Tag Archives: John Swinton

A Palmyra-shaped Dutch blind spot?

A short network animation of all references to Johannes Braun, Thomas Gale, Adrien Reland and Eusèbe Renaudot between 1750 and 1765 in from the Journal des Savants, the Philosophical Transactions and the Maandelyke uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt, as moving four-year averages. Mind that Reland provides the only link connecting the Boekzaal references to the JdS-PT references.

Saturday, February 9th, 2019, for Friday Nr. 18

I have been busy adding another journal to the dataset I briefly discussed here two weeks ago; this time, it’s the Maandelyke uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt taken from Hathi Trust again for a Dutch perspective to complement the British and the French already in there. In doing so, I noticed an absence that makes me wonder about its possible causes.

I already wrote here about how the rediscovery of Palmyra and the decipherment of the Palmyrene inscriptions played into my research question as it illuminates how references to structurally forgotten scholars can be used to improve one’s own standing in the Republic of Letters. Both Jean-Jacques Barthélemy (1716-1795) and John Swinton (1703-1777) had been building on research carried out, among others, the Dutch philologist Jacob Rhenferd (1654-1712) and two of my persons of interest, Eusèbe Renaudot (1646-1720) and Adrien Reland (1676-1718). Which meant that after a period of comparative absence those names, for a while, became current again as part of the discussion over the decipherment of Palmyrene. As I had already came across this discussion in both the Journal des Savants and the Philosophical Transactions, I would not have been surprised to find a similar increase in references to these names in the Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt also.

There was a significant increase in references to Adrien Reland in the Boekzaal in the 1750s and 1760s; but none to the other proponents of the debate. To make up for this, Johannes Braun (1628-1708), who had been almost completely absent from the former dataset, was mentioned much more frequently than I would have thought during this period.

Upon closer inspection, the respective entries reveal that – as it seems – the Palmyran debate just did not place in the Boekzaal. I cross-checked for references to Swinton and Barthélemy without connections to my protagonists but did not find anything related, either. Given the interest displayed by Dutch oriental scholars and philologists in Palmyrene following the first re-discovery of Palmyra for Europe’s Republic of Letters in the 1690s, that there should be no reaction at all to the second re-discovery in 1753 is a bit puzzling.

So I look around a bit and went through Delpher, the Dutch National Library catalogues, and the STCN, and found nothing much in connection. The only directly Palmyra-related Dutch publication in this time seems to have been a (pirated?) print of Joseph Jouve’s (1701-1758) 1758 novel “Histoire de Zénobie, impératrice de Palmyre” which went off Nicolas van Daalen’s press in Den Haag.  And that was not even in Dutch. Intra-textual references seem to have been as scarce, as far as Delpher is concerned (query results are here). My query only returned four publications during that time: one a geographical work set us as a fake travelogue – the first volume of Joseph de la Porte SJ’s (1714-1779) “Voyageur français”,[1] translated into Dutch as “De nieuwe reisiger; of Beschryving van de oude en nieuwe waerelt”, and the other three parts of a work of similar kind, the “Tafereel van Natuur en Konst” which appeared in 21 volumes between 1769 and 1784 in Amsterdam, a translation from an English model (volumes 1, 10, and the index volume 21).

The most curious of these is “De nieuwe reisiger”, as Jean-Jacques Barthélemy is indeed referenced in it as part of the description of Palmyra, but in a weird way.  After describing the ruins, the fictive letter-writer tells his fictive addressee “that it would be desirable that one or other scholar would try to discover the beginnings of this language, which is completely forgotten.*”[2] Added to this was a footnote indicated by the asterisk running “The abbé Barthélemy has not yet made this renowned discovery public, which justly had won him the respect of all the learned in Europe […]”.[3] Now de la Porte’s French original – which has the same passage –[4] was printed in Paris in 1765, while the fictive letter just quoted from is dated to 1736. And Barthélemy’s lecture at the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres was printed in Paris in 1754.[5] So while the fictive letter-writer in de la Porte’s text could not have known about Barthélemy’s discovery in 1736, both the French author and his Dutch translator could – and perhaps should – have known that this discovery was very public already in 1765.

Coupled with the absence references to the debate in contemporary Dutch-language literature (as far as I was able to make out so far) this points to that the issue, while being a scholarly polemic in France and Great Britain and well-covered in German learned journals,[6] seems not to have been of much interest to the Dutch public. The next reference to it in a publication in Dutch was made – again – in a travelogue, only this time a real one. When the Swedish Arabist and Oriental scholar Jacob Jonas Björnståhl (1731-1779) went on a rather prolonged Grand Tour through Western Europe and via the Mediterranean to the Near East, Istanbul, and Greece in 1767, he wrote letters to the Swedish publisher and librarian Carl Christoffer Gjörwell (1731-1811) who collected them. They went to print in a German edition in 1772, followed by a Dutch translation in 1779; the Swedish edition only was printed from 1780 on.

Now Björnståhl described (in the Dutch translation) in his “J.J. Björnstähls Reize door Europa en het Oosten“, volume one, in a letter from Marseille, 18 November 1770, how he met Jean-Jacques Barthélemy in Paris. He rated Barthélemy’s kindness towards other scholars “higher even than the new and grand discovery by which Mr. Barthélemy has made himself known to Europa, that one can recon from him, who was the first to teach Europe so, the time since when it is possible to read Phoenician and Palmyran inscriptions”.[7] As a curious by-note to this I may add that Björnståhl five years later, in a letter dated Oxford, 10 October 1775, reported that he had also met John Swinton: “I shall conclude my letter with Mr. Swinton. This man is, as is well known, famous for his writings concerning old, and foremost Phoenician inscriptions and coins, which can be found in the English Transactions.”[8] Björnståhl said nothing about Swinton’s role in the Palmyran inscriptions’ controversy.

Adding to these findings that the debate was framed by some of its actors as a struggle for national honour in claiming the first discovery, most of all by John Swinton himself who complained about being subject to attacks by French writers, and recognized as such by others, for instance the German learned journals, it might have fallen out of the Dutch learned discourse of the time because of this national framing which did not include Dutch elements – or, as was the case with Rhenferdt and Reland, not in prestigious roles.

Yet this did not cause a lack in references to especially Adrien Reland in the Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt during this time. Not only where such references there, they also pointed frequently to the same publication, his last major work “Palaestina ex monumentis veteris illustrata”, a two-volume description of the Holy Land as taken from classical sources; they only related to it in connection with other issues. So maybe the supra-national character of the Republic of Letters really was under stress from nationally framed discoursed below the surface already, and the Palmyran discussion might be a point to illustrate this.


[1] Joseph de la Porte: Le voyageur françois, ou La connoissance de l’ancien et du nouveau monde, T. 1, Paris : Vincent ; Moutard ; Cellot 1765.

[2] Joseph de la Porte: De nieuwe reisiger; of Beschryving van de oude en nieuwe waerelt, Uit het Fransch van den Abt de la Porte, Eerste Deel. Behelzende in sich Cyprus, Aleppo, Damascus, de berg Libanon, Palmyra, Egypten, de Barbarysche Staaten, Griekenland, en een gedeelte van Turkyen. Dordrecht: Abraham Blusse, 1766, pp. 58-59: “Het zol dan te wenschen zyn dat de een of andere geleerde trachte om de beginzelen van deze taal te ontdekken, die tans geheel vergeten zyn.*”

[3] Ibid: “*De Abt Barthelemy heeft deze beruchte entdekking nog niet gemeen gemaakt, die hem te recht de achting van alle geleerde in Europa verworven heeft; hy verdiende dezelve reets door zyne doorgronde geleertheit in de oudheden.”

[4] Cf. Joseph de la Porte: Le voyageur françois, ou La connoissance de l’ancien et du nouveau monde, T. 1, Paris : Vincent ; Moutard ; Cellot 1765, p. 80 : https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k102012t/f87.image.

[5] Jean-Jacques Barthélemy: Reflexions sur l’alphabet et sur la langue dont on se servait autrefois à Palmyre, Paris : Guerin et Delatour 1754.

[6] See for instance: Nova Acta Eruditorum, October 1757, pp. 625-630, and November 1757, pp. 671-678; Göttingische Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen 1754, August 24th; September 5th, pp. 927-928; October 17th, pp. 1066-1068; 1755, May 29th, pp. 588-589; 1756, June 10th, pp. 586-590; Neue Zeitungen von gelehrten Sachen 1755, Nr. 24, pp. 209-210; Nr. 27, pp. 233-234.

[7] J.J. Björnstähls Reize door Europa en het Oosten. Eerste deel, Utrecht: G. van den Brink / Amsterdam: Wed. van Esveld en Holtrop, 1779, pp. 201-202: “Zulk eene vind ik al zo groot, en zelfs grooter, dan de nieuwe en groote ontdekkingen, wardoor de heer Barthelemy zig in the waereld zo bekend gemaakt heeft, dat men van hem, die het Europa Europa de eerste geleerd heeft, den tijd kan rékenen, waarin men in staat is, om Phénicische en Palmyreensche opschriften te kunnen lézen, waartoe men te voren niet eens het alphabet kende.”

[8] J.J. Björnstähls Reize door Europa en het Oosten. Deerde deel, Utrecht: G. van den Brink / Amsterdam: Wed. van Esveld en Holtrop, 1782, p. 268: “Ik zal mijnen brief met den heer Swinton eindigen. Deze man is, gelijk men weet, beroemd wégens zijne geschriften, de oude, inzonderheid de Phenicische, munten en opschriften betreffende, en die in de Engelsche Transactions te vinden zijn.“

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.

Where journals lead, I shall follow…?

Saturday, December 21st, for Friday No. 11, December 20th, 2018

This is the last one! No, not the end, it’s just the last one for this year, as I’m off for vacation from – what was it – ah, now. But only until January 2nd, so come next year, come new research posts.

This should be a good time to reflect upon the state of the project so far. And to take some time to see what might still be changed for the better. So what I want to present you today is no fully-fledged piece of research but rather some thoughts on the limits of the project as it stands now.

What it’s all about

To sum it all up in a few lines again, my aim was (and is!) to work out the patterns that emerge as remembrance fades and structural forgetting sets in. More precisely, I wanted to show these patterns for the societal subset of what I call the academic metier, and for humanities’ scholars whose memory faded. To do so, I follow four specific scholars – Thomas Gale of Cambridge, Johannes Braun of Groningen, Adrien Reland of Utrecht, and Eusèbe Renaudot of Paris – and track the frequency of references to them across the centuries after their deaths. For when such references dwindle and their pattern changes from one of being frequently referenced to one of only intermittently being referenced, structural forgetting can be actually made visible.

This was my basic assumption at least, and I still think that it is sound in principle. I am using a relational database and network visualization program, NodeGoat, to gather my data and visualize them diachronically, and by now patterns really do start to emerge. The question now is: Which patterns are these?

References and framing categories

I already hinted at the problem of measuring the frequency of references to a dead scholar. Of course citations and quotations can be counted – but within which kind of frame? For early modern scholarly communication, there are basically three categories of materials still available for me: letters; publications (both manuscript and print); and journals. Everything else is either no longer extant or not available in accessible format. Perhaps auction catalogues provide something like a three-point-fifth category – they survive as printed books, so basically they are publications – but that is about it.

Letters…

Now each of these categories is tricky. Letters only survive in some cases, and in those cases then most often too many survive to make it possible to scan them all for metadata such as “mentions person X”. There are projects like Early Modern Letters Online, ePistolarium, Mapping the Republic of Letters, Electronic Enlightenment and such, but they either do not fit my timeframe or do not provide the information I am looking for. So while it is crucial to keep an eye on letters wherever possible, I cannot do so in a systematic way. Which means that I will only with great care be able to extract intermittent reference patterns from this part of my data set.

Publications…

Publications do survive in massive numbers, and in massive numbers are electronically available and searchable by now. Countless digitization projects have made available masses of material. Yet the masses produced are always larger still. There is still so much out there which is not digitized, and which I therefore would have to search in a library and go through manually, that I will not be able to establish a suitable framework for my reference patterns this way, too. Even if I reduced my research to a certain discipline, area, or language, it would still be an insurmountable task. And most of it would be very frustrating, too, because the majority of these books – by far! – would not contain any references to my four protagonists (and presumably the more so as I advance in time towards today). So while I will use all means of automatically extracting information from publications that there are to find references to my protagonists where I don’t expect them, I cannot claim to establish something like a representative sample this way.

Journals…

Which leaves me with journals, as it seems. And journals certainly do have many advantages compared to my other two sources types. First of all, they do survive in sufficiently complete form as to make general inferences possible. We know with great certainty which journals there were, and most of them survive. Second, they have been subject of lots of research by now, so that their relative importance and their outreach can be determined at least fairly well, and their workings and peculiarities are known to a large extent. Third, they are – at least the larger and more important ones – available in good editions, either in print or digitally, and thus searchable (via index or query). So I can draw up a sample of important journals for the fields, times, and places I am looking at, go through these journals, and have a data set which allows me to really infer reference frequencies for the first time. Or, given the only very partially comparable character of these early modern and 19th century learned journals, several data sets most probably. Reference spikes in the journals then would point me to the relevant developments in the reception of my protagonists.

Journals?

This does work. I found John Swinton this way (Philosophical Transactions are already done up to 1800, which was easier as thought because they only contain very few references of interest to me, fewer even than I thought they might). And, to give a less obvious example, I found the dead predikanten of the 1730s this way who by their obituaries gave occasion to reference Johannes Braun.

Everything alright, then? I frankly don’t know. It somehow doesn’t feel alright. I can only do a certain number of important journals, and I am not completely comfortable in just going where they point me. It feels a bit like being told what to do. And I am not sure if I want my enquiries directed by anonymous journalists three centuries gone. Well, time to think about it.

Have a good time, and see you next year!

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.