Reland are the only ones really in circulation. The Dutch had no problem in assimilating Braun. And even the rise in Braun and Reland being discussed in the middle of the 19th century is directly connected with this kind of nationally framed discourse: this period saw the rise of the national biographies of the Netherlands on the one hand and the extended treatment of the religious landscape of Dutch Calvinism as a (at least officially) national creed on the other hand. And in both respects Braun and Reland came to attention.

Conclusions

The conclusion that seems evident to me is two-pronged. First it obviously did matter if a scholar could be fitted into a nationally framed context of reference for him to be included into the dictionaries of a language family, which seem to have been aligned closer and earlier with national leanings than one might be tempted to assume (at least I can say that for me). But second this alone was not enough: To be circulated within such national framings did not suffice to be kept in general circulation, which becomes visible in the case of Johannes Braun who dropt out being referred to in the second half of the 19th century altough he had been kept (somewhat) current by such patterns before. What was necessary to stay around in a broader way was to allow for many different connections and identifications, and that is exemplified by the jack-of-all-trades Adriaan Reland, who had had personal connections to people everywhere and disciplinary and thematical connections to a large scope of subjects and topics and thus could be referred to in many different ways, much more than any of my other protagonists.


[1] Christian Gottlieb Jöcher: Compendiöses Gelehrten-Lexicon, Leipzig: Gleditsch 1715.

[2] Groome, Francis Hindes; Patrick, David (eds.): Chambers’s biographical dictionary; the great of all times and nations, Philadelphia (Mass.): Lipincott 1898.

[3] The full list will be available here soon.

A disputed legacy? The shadow of Renaudot vs. Baile

Voltaire: Le siècle de Louis XIV., tome premier (1785, p. 136).

Friday n° 28, April 19th, 2019

 “Voltaire blaims him for having prevented Bayle’s dictionary from being printed in France. This is very natural in Voltaire and Voltaire’s followers; but it is a more serious objection to Renaudot, that, while his love of learning made him glad to correspond with learned Protestants, his cowardly bigotry prevented him from avowing the connection.”[1]

Chalmers’s general biographical Dictionary, vol. 26, 1816

Bad press, good press

As it is Good Friday, I wanted to get this week’s post out early as an advance Easter surprise. Fittingly, this piece will cover an issue with a confessional nature. And as I until now managed to avoid big names in my study of forgetting quite well, I thought I’d deal with a rather well-known episode this time, because it was connected – at least by Alexander Chalmers’s (1759–1834) dictionary, as you just have read – to a quite big name also. In fact, to two of them: Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) and François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire (1694-1778). Until now, both have only appeared in the margins of my project – Bayle because he died before three of my protagonists, and Voltaire because there were no direct connections between him and my four scholars, although he was something of a contemporary to all of them. He was eight years old when Thomas Gale died, and 26 at the death of Eusèbe Renaudot.

And it is precisely Renaudot who is in the center of today’s issue, as the polemic between him and Pierre Bayle concerning the Dictionnaire historique et critique might have had an impact on his posthumous reputation. At least in Chalmer’s dictionary it left a mark in the entry concerning him. The question now is: What does that mean in the context of forgetting? Isn’t bad press always good press? Should the connection to a work as prominent as Bayle’s Dictionnaire not be sufficient to hold a name in circulation, let alone if supplicated by Voltaire? Well, let’s have a bit of a look at that.

What happened …

In 1697, Eusèbe Renaudot submitted a memoire concerning Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire on behalf of the court, because some Paris printers had applied for a royal printing privilege for a second edition of the book. Renaudot was called upon to examine whether there was anything suspicious in it; and he found enough things not to his liking that he advised against such an edition. Pierre Bayle, who already had been provided with a copy of the draft memoire by Pierre Jurieu, replied to Renaudot’s points, while Jurieu got the memoire printed.[2] In the meantime, Renaudot’s advise had been followed, and there had been no second French edition of the Dictionnaire historique et critique.

… and what was reported …

The entry on Renaudot in Chalmer’s The general biographical Dictionary I started from is closely modelled on French sources, however, most notably the entries on Renaudot in Jean-Pierre Niceron’s (1658–1738) Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres[3] and in the later edition of Le grand dictionnaire historique originally edited by Louis Moreri (1643–1680),[4] as he duly acknowledged. Now Le grand dictionnaire historique – ‘the Moreri’, how it was commonly called – itself had Chalmers relied on a third source also, but I’m going into this only a bit later. First, let’s check the dictionaries he made use of.

Niceron’s 43 volume series on illustrious scholars featured a rather large entry on Renaudot, which also covered the issue of the memoire. Niceron stressed that Renaudot had drawn it up at the explicit request of the minister, had found things against religion in it, and had advised against a reprint. The memoire had fallen into the hands of Jurieu, Bayle had been furious, but after a fierce polemic both contrahents – as was quite usual in the late 17th century Republic of Letters – were reconciled again, and Bayle did not comment on the whole thing in the second edition of the Dictionnaire printed outside of France.[5] So far, the story closely matches Chalmers’s depiction of the events, only that he skipped the happy ending. Moreri’s dictionary, which had been especially designed to champion Catholicism, skipped the whole episode however; the entry on Renaudot makes no mention of it.

… and how it evolved …

This already predicted a pattern to be followed throughout the paper trail Renaudot left in the dictionaries. Some of these dictionaries would mention it, others would not; and most of them – as was quite customary at the time – would not indicate their sources. Even Chalmers did not fully disclose his sources for his entry, for it is more than likely that he copied at least the Voltaire part from the predecessor dictionary to his work, the New and general biographical dictionary : containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons in every nation, particularly the British and Irish, from the earliest accounts of time to the present period, which appeared in London in eleven volumes from 1761 to 1762. The anonymous author of the Renaudot entry could, this time, draw upon a source which had not been yet available as Niceron and Moreri’s editors had compiled their entries: Voltaire’s Le siècle de Louis XIV., which had first been printed in 1751, and which the New and general biographical dictionary now cited: “Mr. Voltaire says that ‘he may be reproached with having prevented Bayle’s dictionary from being printed in France.’ [Siecle [sic] de Louis XIV. tom. II.] »[6] Much more than that Voltaire really had not said about the whole affair (see snippet above).[7]

This might explain while other dictionary entries up to 1800 did not say much more about it, if they said anything about the episode at all. Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts (1744–1810) kept silent about in his Siècles littéraires de la France,[8] although it would likely have been the best place to put it. In John Watkins’ An universal biographical and historical dictionary, nothing about it was said in the Renaudot entry,[9] but only in the entry on Bayle Watkins wrote:

“The same year he formed the plan of his celebrated dictionary, the first volume of which appeared in 1695, and was uncommonly well received, though some parts of it were attacked by M. Jurieu, and the abbé Renaudot. […] He [Baile] was undoubtedly a man of brilliant parts, and of an acute intellect; but his religious principles appear to have leaned towards infidelity.”[10]

John Watkins: An universal biographical and historical dictionary, London 1800

… and why it was told that way

Precisely this – that Bayle was in orthodox circles, Catholic as well as Protestant, still suspected of the most dreadful crime imaginable, atheism – might have been the case not to refer on Renaudot stopping a reprint of the Dictionnaire historique et critique which would have proliferated Bayle’s ungodly sentiments, or if, to refer to it in a rather neutral way. As Voltaire sometimes was suspected to be guilty of the same sin as Bayle, it might have seemed prudent not to refer to him as an authority in the matter also.

But shortly after 1800 this changed, at least for a while, and now one could read other entries in other dictionaries, as that on Renaudot of Thomas Morgan (n.d.) in the General biography, the 8th volume of which was printed in 1813, three years before Chalmer’s 26th volume went off the press in 1816, and which said: “It’s a circumstance which reflects no honour on his memory, that the unfavourable representations which he gave to the ministry, of Bayle’s “Dictionary”, were the means of preventing that work from being printed in France.”[11]

A shadow thrown on memory…

By now, suppressing Bayle had obviously become a stain on Renaudot’s memory. Morgan only did not elaborate upon how he came to that conclusion. But Chalmers did, and now it pays to have a look at the third of his sources, and that is Leonard Twell’s (+1742) The Live of the rev. and most learned Dr. Edward Pocock of the same year 1816 as the entry on Renaudot. To have a look at it means to read a – I am sorry to admit – really very long quote from this biography of the Oxford orientalist Edward Pococke (1604-1691), where Twell gave an account of the correspondence between Renaudot and Pococke in the preparation of Renaudot’s Liturgiarum Orientalium Collectio[12]:

“In this epistle the writer professes a very high esteem for our author, desires the liberty of consulting him in all the doubts, that should occur in preparing the works above-mentioned, and promises, in return for this favour, to make a public acknowledgement of it, and to preserve a perpetual memory of the obligation. It is highly probable, that death prevented Dr. Pocock from giving any assistance to Renaudot in these designs; but I am sorry to say, that the treatment that learned person has given to the memory of our author has not been consistent with the expressions of respect for him, with which this letter abounds. For when he came to publish his Collection of Eastern Liturgies, forgetting his own professions, and the duty of a gentleman, a scholar, and, above all, of a Christian, he goes out of his way, in the end of his preface, to reproach him with a mistake, which, perhaps, was the only one which could be fastened upon his writings, though Renaudot, as above-mentioned, had, without good grounds, charged him with another; but the Abbot’s zeal against the Protestants got the better of his candour, and though he could treat the learned amongst them with civility in a private way, it was not, as it should seem, adviseable to observe such measures with them in the eye of the world.”[13]

Leonard Twell: The Live of the rev. and most learned Dr. Edward Pocock, 1816, pp. 339-340.

…or not?

The problem with Renaudot now became that he seemed to have been a model fanatic Catholic, dismissing protestant authors out of sheer bigotry regardless of their results, and that this was now used by Chalmers to explain why Renaudot had voted against Bayle: not for any scholarly reason but for blind (and most probably misguided) faith only. Fittingly, Chalmers had been the editor of Twell’s Life of Pocock. But the religious issue obviously only became pressing when it was used to throw a shadow on the memory of an English scholar – Pococke – and only then turned into something that could be used against Renaudot’s memory in return. At least theoretically. For obviously at least in the world of dictionaries this episode – although it was connected to famous persons, writings, and contained a juicy religious element – only spread in English-language ones, and only for a while, until the middle of the 19th century as I have been able to establish so far. In French-language dictionaries on the other hand, if the affair was reported, it was reported closely matching Niceron, and thus neutralized. But most of the time it was just left out altogether. So in this case bad press was not good press in the end, but no press after all; it failed to significantly boost Renaudot’s frequency of reference in any way. This might have been due to the complex entanglement of religion, language, and national sentiments at play here; but this is something I have to have a closer look at still.

Happy Easter!


[1] Anon: Renaudot (Eusebius), in: Alexander Chalmers (ed.): The general biographical Dictionary containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons, particularly the English and Irish, from the earliest accounts to the present time (32 vols.), vol. 26, London: J. Nichols 1812-1816, pp. 140-141.

[2] [Pierre Jurieu (ed.)], [Eusèbe Renaudot]: Jugement du public et particulierement de M. l’abbé Renaudot, sur le Dictionnaire critique du sr Bayle, Rotterdam : Acher 1697.  

[3] Anon: Eusebe Renaudot, in : Niceron, Jean-Pierre (ed.): Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres (43 vols.), vol. 12, Paris : 1733, pp. 25-41, and vol. 20, Paris: Briasson 1733, pp. 35.

[4] Anon: Renaudot (Eusebe), in: Moreri, Louis (Founder): Le grand dictionnaire historique ou Le mélange curieux de l’histoire sacrée et profane. Nouvelle et derniere édition revûe, corrigée et augmentée (6 vols.), vol. 5, Paris : Vincent 1732, pp. 481–482.

[5] Anon: Eusebe Renaudot, in : Niceron, Jean-Pierre (ed.): Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres (43 vols.), vol. 12, Paris : 1733, pp. 25-41 ; here p. 39-41.

[6] Anon: Renaudot (Eusebius), in: A New and general biographical dictionary: containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons in every nation, particularly the British and Irish, from the earliest accounts of time to the present period : wherein their remarkable actions or sufferings, their virtues, parts, and learning are accurately displayed : with a catalogue of their literary productions (11 vols.), London: Owen/Johnston 1761-1762, vol. 10, pp. 136-137; here p. 137.

[7] Jean-Jacques Tourneisen (ed.), Voltaire: Le siècle de Louis XIV. Tome premier (=Oeuvres completes de Voltaire. Tome vingtieme), Basel : Tourneisen 1785, p. 136.

[8] Anon: Renaudot, Eusebe, in: Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts (ed.): Les Siècles littéraires de la France, ou nouveau dictionnaire, historique, critique, et bibliographique, de tous les Ecrivains français, morts et vivans, jusqu’à a la fin du XVIIIe. Siècle (6 vols.), Paris: Des Essarts 1800-1803, vol. 5, pp. 372-374.  

[9] John Watkins: Renaudot (Eusebius), in: —: An universal biographical and historical dictionary. Containing a faithful account of the lives, actions, and characters, of the most eminent persons of all ages and all countries; also the revolutions of states, and the successions of sovereign princes, ancient and modern. Collected from the best Authorities, By John Watkins, A.M. L.L.D., London: Philipps 1800, p. [760].

[10] John Watkins: Bayle (Peter), in: Ibid., p. [136].

[11] Thomas Morgan: Renaudot, Eusebius, in: John Aikin, Thomas Morgan, William Johnston: General biography; or lives, critical and historical, of the most eminent persons of all ages, countries, conditions, and professions, arranged according to alphabetical order (10 vols.), London: Robinson 1799-1815, vol. 8, pp. 506-507; here p. 507.

[12] Eusèbe Renaudot (ed.): Liturgiarum Orientalium Collectio : Adjunctae sunt Rubricae rituales ex variis codicibus Mss. collectae, & suis locis appositae (2 vols.), Paris: Coignard 1716.

[13] Leonard Twells: . The Live of the rev. and most learned Dr. Edward Pocock, in: Alexander Chalmers (ed.): The Lives of Dr. Edward Pocock, the celebrated orientalist, by Dr. Twells; of Dr. Zachary Pearce, bishop of Rochester, and of Dr. Thomas Newton, biship of Bristol, by themselves; and of the Rev. Philip Skelton, by Mr. Burdy, vol. 1, London: Rivington / Gilbert, 2 vols., 1816, pp. 1-356; here pp. 340-341.

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

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

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

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

Dictionaries & data

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

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

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

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

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

Dictionaries & developments

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

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

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

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

Braun says goodbye…

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Knowledge and Country II

Richard A. Davenport: A dictionary of biography : comprising the most eminent characters of all ages, nations, and professions, London: Tegg 1831, title page.

Sunday, March 31st, 2019, for Friday n° 25

Two weeks ago I announced here that I would devote a bit more attention to the interplay between the national provenance of biographical dictionaries and their content matter in the 19th century. I do have to start this post with an excuse because I could do only half this task. I only did the early 19th century for starters (52 years to be exact, 1800-1851), and this already got me behind schedule again.

But at least some things have become visible in paying closer attention to biographical dictionaries from this half-century. The first, and hardly surprising, observation to be made is that the content matter, the biographical information as presented within these works, is fairly stable. At least concerning my protagonists these entries are not the fruit of original research but are copied, sometimes verbatim, from 18th century dictionaries and encyclopaedias. Given that these works were aimed at a wider public, this was a completely rational and economic way to proceed. In most cases this means that the size of a particular dictionary was not so much determined by the length of the individual entries but by their number. Only in very condensed works, those which only featured one or two volumes, a biography would be heavily pruned. Much more often it was the selection of biographies, and not the selection of passages within biographies, which made the difference between a four- and a twenty-volume dictionary. That in turn means that any conscious framing of the complete edition would again rest on the selection of the biographies to be included rather than on rewriting the biographical materials themselves.

There are exceptions from this general rule, of course. In Alexander Chalmers’ “The general biographical Dictionary containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons, particularly the English and Irish”, published in London between 1812 and 1817, Chalmers not only selected a larger share of English and Irish biographies as common in general biographical dictionaries to keep his promise from the title but also added to them in length. At least this might be concluded from the sample of my protagonists he featured: While the dictionary included Thomas Gale, Adriaan Reland, and Eusèbe Renaudot, it devoted four pages to Gale and two pages each to Reland and Renaudot.[1] On average their respective entries do all have roughly the same length within the same dictionary. But Chalmer’s work ran to 32 volumes in the end, so there was no need to be economic in terms of print space.  

The next thing that struck me was that so many of these dictionaries were of British origin. Of the 21 dictionaries surveyed for this post, 12 were written in English, compared to four in French, three in Dutch, one in German and one in Latin. This might well just be a bias in the sample that was caused by me following the references in those dictionaries and publications I had already collected for the last post, but it may also just point to the fact that in the early 19th century Great Britain presumably would have had more people willing and able to buy such a book, or series of books, than continental Europe which first had to cope with the impact of the Napoleonic Wars and then with its lagging behind in industrializing. But although the selections of biographies presented by dictionaries of the sample so far looked at here do not seem to have been much impacted by this provenance. At least Thomas Gale does not pop up with a frequency which seems over-exaggerated in proportion to half the dictionaries being English ones.

My protagonists as referred to in biographical dictionaries and encyclopaedic works, 1800-1851

So what does this tell me? First of all that there seem to have been long-time cycles on the book market, and what is captured by this graphic would be the cycle between roughly 1790 and 1840, with a peak in the 1830ies. The second half of the century would bring the national biographical dictionaries undertaken as state projects, and show a somewhat similar pattern reaching its apogee around the 1880ies. In the 18th century there are quite similar patterns, at least judging from my current state of research.

And, second, that national framings became more closely entangled with the framings – and selections thus prompted – of the content matter these dictionaries presented to their readers. The year I started with, 1800 (yes, that is the last year of the 18th century in proper reckoning), quite symbolically contributed two titles to the list: Francis Godolphin Waldron’s “The biographical mirrour, comprising a series of ancient and modern English portraits” on the British and Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts’s “Les Siècles littéraires de la France, ou nouveau dictionnaire, historique, critique, et bibliographique, de tous les Ecrivains français, morts et vivans, jusqu’à a la fin du XVIIIe. siècle” on the French side of the channel, both clearly framed to accommodate a ‘national’ selection of biographies. Fittingly, Waldron of my protagonists featured only Thomas Gale,[2] while Des Essarts in turn showcased only Eusèbe Renaudot.[3] This tendency in turn directly influenced the chances of certain types of scholars to be referred to, and thus being structurally remembered, through works of this kind.

A case in point is Johannes Braun, who only belatedly begins to make an appearance in these dictionaries at all, compared to the other three. This might well be at last partly due to problems in filing him adequately within a national reference system: Born in Kaiserslautern in 1628, he fled from the city with his mother in 1635 during the Thirty Years War, became preacher of the French Reformed Church in Nijmegen for quite a while, and finally got the post of professor of Theology and Hebrew at Groningen University in 1680; he wrote in French and Latin. Was he now to be considered German, French, or Dutch? A bit of everything, or nothing at all? In Mathieu Delvenne’s 1829 “Biographie du royaume des Pays-Bas, ancienne et moderne”, Braun was not included (while Reland was[4]).

This was due to the fact that Delvenne, although he nowhere stated it explicitly, only acknowledged persons in his dictionary who had been born on soil which now was part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And this in turn was due to his explicit intention, as stated in his preface, to instill a love for this their fatherland into Belgians, particularly young students, by presenting them examples from their glorious past.[5] Delvenne’s attempt at nation-building obviously came a bit too late, as in 1830 the Kingdom of the Netherlands broke apart into nowadays Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg, but it captures quite well the overall spirit of these collections. Even those which called themselves “General” or “Universal” still privileged a certain nationally framed point of view, with the sometimes implicit, but more often quite explicit, aim to create patriotic sentiments and promote national honour and glory.


[1] See Chalmers, Alexander: The general biographical Dictionary containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons, particularly the English and Irish, from the earliest accounts to the present time, vol. 15, London: J. Nichols 1814, pp. 221-224 (Thomas Gale); vol. 26, London: J. Nichols 1816, pp. 131-133 (Adriaan Reland) and pp. 140-141 (Eusèbe Renaudot).   

[2] Francis Godolphin Waldron: The biographical mirrour, comprising a series of ancient and modern English portraits, of eminent and distinguished persons, from original pictures and drawings, Vol. 3, London: Harding 1800, pp. 18-20.

[3] Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts: Les Siècles littéraires de la France, ou nouveau dictionnaire, historique, critique, et bibliographique, de tous les Ecrivains français, morts et vivans, jusqu’à a la fin du XVIIIe. siècle, Paris: Des Essarts 1801, Vol. 5, pp. 372-374.

[4] Mathieu Delvenne: Biographie du royaume des Pays-Bas, ancienne et moderne, ou Histoire abrégée, par ordre alphabétique, de la vie publique et privée des Belges et des Hollandais qui se sont fait remarquer par leurs écrits, leurs actions, leurs talens, leurs vertus, ou leurs crimes, extraite d’un grand nombe d’auteurs anciens et modernes, et augmentée de beaucoup d’articles qui ne se trouvent rapportés dans aucune biographie, Vol. 2, Liege: Desoer 1829, pp. 290-291.

[5] Delvenne, Biographie du royaume des Pays-Bas, Vol. 1, Liege: Desoer 1829, p. [ii] : “Il [le rédacteur, i.e. Delvennes] se trouvera assez récompensé dans ses longs efforts, si son livre contribue à inspirer aux Belges, et surtout à la jeunesse studieuse qui peuple nos écoles, l’amour d’un pays qui a tant de droits à notre reconnaissance. Il a cru qu’il ne pouvait mieux employer ses loisirs qu’à la composition d’un ouvrage vraiment national.”

For Knowledge and Country

Title plate of Jean-Pierre Niceron’s “Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres” (1729-1742)

Saturday, March 16th, 2019, for Friday no. 23

Late again

This time the delay in posting this text is only partially my fault. I can blame some of it on the Biographisch portaal van Nederland, from which I wanted to draw some information but which just was not available for the last days. So I decided to do without these data for a first go, which I think will also do. I do have got enough material to present some first conclusions.

When knowledge went national

Or, as the headline for this paragraph should perhaps better have been, when did knowledge go national? Because it seems to have been fragmented and compartmentalized into ‘national’ units which, to be frank, only make sense on a technical, not on a content level. Framing knowledge in national terms may serve to portion a bit of it to make it manageable, to get it between the covers of a book – or several books of a series, as was much more frequently the case – more easily. But when did such a framing start to impact how knowledge was ordered? As this is of course a question too huge to be answered in a few paragraphs, I’ll focus on a special branch of knowledge and of knowledge stores today, and that is what in the 18th century was called Historia Litteraria. This was the study of the history of knowledge, most often with an arts and humanities focus, but not restricted to it. It was laid down in dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and it was usually biographical in nature, because heavily person-centred. Over time, this genre thinned out and became more and more specialized, while many of its more general contents were merged into the national biographical dictionaries which became popular in the 19th century. During these processes, somewhen between the 18th and the 19th century national categories became the dominant frames for laying out knowledge stores in this field, for both the specialized and the generalized forms of it. And this, at least this is my hypothesis for these materials, impacted if and how dead scholars where referenced, and so the references to my protagonists also.

How it began

But to return to the question from the preceeding paragraph: When did this happen? The obvious answer ‘it is complicated’ seems not to be very helpful here, so it may be best to first of all look at examples which may show when it did not have happened yet to be able to posit a terminus post quem. For those of these works written in German, the first half of the 18th century still was free from being dominated by the national gaze. The omnivorous Universal-Lexicon initally edited by Johann Heinrich Zedler (1706-1763) referred to all my four protagonists between the years 1733 and 1742,[1] and the more specialist dictionary of scholars by Christian Gottlieb Jöcher (1694-1758), the Allgemeines Gelehrten-Lexicon, did likewise in 1750/51.[2] Both applied national classifications, but neither consistently nor very prominent; the focus was on the scholarly achievements of those portrayed as learned rather than on their share of the learning their nation was supposed to have achieved.

This is interesting in so far as it was no longer completely usual. The large series of Jean-Pierre Niceron (1685-1738), the Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres, contemporary with the Universal-Lexicon and a bit earlier than Jöcher, mentioned only Reland and Renaudot, skipping Gale and Braun.[3] A cautionary approach is warranted here: One of the criteria for being included in such a dictionary of course always was scholarly excellence and/or fame, and they might have just been dropped for being of too little interest. For Niceron did reference non-French scholars, as for instance Reland. But – in keeping with the special attention Niceron programmatically devoted to illustrious scholars of the French nation – it may also be seen as telling that, in contrast to the Universal-Lexicon and Jöcher were both were quite on a par, in Niceron’s volumes Renaudot’s entries total 18 pages while Reland’s total 10. Such weightings and omissions – or selections – one might also meet with elsewhere, and according to different criteria. In David van Hoogstraten’s (1658-1724) and Matthaeus Brouërius van Nidek’s (1677-1743) Groot algemeen historisch, geographisch, genealogisch en oordeelkundig woordenboek Braun and Reland received about the same share of attention, half a page each, whereas Gale was mentioned only in seven lines, and Renaudot was dropped altogether.[4] In this case, the selection might have been facilitated by the fact that the only Catholic was left out, and the Anglican Gale received less attention than the Calvinists Braun and Reland. Be that as it may, the main editor of the Groot algemeen […] woordenboek, Brouërius van Nidek – Hoogstraten had died in 1724 already, and the first volume went to print in 1725 – had edited another encyclopaedic work with a very clear national focus before, the Tooneel der Vereenigde Nederlanden (Theatre of the United Netherlands), the author of which, François Halma (1653-1722), also had died before seeing his work in print. And to make the full round, when Thomas Gale was referred to in an encyclopaedic work for the next time (since the Groot algemeen […] woordenboek), it was in volume three of Andrew Kippis’ (1725-1795) Biographia Britannica: Or The Lives Of The Most eminent Persons Who have flourished in Great Britain And Ireland, so that it was out of the question to refer to any other of my protagonists within this work.[5]

How it went on

References to my protagonists in encyclopaedias and dictionaries, 18th to 21st centuries

So although these were just a few spotlights on the situation in the first half of the 18th century, it seems that a national paradigm in constructing the history of learning was one way to do it but not the predominant. The question then must be, when did this change, and to which effect?

In respect to my protagonists, I am currently drawing up a list of such encyclopaedic references to them, and although it is not complete yet, the overall statistics you see to the left provide an indication when and how knowledge – at least of these people – became nationally framed.

Afirst phase of interest in my protagonists which lasted until the 1750s – which was, as also indicated by other materials, the phase after which when they entered a state of being structurally forgotten.  Then the references become sparse, until a renewed phase of interest begins which covers the 1830s to 1880s, and which is different for each of them. And this is, I would like to argue, due to the national framework having now become the predominant pattern of reference to scholars. Thomas Gale marks the first one to be referenced again in this way, in publications such as George Godfrey Cunningham’s (no dates, sorry) Lives of eminent and illustrious Englishmen (Glasgow, 1834-1842) and John Francis Waller’s The imperial dictionary of universal biography (London, 1857-1863) – although the last, to be fair, at least advertised itself as “a series of original memoirs of distinguished men, of all ages and all nations”. Yet the British focus was clear. Next come Johannes Braun and Adriaan Reland, in works like, Hendrick Collot d’Ésuery van Heinenoord’s (1773-1845) Holland’s Roem in Kunsten en Wetenschappen (Holland’s Glory in Arts and Sciences, Den Haag/Amsterdam 1825-1844) and Herman Verwoert’s (1801-1865) Handwoordenboek der vaderlandsche geschiedenis  (Nijmegen 1851), and of course the huge dictionary of national biography, the Biographisch woordenboek der Nederlanden (Amsterdam 1858-1874). References to Reland are still being made in the 1880s, which is due to him also being referenced in the German dictionary of national biography, the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (Berlin, 1875-1912), as I already pointed out in an earlier blogpost.

And, last but not least, Eusèbe Renaudot is being re-referenced from the 1860s onwards, but – and that makes his case perhaps the most interesting in here, but this is a topic I cannot say very much about right now (scheduled for in two weeks!) – he is referred to mostly in works without a direct French national connotation, such as Louis-Gabriel Michaud’s (1773-1858) Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne which appeared, in different editions, through almost all of the 19th century. What does this say about the connections made between scholarship and nation in 19th century France (if it does say anything about it)?


[1] Anon.: Braun (Joann.), in: Johann Heinrich Zedlers Grosses Vollständiges Universal-Lexicon, Vol. 4, Halle & Leipzig 1733, col. 1130-1131; Anon: Gale (Thomas), in: Grosses Vollständiges Universal-Lexicon, Vol. 10, Halle & Leipzig 1735, col. 98; Anon.: Reland (Hadrian), in: Grosses Vollständiges Universal-Lexicon, Vol. 31, Halle & Leipzig 1742, col. 420-422; Renaudot (Eusebius), ein Gottesgelehrter, in: Ibid., col. 581-584.

[2] Braun (Johannes), in: Christian Gottlieb Jöcher (ed.): Allgemeines Gelehrten-Lexicon, Vol. 1, Leipzig 1750, col. 1344-1345; Gale (Thomas) in:  Christian Gottlieb Jöcher (ed.): Allgemeines Gelehrten-Lexicon, Vol. 2, Leipzig 1750, col. 830-831; Reland (Adrian), in: Christian Gottlieb Jöcher (ed.): Allgemeines Gelehrten-Lexicon, Vol. 3, Leipzig 1751, col.2002-2004; Renaudot (Eusebius), in: Ibid., col. 2012-2013.

[3] Niceron, Jean-Pierre: Reland, Adrien, in: —: Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres, Vol. 1, Paris 1729, pp. 335-342, and vol. 10, Paris 1730, pp. 62-63 ; Niceron, Jean-Pierre: Renaudot, Eusèbe, in : —: Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres, vol. 11, Paris 1732, pp. 25-41, and vol. 20, Paris 1732, pp. 35.

[4] Anon: Braun (Johannes), in: David van Hoogstraten/ Mathaeus Brouërius van Nidek (eds.): Groot algemeen historisch, geographisch, genealogisch en oordeelkundig woordenboek, Vol. 2, Den Haag/Asterdam/Utrecht 1725, pp. 378-379 ; Anon : Gale (Thomas), in : David van Hoogstraten/ Mathaeus Brouërius van Nidek (eds.): Groot algemeen historisch, geographisch, genealogisch en oordeelkundig woordenboek, Vol. 5, Den Haag/Asterdam/Utrecht 1729, p. 11 ; Anon : Reland (Adriaan), in : David van Hoogstraten/ Mathaeus Brouërius van Nidek (eds.): Groot algemeen historisch, geographisch, genealogisch en oordeelkundig woordenboek, Vol. 9, Den Haag/Asterdam/Utrecht 1732, p. 54.

[5] Kippis, Andrew: Biographia Britannica, Vol. 3, London 1750, p. 2075-2077.

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.

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.

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.

A not-so-regular update: 19th century Dutch-German memory crossings

Friday N°2 plus one (Saturday), October 13th, 2018

First lesson learned

Regularly scheduled updates may become difficult once family matters have to be reckoned with. As I was on the road with the kids yesterday as promised centuries ago, I subsequently deliver my update today. And promise to be punctual from now on. But now let’s move on to the interesting things.

What’s new?

As I am following my trails into the 19th century – treading on unfamiliar terrain here, so moving on cautiously – I have recently stumbled upon two interesting Dutch figures and an even more interesting memory crossings. But let me start from the beginning: Last Wednesday I proposed that references are the building blocks for structural remembrance –  or forgetting. But references do not just pop up and float around; they are made by specific people with a specific purpose each time. Which means that, to put it shortly, structural forgetting comes into being through mass omission: by references not being made, connections not being drawn, names not being dropped. And to be able to discern this, I have to make use of those – fewer – references that are still being made, and to use them like little spotlights in the dark: To draw clues about where to look next.

Now I had discovered long ago already a curious case of referencing and non-referencing of two of my protagonists: Adrien Reland (1676-1718) and Johannes Braun (Braunius, 1628-1708). While Reland had an entry in the ADB, the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Braun had none. Not very interesting, where it not for the fact that there was no reason to include Reland into the ADB while Braun might well have been. For the aim of the General German Biography was to collect the biographies of the most important persons from the German-speaking areas of Europe from the early Middle Ages up until the 19th century when it was written. Now Braun was born in Kaiserslautern in 1628 and lived there until the burning of the city during the Thirty Years’ War, after which the rest of the family moved to the Netherlands. Being of German extraction, he would have made good ADB material. Reland in turn was born in 1676 in De Rijp, north of Leeuwarden in Western Frisia, and had no German family background. So, why include one but not the other? For such selections are the stuff structural forgetting is made of. One referenced, one not; one remembered, one not. Unfortunately that question cannot be answered directly, as the ADB archive is missing since decades and we frankly do not know how those who were portrayed were selected. We do know from a number of examples, however, that the editors could be quite generous in determining the ‘German-speaking area’ from which the biographies were to be drawn. What to do now? Well, when questions cannot be tackled directly, do it in a roundabout way.

Enter the first Dutch scholar

Jacob Cornelis van Slee

I already knew from other inquiries that there was one author who had portrayed some early  modern Dutch scholars for the ADB. Perhaps this would give something like a clue? And indeed it does, and this is where the first of the two 19th century Dutch scholars I announced above enters the stage. Jakob Cornelis van Slee (1841-1929), predikant in Deventer and part-time historian specialising in church history and history of knowledge with a local focus, wrote 205 entries. Most of them are about Dutchmen, and all situated within the history of church and theology – befitting a preacher, one might say. Now Slee accurately saw to it that he did not portray anyone born after 1648, the date of formal Dutch independence from the Holy Roman Empire. Which would provide good reason why he did not include Reland himself; that entry was written by Richard Hoche (1834-1906). But why did Slee not reference Braun, who was born before 1648, spent most of his life in the Netherlands, and was professor for theology at Groningen university? A question that becomes even more interesting as Braun was suspected of unorthodox views, accused of being a Spinozist, and Slee obviously had something of an interest for such people, having written a history of Socinianism in the Netherlands in 1914. And how came Slee’s connection to the ADB about? Well, as material about him is quite sparse, I am going to the sources next week and have a look at what’s left of his materials in the Stadsarchief and the Athenaeumbibliotheek Deventer. The hunt is on!

Exit Slee, enter a German scholar

Now to Richard Gottfried Hoche who wrote the ADB entry on Reland. Biographical information concerning him is even harder to come by, but he was director of a Hamburg gymnasium, then became head of the Hamburg education authority, and published some works about classical philology and Roman mathematics. He wrote 183 entries for the ADB, for the most part about philologists, teachers, and scholars from somewhere between the 16th to the 19th century. He most likely picked Reland because he also was a philologist, and Hoche had no problems in including Dutch philologists, no matter if born after 1648 (see for instance his entry on Jakob Perizonius (1651-1715), a close contact of Reland). Now Braunius was neither a teacher nor a philologist in the strict sense of the word, but he was a scholar with strong philological interests pertaining to biblical Hebrew. So Hoche could have included him in principle, but he did not. I did not yet find out if any materials from Hoche have survived, but this is on the list. And will not be forgotten.

Exit Hoche, enter the second Dutch scholar

Willem Boele Sophius Boeles

If Braun was not mentioned by both Slee and Hoche, perhaps this just to be taken as a sign that he was, already at the time, quite definitely forgotten? Perhaps this is the case. But at least one 19th century Dutch author did lose a few words about him, and that is the second Dutch scholar I promised. It is Willem Boele Sophius Boeles (1832-1902) who was president of the Leeuwarden Court of Law and part-time historian, specialising in church history and history of knowledge with a local focus (sounds familiar? Yes, he and Slee might make for a good comparison couple). He wrote zero articles for the ADB, but among his many publications there is a biographical compendium of the professors of Groningen university – where Boeles himself had studied law – from 1864 which, of course (this time), features Braun as the Groningen professor he was. Boeles later wrote about the history of Franeker university also, and about some individual scholars whose memory he wanted to keep alive. Slee had done the same for the Deventer Athenaeum, and for those individual scholars whose memory he wanted to be upheld. So Boeles will be worth a closer look too, to find out more about why 19th century Dutch scholars as these referred back to their predecessors in the way they did, and why and how Johannes Braun and Adrien Reland became tangled up in this. Work to do!