Tag Archives: Encyclopaedias

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.

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.