Tag Archives: Inaugural lectures

Speaking of bygone scholars

Friday n° 31, May 5th, 2019

Today, ladies and gentleman, I will be speaking about speaking about scholarly predecessors in public speeches. Well, at least semi-public speeches, as I will be dealing with the inaugural lectures of three 18th century professors. Although they all were delivered originally to a limited academic audience only, they were published in print afterwards and thus at least in principle publicly available. (And of course I’m also writing and not speaking, but although it sounds it like fun, I shall not spend any more time reflecting on the inadequacies of metaphors for scientific discourse here).

Three orators, three inaugural lectures

Let me introduce today’s three orators now:  Please welcome Albert Schultens (1686–1750) with On the springs from which all knowledge of the Hebrew language flows and their shortcomings and defects,[1] Jan Jacob Schultens (1716–1778) with Of the fruits of returning to theology from a deeper understanding of the Oriental languages,[2] and last but not least Henrik Albert Schultens (1749-1793) with On the labour of the Dutch in fostering the Arabic studies.[3] As you either know already or may have guessed by now, the similarity in names really points to a close relationship between these three scholars. They represent three generations of the same family, father, son, and grandson. They also represent three generations of scholars working within broadly the same discipline, which their contemporaries termed “Oriental Languages”, which was almost always blended with theology – as the title of Jan Jacob Schulten’s inaugural lecture directly captured.

How does that relate to forgetting?

So what is the connection of these three lectures/speeches to my project? Well, first of all they constitute a source type which I have not dealt with in my project yet. Of course I have drawn on funeral orations, but these are hardly the same kind of public speech act (and printed publication later on). So the first question is how this medium may be related to what I am generally interested in, the patterns of posthumous references to scholars and their fading. And the second question obviously is which relation existed between the Schultens family and my four protagonists whose patterns of fading I am especially interested in.

To do it the easier way I’ll start with the second question: Albert Schultens, the first of the family to attain a professorial post, had been a pupil of Johannes Braun in Groningen, in 1706 defending a graduation thesis under Braun On the utility of Arabic in the interpretation of Holy Scripture,[4] as I already had pointed out in an earlier post. From Groningen he first moved to Leiden, then on to Utrecht where he became a pupil of Adriaan Reland, earning a doctorate in theology in 1709 with a thesis on a passage from the gospel according to Mark.[5]  In 1713 he was appointed to the post of professor of theology at Franeker University. Albert Schultens thus was quite directly connected to two of my protagonists.

The lectures: 1714 – 1779

But is there any trace of that in his inaugural lecture? If so, only a very small trace. Schultens recurred once to Reland, when he listed “Hottinger (=Johann Heinrich Hottinger, 1620–1667), Golius (=Jacob Golius, 1569–1667), Pocockius (=Edward Pococke, 1604–1691), Relandus and other principal Arabists.”[6] He much more prominently referred to Samuel Bochart (1599–1667). What is remarkable in the passage on Reland, though, is that he was the only living person referred to. Which was quite uncommon; usually only dead people were explicitly mentioned in public academic orations. So while one could tentatively assume that Reland was done a special honour here, it is quite telling that Johannes Braun, who had presided over the graduation thesis in which Schultens had already defended the argument that Arabic could be used to illuminate Scripture, is not mentioned even once. Although he had been dead for six years already.

When Albert Schultens proposed the use of other Semitic languages to get a better grip on Hebrew in 1714 this still was a new approach. When his son, Jan Jacob Schultens, defended essentially the same argument – that “Oriental Languages” where a profitable tool for the study of theology – in his inaugurational lecture for the post of professor of theology in Leiden in 1749, it was no longer revolutionary anymore, which might perhaps explain why Jan Jacob could make it short; his oration was only a bit more than half as long as that of his father. But it had the additional value of being solidly established by his father by now, who had not only presided over his son’s doctoral thesis in 1742[7] but who also seems to have attained the inaugural lecture of Jan Jacob. At least his son addressed him in direct speech at the end in a paragraph especially designed to underscore their familial and scientific relationship.[8] And while Jan Jacob Schultens did not refer to any of the scholars his father had mentioned as his predecessors, he also continued his line of not referring to Johannes Braun. The punchline of this is that he did refer to Johannes Coccejus,[9] whose direct pupil Braun had been.  

In 1779, when Henrik Albert Schultens, the son of Jan Jacob, held his inaugural lecture for the post of professor of Oriental Languages and Ancient Hebrew, he no longer had the problem of having to deal with any living predecessors. Not only where the scholars his grandfather had referred to dead for almost one century, both his father and grandfather were dead for quite a while, too. He capitalized on this for taking another turn on the topic of his father’s and grandfather’s lectures, in turning their approach to a discipline and referring the history of this discipline in Dutch universities. This was a clever move in two respects, as it possible for him to refer to his family history as the history of an academic field, and to use the memory of his ancestors to his advantage. He first of all referred to a set of 16th and 17th century scholars which included those mentioned in his grandfather’s lecture, adding some more international figures to compare the achievements of Dutch scholars against (and thus to capitalize on the growing discursive entanglements of national ideas and science). In doing so, he referred to Reland and, on the French side, also to Renaudot.[10] Building on that, he then turned to describing his grandfather as the founder of the new kind of Oriental languages studies he himself professed.[11] To protect himself from being reproached as exploiting his family history to his own advantage, to the end he used a curious rhetorical strategy and began to describe – quite elaborately – how much of a burden the legacy of Albert and Jan Jacob Schultens placed on him, and that he would do his utmost to match their achievements.[12]

Family’s the thing!

Although from the example of Henrik Albert Schultens it seems that relying solely on family tradition as a qualification for scholarship had become problematic in the later 18th century, it still was preferable to ‘pure’ discipleship, the more so if both could be mixed, as in Jan Jacob Schulten’s case, who could style himself not as only the genealogical but also the intellectual heir of his father. This meant that scholars who were mentioned by the founding father of the line in question had good chances to be carried along and be referred to, as Reland was, more than half a century after their death; but for those who were excluded at the start, such as Johannes Braun, this meant that they were most likely to stay excluded. Structural forgetting in this case presents itself a process only challengeable with difficulty, if at all.  


[1] Albert Schultens: Oratio inauguralis de fontibus ex quibus omnis linguae hebraeae notitia manavit horumque vitiis et defectibus, Franeker: Halma 1714.

[2] Jan Jacob Schultens: Oratio inauguralis de Fructibus in theologiam redundantibus ex penitiore linguarum orientalium cognitione, Leiden: Luchtmans 1749.

[3] Henrik Albert Schultens: Oratio de studio Belgarum in literis Arabicis excolendis, Leiden: le Mair 1779.

[4] Albert Schultens: De utilitate linguae Arabicae in interpretanda Sacra Scriptura [1706], posthumously published in: Albert Schultens: Opera Minora, Leiden: Le Mair 1769 .

[5] Albert Schultens: Disputatio theologica inauguralis in locum Marci XIII:XXXII, Groningen: Barlinckhoff 1709.

[6] Albert Schultens: Oratio inauguralis de fontibus ex quibus omnis linguae hebraeae notitia manavit horumque vitiis et defectibus, Franeker: Halma 1714, p. 15: „Hottinger, Golius, Pocockius, Relandus aliique Arabizantium principes“.

[7] Jan Jacob Schultens: Dissertations Academicae de utilitate dialectorum orientalium ad tuendam integritatem codicis hebraei, Leiden: Luzac 1742.

[8] Jan Jacob Schultens: Oratio inauguralis de Fructibus in theologiam redundantibus ex penitiore linguarum orientalium cognitione, Leiden: Luchtmans 1749, p. 26: „Speciatim Tibi, Parens Indulgentissime, qui inde a teneris unguiculis in sinu Tuo me fovisti, atque incredibili diligentia, prudentia, patientia, rudes pueritiae meae mores finxisti et emollivisti, quin asperiorem quoque adolescentiae indolem expugnatrice Tua bonitate fregisti, desideratissimum tenerrimae educationis et curae fructum inpense gratulor.“

[9] Ibid, p. 19.

[10] Henrik Albert Schultens: Oratio de studio Belgarum in literis Arabicis excolendis, Leiden: le Mair 1779, p. 5, p. 20.

[11] Ibid, p. 40: „Unum tamen, Praestantissimi Commilitones, qui in Arabicis literis, sive ad juvanda studia vestra Theologia, seu ad majorem ingenii culturam, operam collocatis; unum igitur non possum quin vobis de Alberto Schultensio commemorem, & maxime [41] ad imitandum proponam.“

[12] Ibid., p. 43–45.