Tag Archives: Networks

A Ghost Network

Snippet from Adriaan Reland’s correspondence circles

Sunday, May 5th, for Friday n° 30

In search for the web of correspondences in which my protagonists where situated I am constantly challenged by the intricacies imposed on such a reconstruction through source loss. Which is nothing very surprising, though. Once people are dead for 300 years, it is rather more likely to find nothing than to find anything at all, so every surviving piece of evidence is good first of all. And from what is there normally a lot more may be reconstructed with greater or lesser probability – which of course brings along other problems.

If I may elaborate on last week’s example of Adriaan Reland’s correspondence network, this provides a case in point. Most of Reland’s surviving letters are part of the correspondences of Gijsbert Cuper (1644–1716), the learned mayor of Deventer, who not only was a prolific letter-writer and networker but who also kept his letters; they have come down to us pretty complete. Apart from that, there are only some scattered letters in several European libraries, plus some in printed correspondences of other persons or as part of contemporary publications.

A – The directly known network, or 15 edges

To begin with the easy part: These are Reland’s direct correspondents as I know them from shortly below 200 letters. Those connections are directly established as people who exchanged at least one surviving letter with him. The list encompasses one correspondent in France (Jean-Paul Bignon), one in the Holy Roman Empire (Mathurin Veyssière de la Croze in Berlin), one in Switzerland (Johann Baptist Ott), three in England (John Wasse, John Hudson, and Richard Bentley), and ten – the rest – in the Netherlands. It also contains different social fields: While eleven of these were scholars, two were printers (Halma and Leers), and one a former student applying for a post as preacher (Johannes Plevier). But fifteen contacts are almost nothing for a busy member of the Republic of Letters – as 177 letters are also almost nothing.

B – The indirectly known network, or 18 ghost edges

Now these letters sometimes reference other letters as received, written, or forwarded to someone else which I have not yet found in archival evidence but which are clearly indicated as having existed, so that I may take the sources as containing indirect proof of the connections established by these letters. This provides me with a ghost network of another 18 correspondents, which is interesting in so far as it contains almost the same differentiations on a regional level as the directly known network but is socially much more homogenous. One ghost correspondent is from France (Pierre Daniel Huet), two are from within the Holy Roman Empire (Johann Hermann Schmincke from Hesse, Johann Burchard Mencke from Saxony,) one was abroad outside Europe (Johannes Heymann in Damascus, Syria), five in England (Heinrich Siecke al. Henry Sike, Gilbert Burnet, John Chamberlayne, Joshua Barnes, and Cornelius Crownfield), one in Italy (Giusto Fontanini), and the remaining nine in the Netherlands. But this time only one correspondent, namely the publishing house Fritsch & Böhm in Rotterdam, was not a scholar. Some persons were ‘only’ part-time scholars as the preachers Godefroy de Clermont and Paul Collignon or Gilbert Burnet, the British politician and bishop of Salisbury, or Reland’s younger brother Pieter who was a lawyer, but from the context it becomes clear that they all are referred to in their respective capacities as scholars. Before I dig deeper into the problems connected to this, first let me introduce you to the even more shadowy parts of this network.

C – The conjecturally known network, or, 16 ghosts of ghost edges

From letters, publications, and other sources also third set of connections can be postulated. These connections are not as clearly indicated by the sources as the ghost edges just presented but may be inferred on the basis of well-grounded speculation. As these connections are therefore by their very nature elusive, let me tell you a bit of the reasons for me supposing them interspersed in the same breakdown as I have given for the other two sets of connections. Regionally divided, this third circle of connections contains 16 correspondents:

  • Three correspondents in France: Antoine Galland, Bernard de Montfaucon, and Ludolph Küster. Galland is mentioned by name and with forwarded letters in some of Reland’s letters, as Montfaucon, but both are not explicitly mentioned as in direct contact, and the same goes for Ludolph Küster, Royal Librarian in Paris.
  • Two correspondents in Denmark, Otto Sperling and Matthias Anchersen. Anchersen was professor of Arabic at Copenhagen university and a former pupil of Reland. In a letter to Gijsbert Cuper from 1 November 1709 Reland quoted a longer poem dedicated to Cuper and him by Anchersen, which may indicate a familiarity likely to be kept up by communication.[1] Sperling is mentioned several times in letters between Reland and Cuper and seems to have been a correspondent of Cuper also; if this constitutes a parallel case to that of de la Croze, Sperling might also have been in contact with Reland directly.
  • Four correspondents in the Holy Roman Empire: Christop Cellarius, August Pfeiffer, Otto Mencke, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Reland had asked Cuper at one point to bring him into contact with Schmincke and Leibniz,[2] and with Schmincke at least this seems to have worked (see B). For Cellarius and Pfeiffer the situation is similar: Reland had once asked Theodor Jansson van Almeloveen for bringing him into contact with Cellarius and mentioned at the same time that he was editing some of Pfeiffer’s work.[3] Both might indicate direct epistolary contact but only on a conjectural basis. With Otto Mencke it is a bit more difficult; as I have indirect proof of Mencke’s son Johann Burchard Mencke being a correspondent of Reland, and as it seems to be the case that Mencke junior inherited most of his contacts, especially the Dutch ones, from his father, this would make it seem likely that Reland also was in contact with him already.
  • And another seven Dutch correspondents, for which I will now not go into detail for each one. But, interestingly, this subset contains the only non-scholar contact I suppose to have taken place at this stage. This is the contact to Johan Adriaan Thierens, a former pupil of Reland’s whom he tried – successfully – to install as preacher in Deventer by using his contacts to Gijsbert Cuper, the mayor of Deventer. There are three letters extant in which Reland proposes Thierens for the post, Cuper answers that he will be appointed, and Reland thanks Cuper for doing so.[4]

But, having assembled these increasingly shadowy layers of correspondents, what does this tell me?


First of all, out of 49 contacts only 15 are directly established; 34 are indirectly or only conjecturally postulated. Around 200 letters have survived from the 15 direct contacts, so that it may safely be assumed that the full network might also have contained about thrice that number at least. As the direct letters also are quite few to have survived for a communicative member of the Republic of Letters for the number of contacts, the final figure is likely to have been even higher. And as the 15 letters from directs contacts yielded 18 indirect proofs of connection, it may be assumed that these 18 correspondences would have contained an equal amount of such references. This would ideally serve to establish the remaining 16 contacts on a secure basis but might also point even further, for there are many more people with whom Reland might have been in contact. This can be inferred from connections such as those to Johannes Plevier and Johan Adriaan Thierens, both of which were pupils of Reland on whose behalf he intervened with authorities to provide them with posts. These are only two of his many students, so it may well be the case that following this lead I would indeed discover many more possible contacts. And that there is only one person related to Reland in the whole sample, his brother Pieter, is making me suspicious also; it seems that this part of the correspondence is likely to be missing on a much larger scale than the scholarly part.

This is something which would hardly be surprising but which nevertheless needs to be pointed out here. Source loss is no random process. It rather favours certain kinds of materials and is prone to discard others much more readily. In Reland’s case, it is known from the auction catalogue that his library was auctioned off after his death on November 4th – 5th, 1718;[5] his manuscripts, which had been passed to his son, were auctioned off after the son’s death in May 1756.[6] That meant that those letters which Reland had kept as parts of his papers were on the market then at the latest, and those containing only family matters would likely have been discarded as of no worth to colleagues or collectors – and so could not end up in archives in the 19th century to be preserved until today. The same holds, by and large, for almost all of his other correspondents, rare exceptions such as Cuper nonwithstanding; and the letters to and from his publishers would suffer the same fate. Thus only a fraction of a part of the correspondence survived, that with fellow scholars, and that only selectively, too. Now the question is: Is this causing him to become structurally forgotten, or is it an effect of an early structural forgotten-ness? But this has to wait until next week. And before I forget: Here’s the complete circles all in one, just for sake of completness.

[1] Reland to Cuper, Utrecht, 1 November 1709: KB Den Haag 72 H 11 CL 105 (1704-1709).

[2] Reland to Cuper, Utrecht 13 January 1710: KB Den Haag 72 H 11 CL 105 (1710-1716).

[3] Reland to Almeloveen, Amsterdam 19 August 1703: UB Utrecht RJ 008 (1703).

[4] Reland to Cuper, Utrecht 20 October 1714; Cuper to Reland, Deventer 12 January 1715; Reland to Cuper, Utrecht 15 January 1715: KB Den Haag 72 H 11 CL 105 (1710-1716).

[5] Anon.: Pars Magna Bibliothecae Clarissimi & Celeberrimi Viri Hadriani Relandi, Professoris, dum viveret, Linguarum Orientalium, & Antiquitatum Hebraicorum, & Antiquitatum Hebraicarum in Academ. Ultraj. Continens diversi Generis & Var. Linguarum Libros Exquisitissimos Theologos, Philologicos, Patres

Ecclesiaticos, Philosophicos, Auctores Graecos & Latinos, Antiquarios, Historicos, Lexicographos, aliosque Miscellaneos, inter quos excellunt Atlas Blavianus, Item Thesaurus Rom. & Graecus Graevii & Gronovii, 24 vol. Quorum auctio fijiet publica in aedibus defuncti ad diem 7 Novembri 1718. Patebit Bibliotheca duabus ante auctionem diebus, nempe 4 & 5 Novemb. Trajecti Ad Rhenum, Apud Guilielmum Broedelet. 1718. Ubi

Catalogi distribuentur, Utrecht: Broedelet 1718.

[6] Anon: Catalogus bibliothecæ Joannis Relandi, ofte Register van eene uytmuntende verzameling […] boeken, prent- en kaartwerken […]. Als mede een munt-cabinet […]. Nagelaten door den heer mr. Jan Reeland […]. ‘t Welk verkocht zal worden te Haerlem […] op den 3 mey 1756 en volgende dagen, Haarlem: Enschede 1756.