Tag Archives: History of Knowledge

For Family, Knowledge, and Country

Philip Sydenham to Thomas Hearne, Brympton St Every, 23 May [1725?] (Bodleian Library, MS Rawls letters 15, f. 473-474)

Friday N° 24, March 22nd, 2019

I have been writing about the entanglements between lexicographical biographic memoralization and national ideas in my last post and had originally announced going further in this direction only in next week’s post. As I was in Oxford for archival research at the Bodleian library to consult correspondences I had not awaited to find anything in there fitting this thread of investigation of my sources. But sometimes one’s in for a bit of a surprise, and so I might try to connect some of my findings in these letters to the theme of national framings of knowledge.

Last week I already observed that British dictionaries and encyclopaedias where going for the national label early in the 19th century. This of course provokes the question whether this was a new development, coming out of the blue, or something which might be connected to longer-running developments. 

The introductory clipping from Philip Sydenham’s (c.1676-1739) letter to Thomas Hearne (1678-1735) points in the latter direction. In his letter, Sydenham complements Hearne to his edition of the itinerary of John Leland (c.1506-552);[1] the full passage runs:

“I hope y[ou]r publick Services for ye Honor & good of this Nation will receive publick approbation. this will be one m[anu]s[cript] to preserve & recover our old Noble Constitution many very valuable M[anu]s[cript]s deserv ye publick reading & encouragment & I hope y[ou] will proceed. ye more ancient ye more brave & Noble.”[2]

Sydenham thus entangled the antiquarian pursuits of Hearne’s, who was an avid editor of medieval manuscripts besides being librarian to the Bodleian library, with the national “Honor” in two ways, on the one hand by the scholarly value of his results and their potential of contributing to a better “publick” understanding of the nation’s past, and on the other hand by linking this more directly to the conditions for being a nation, to “our old Noble Constitution” to be retrieved this way. While this way of searching the origin and the primordial good laws of a community in the past was entirely in keeping with early modern conceptions of how time and historical research operated, the appeal to “publick approbation […] reading & encouragment” is somewhat more unusual and already seems to point to later developments in constructing national identities on a larger scale.

But Sydenham had more to offer still. In the next paragraph, he directly linked Hearne’s other professional activities, that as a librarian, both to the advancement of learning in general – as was a fairly common topos – and – a less common inflection –, to national honour also:

“I am glad [that] y[ou]r Library (=the Bodleian) is daily improving. it is so much for ye Honor of ye Nation, & interest of Learning.[3]

The three intersecting topoi of interest here, from the perspective of my project, are 1) ‘Fighting Oblivion’, 2) ‘Advancement of Learning’, and 3) ‘National Glory’. To see how this affects my protagonists, of whom there has been no mention yet in this post, I’ll have to take you to another of Hearne’s editions, the development of which was indeed coupled to the Leland volumes Sydenham already praised.

In 1716, Roger Gale (1672-1744), eldest son of Thomas Gale, approached Thomas Hearne in the same way as Sydenham would do nine years later, by complementing him on his just published Leland edition. The real aim of the letter was something else, though. Gale wanted to secure Hearne’s editorship for a manuscript in his possession, the Scotichronicon of John of Fordun (or Ffordun, c.1320-c.1386), which already had been partly edited by his father.[4] Hearne willingly accepted Gale’s offer of providing him with the manuscript and every assistance necessary for the edition and publication of the chronicle.[5] Both entered a long-drawn out process of working on the edition in which Roger Gale was constantly checking on Hearne to ensure the progress of the work, to provide him with colligations from other manuscripts, and helping him to gain enough subscribers for publication, he himself taking 20 copies.[6] When in 1722 the Fordun edition finally went to the press,[7] the Gale family was highly pleased with the result.

First, it represented a success in the endeavours of both Roger and his younger brother Samuel Gale, who both had been founding members of the Society of Antiquaries in 1718, in fighting oblivion. To do so represented a recurrent thread in their discussions of all fields of research they were actively engaged in, and print seemed a convenient way of doing it. When on February 25th, 1723, Samuel Gale held a speech before the Society of Lincoln, he spoke about the benefits of engraving:

“Give me Leave, Gentlemen, to Congratulate ye latter age on this Noble Invention, this Beneficial Discovery, and which alone seems to surpass all the great Things the Ancients ever did. Since eben the mouldring Fragments of theire proudest Structures, ye Temples of ye Gods, ye Statues of ye Heroes, ye Hippodromes ye Amphitheatres the Triumphal Arches, Aquaeducts, Military Ways, Baths, Colums, Medals, and Inscriptions, which yet, feebly beare up against ye power of corroding Time: even these Remaines I say of Athens, Corinth, and of Rome can be, and are now, only by this diffusive Art, triumphantly rescu’d from that total Havock, ye everlasting oblivion: Which a few more revolving years must inevitably bring on, and that of the Poet, then be too sadly verified: etiam periere Ruinae.”[8]

In 1726, Roger Gale took recourse to almost the same words in a letter to John Clerk to explain the purpose of the Society of Antiquaries, only with less rhetorical flourish:

“Besides the ½ guinea payd upon admission, one shilling is deposited every month by each member, and this money has been hitherto expended in buying a few books, but more in drawing and engraving, whereby a great many old seals, ruins, and other monuments of antiquity have been preserved from oblivion, and the danger of being intirely lost in a little time.”[9]

 Second, it was connected to the advancement of learning, which Samuel Gale not only connected to printing, but also to the scholars who had been paragons of learning. At the end of his speech, he made the connection quite explicit and directed it not only to the memory of the past, but also to the future.

“These [engravers] are They who by an uncommon Genius have almost outdone Nature, and have given Life & Spirit to Good Men after Death, Who is there yet Beholds ye Aspects of the Great & Learned, and Burns not with secret Æmulation to imitate their High Example.”[10]

And this connection might have been the driving force behind Roger Gale playing the driving force behind putting the manuscript inherited and already partly edited by his father to the press through Thomas Hearne although it costed him time, labour, and money. Samuel Gale put this into words in his letter congratulating Hearne on finishing the Fordun edition, thanking him because:

“Ye Hon[o]r You have done my Father, in mentioning him so often in It, is a great Satisfaction to Me in particular […].”[11]

And thus the history of knowledge, scholarly biographies, and – following Philip Sydenham – national honour which could be derived from both seem to have become entangled in Britain already in the early 18th century. The question is only to what end?

[1] Thomas Hearne (ed.): Joannis Lelandi antiquarii de rebus Britannicis collectanea ; Ex autographis descripsit ediditque Tho. Hearnius, 6 vol., Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1715.

[2] Philipp Sydenham to Thomas Hearne, Brympton St Every 23 May [1725?], Bodleian Library, MS Rawls letters 15, f. 473. Orthography as in the original, ligatures in [].

[3] Ibid.

[4] Roger Gale to Thomas Hearne, London 24 July 1716, Bodleian Library, MS Rawls letters 6, N° 14a, f. 311–312.

[5] Thomas Hearne to Roger Gale, [Oxford 1716 – Concept, no dates], Bodleian Library, MS Rawls letters 6, N° 15a, f. 313–314.

[6] Roger Gale to Thomas Hearne, London, 20 February 1722, MS Rawls letters 6, N° 35a, f. 355–357.

[7] Thomas Hearne (ed.): Johannis de Fordun Scotichronicon genuinum, una cum ejusdem supplemento ac continuatione. E codicibus Mss. eruit ediditque Tho. Hearnius, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1722.

[8] Samuel Gale, Oratio Habita coram Societate Lincolniensi vicesimo quarto Die Februarii Anno C. 1723, Bodleian Library, MS Eng Misc E 147, f. 61, r.

[9] Roger Gale to John Clerk, [no place] 26 April 1726, Bodleian Library, MS Top Gen d 74, pp. 178–186; p. 184.  

[10] Ibid, f. 65, v.

[11] Samuel Gale to Thomas Hearne, London, 26 May 1722, Bodleian Library MS Rawls letters 6, f. 376–377.

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.