Tag Archives: France

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 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.

Recollection by pupils, done properly

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

Friday No. 18, February 1st, 2019

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

1704 – 1716: A triangular correspondence

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

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

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

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

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

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

A posthumous publication

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

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

Back to the beginning

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

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

Proliferation by pupils

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


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

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

[3] Ibid., p. 335.

[4] Cf. C. Siegfried: Scholtz, Christian, in: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie 32 (1891), pp. 228–229 [Online-Version], p. 228. URL: https://www.deutsche-biographie.de/pnd101488637.html#adbcontent

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

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

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

An institutional memory?

Saturday, January 18th, for Friday No. 16

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

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

Commemoration done

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

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

Commemmoration achieved?

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

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

Collateral commemoration

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is John Swinton?

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

Friday No. 9, Devember 7th, 2018

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

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

A pattern of nothing?

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

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

Hooray for Swinton!

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

Who’s first?

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

Swinton’s way back in

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

An old acquaintance

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

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

A pattern of re-use and recurrence

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

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

The smaller the fish that feed off you…

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do with a heap of old manuscripts?

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

Friday No. 7, November 16th, 2018

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

Bartering for books, first round

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

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

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

Bartering for books, second round

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

Bartering for books, final round

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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