Tag Archives: Res publica litterarum

2.5 Degrees from Ego

The correspondence network of Adriaan Reland (with data taken from Early Modern Letters Online) as a ego network taken to 2.5 degrees

Friday n° 37, June 28th, 2019

The last weeks have been packed with work, so that my last two blog posts had to be cancelled because I had to write chapters, presentations, papers, and other things (all about or issuing from the project, so that has all been working time) and was not able to communicate the state of work here for the time being. As promised, I am now returning to my schedule as the flood begins to sink and I’m no longer fearing to drown any moment, and will from now on again deliver my weekly research stats.

Hooray for data!

And to begin this week’s state of research, let me take the opportunity to advertise the ‘other thing’ I have been working at for the past weeks, which actually is a data set. Thanks to and in collaboration with the ERC Skillnet project I have been able to publish some of the letters I’ve been working as ‘The correspondence of Adriaan Reland’ on Early Modern Letters Online. 212 letters have either survived or can be inferred from those letters which I close-read with certainty, and, sadly, that’s all that is left. The metadata of these letters to and from Reland are now accessible via this collection, so I’d like to invite you all over to have a look at these. The added value of embedding them in a larger context as provided by EMLO of course lays in the possibility to explore the wider interconnections of this parcel of letters within the res publica litterarum of Reland’s time, so I thought, let’s give that a try for today.

A 2 degree Ego network

The 212 Reland letters have been sent to 36 correspondents, not so many in terms of scholarly correspondences, so it seemed a good idea to construct a second degree ego network from this in EMLO terms: I checked all of Reland’s direct correspondents via EMLO for their contacts among each other, to see how densely they were interconnected apart from their shared correspondence with Reland. So what you see in this visualization of the whole network is Adriaan Reland at the centre, highlighted in red, as befits a good ego network, and gathered around him his direct correspondents as green nodes, with the communication to Reland as green arrows also. The thickness of the edges depends on the amount of letters exchanged, whereas the size of the nodes is due to the total number of references to the scholar the node represents in terms of the whole network. Connections between Reland’s direct correspondents drawn from EMLO are visualized by black arrows, the thickness again keyed to the number of letters.

The missing 0.5 degrees…

But first of all there is a lot of blue and grey stuff in this diagram which I have not yet said anything about, and second I promised you a 2.5 degree network in the opening headline. So what about that?

Well, as you suspect already, both things are directly related. To start with the missing 0.5 degrees, this was due to the way in which I collected data on these letters. As my project is all about references to other scholars to track the circulation of information, I went through a part of these letters very closely, trying to identify each person and publication mentioned therein. Now EMLO does not support inclosing information on publications in their metadata on the letters, but they do support inclosing mentions of persons, so this is all in there. And that means these data were there to work with them in drawing up the ego network. So what I wanted to have a look at was if the people mentioned to Reland’s direct correspondents would line up with the rest of the network – that is, the contemporary people mentioned. That would give an indication as to whether this is something like an 18th century communication bubble and thus might provide a way to reconstruct missing epistolary evidence. All of these mentions I took to constitute a triad between a) the person who mentions a name, b) the person who is mentioned, and c) the person this name is mentioned to, and all of these relations are visualized in grey within this diagram, as they quite literally are somewhat shady in terms of ‘real’ network edges.

Click the image for a full view of the visualization graph.

What I then did was checking in EMLO if those people who were only mentioned in Reland’s direct correspondences had direct contacts with his correspondents or amongst each other. This would be something in between a real third-degree connection and a second-degree connection, so I decided to label it 2.5 degrees of separation. For those people and connections who had such connections, nodes and edges are coloured in blue to clearly distinguish them from the green nodes of the inner circle of direct correspondents and the green and black relations of these with Reland and amongst each other.

… and what they revealed

What’s really of interest now is of course: What did I gain from doing this? Is there anything new for my project in there? And yes, it was. There are 116 people mentioned in the letters between Reland and his correspondents, 97 out of which still lived in 1680, the year which I took as the point of demarcation between roughly ‘contemporary’ scholars and those whose correspondences I did not take to be relevant to Reland’s connectedness within the republic of letters in any way (this starting point is of course debatable, but one has to start somewhere). This testifies to Reland’s letters discussing more recent issues then debating past works and results; quite a large share of these 97 scholars mentioned whom I designated as ‘contemporary’ actually survived him, sometimes for several decades.

Of the 97 contemporaries mentioned, 26 had contacts either amongst each other – represented by blue arrows – or with members of the green inner circle of correspondents, represented by black arrows. Together with the interconnections of Reland’s direct correspondents between themselves, the second degree of the Ego network, the second-and-a-half-degree connections make clear that he actually was situated in an environment where most people directly or indirectly knew each other, and much of what he relates to in his letters has to be seen in this context. Although these people were spread out across the Netherlands, France, Britain, the Holy Roman Empire, Italy, and Denmark, it seems that they formed a remarkably tight-knit community. If this was a strength or a weakness of the network in question would have to be evaluated against contextual information which EMLO does not provide, but it gives hints where to look next.

Mind the gap!

All I’ve written in this post so far has to be taken with a grain of salt, of course, because EMLO is – as great and wonderful a resource as it is – far from being complete (although I would think it is comprehensive). This means that most probably there are interconnections which I missed out on because they are not (yet) in there. And this becomes even more pronounced as I did not close-read all of Reland’s remaining letters but only about a third of them, so I have missed out on a lot of mentions which would have given me new leads to track in EMLO as well. From the point of a study of remembrance and forgetting such as mine this is of course something to emphasize: What is in there is what is still – at least in some way – in circulation, in this case triggered by current research into these phenomena; and the gaps are caused by processes of discarding and source loss, which are parts of structural forgetting. So by mapping out the gaps, I do get a better grip on what I am really at also. And it’s never bad to gain added benefits from something.

And: Mind the results nevertheless!

But the point was precisely this: To see what I could do with this resource even as it stands now and regardless of the patchiness of my own research so far. And that proved quite a success, because in all likelihood I would only have ended up with more connections in the end, not less, which strengthens my initial hypothesis that the 2.5 degrees are a useful way of coming to terms with gaps in the physical evidence. In Reland’s case, this worked out well and points to him as really being closely connected within a certain epistemic community (as I once termed this) of his day.

What now remains to be done is to see if this also works out for my other three protagonists, since this would provide a way to cope with the dearth of direct epistolary evidence. I’ll see to it that I can present some preliminary results from going in this direction during the coming weeks.

PS: Actually, it’s a funny coincidence that today is not only the 37th Friday of my project but also my 37th birthday. Makes it feel even better to be back on track again. And now I’m off for some cake. See you next Friday!

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?

Conclusions

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.

Where is America?

Saturday, February 15th, 2019, for Friday no. 19

Seven years ago now Caroline Winterer asked “Where is America in the Republic of Letters?[1], and the question is still too good not to be asked again. So where is America in my Republic of Letters? Until very recently it seemed to be quite absent. Only from the middle of the 19th century onwards American publications referring to my protagonists began appearing in my data, all in the context of scholarly research. But any contemporary entanglement seemed to be missing. Perhaps this does not come as a surprise so much as the question in how far the Republic of Letters covered America, which parts of it, and when. I am not going to tackle this question here, but I can present you now with some American instances of references to my protagonists before 1800. And the nature of these references may perhaps point to why it is complicated to uncover them today.

New Haven, Connecticut, 1760/1770


“A treatise on regeneration : By Peter Van Mastricht”, Preface, p. [1]-[2].

The first instance I came across was a reworked extract from Peter von Mastricht’s (1630-1706) Theologia theoretico-practica of 1682[2] which was printed in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1769/1770.[3] The anonymous translator and compiler was obviously concerned about theological discussion points current New Haven at the time, or at least he announced his treatise this way. While he had to elaborate upon “who this Doct. Van Mastricht is, and what the particular reasons are, for publishing the following treatise at this time”,[4] he added a substantial appendix to the work to buttress von Mastricht’s arguments with other Dutch and Scottish reformed theologians, with both of which he seems to have been very familiar.

His readers most probably were not as may be seen from his explanation of the denominational attributions in his text: “It should have been observed to the reader, that by the REFORMED, or the reformed church, foreign writers mean all denominations of Protestants, except the Lutherans (with respect to whom they are called reformed) and some heretical sects that have sprung up among them, as the Socinians, Arminians, &c”[5] In this section he took, amongst others, recourse to Johannes Braun in respect to the relation of the human will and divine grace, and devoted more than one entire page to quotes from Braun’s Doctrina Foederum[6]  of 1688.[7] At the end of the treatise there is one passage which might be taken as an indication that the translator/compiler had not acquired his theological knowledge locally in Connecticut: “This publication would have been rendered more compleat by quotations from Turretine and the doings of the famous Synod of Dort, had not the publisher been disappointed about procuring these books.”[8] He seems not to have had such problems with his Braunius, unless he was quoting from his collected excerpts.

Two tentative conclusions might be suggested as hypotheses for further enquiry by this piece of evidence: First, that such theological knowledge was still imported from abroad into North America in the late 1760s/early 1770s, and second, that some of the publications contributing to it may have been available there nevertheless. Drawing any conclusions as to the supposed origin of the translator/compiler is not possible though, as the second piece of evidence will show.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1789


Inglis, “A charge delivered”, p. 4.

In 1789 Charles Inglis (1734-1816), appointed Anglican bishop of Nova Scotia in 1787, concluded his visitation of his new diocese with a treatise printed as “A charge delivered to the clergy of the diocese of Nova Scotia.”[9] Inglis aimed at something quite similar as the translator/compiler of von Mastricht: Giving a group of people – in Inglis’ case the clergy of his diocesis – the proper arguments to solve theological and ecclesiastical problems right at hand. To do so, both utilized a quite similar stock of literature, and that is why – at present – no inference of the anonymous translator/compiler’s place of origin can be drawn from his treatise.

The Anglican bishop used a mixture of the same Calvinist authors garnished with some Presbyterians and other dissenters alongside more orthodox Anglican writers as the stock of his admonitions. A large part of his “charge” consisted of directions for a solid churchman’s library, as “[s]everal of the younger Clergy, having, at different times, expressed a desire to have a list of such Books as would be proper for a Clergyman’s Library; I have set down the following Catalogue, and hope it may be of service.”[10] And in this directions the bishop, too, included Johannes Braun, although not with one of his staple theological works but with his treatise on the vestments of the ancient Jewish temple priests.[11] And he also included Adrien Reland in his list, once directly, and once indirectly.[12]

Inglis, “A charge delivered”, p. 62: Two references to Adrien Reland.

That Inglis included Reland in his list is remarkable for two reasons: First, because it supports the notion that Reland’s 1714 work “Palaestina Illustrata” was the longer the 18th century lasted the more firmly labelled as a theological tract (which it not directly was), and second because of what Inglis himself had written down as his criteria for selecting the works on his list: “Perhaps it is needless to observe that I could have easily enlarged the number of Books under each head; those only are selected which appear to be most useful, and are easily procured; and I confine myself to such as treat of Theology, or that have an immediate connection with it.”[13]

Conclusions & hypotheses…

Not only was Reland’s work bundled up with Theology, it was also labelled as “easily procured” even in the context of Nova Scotia, as was Braun’s Vestitus Sacerdotum Hebraeorum. Inglis did not precisely state how these works would have been procured by his clergymen, and it would be tempting to try to check if they really did, if there are inventories of late 18th/early 19th century Nova Scotia Anglican clergymen available somewhere to do so. In any case the firm theological fixation of the works in question coupled them with the respective discourses, and when the issues in context of which they had been discussed faded from the debates of New England, I suppose that references to the works and via these to their authors will have followed suit. Which opens up a new theatre of investigations nevertheless.


[1] Caroline Winterer: Where is America in the Republic of Letters?, in: Modern Intellectual History 9, 2012, pp. 597–623; doi:10.1017/S1479244312000212.

[2]  Peter von Mastricht: Theoretico-Practica theologia: Qua, per Capita Theologica, pars dogmatica, elenchtica et practica, perpetua symbibasei conjugantur. Praecedunt in usum operis paraleipomena, seu Sceleton de optima concionandi method, Amsterdam: Boom & widow 1682.

[3] Anon: A treatise on regeneration : By Peter Van Mastricht, D.D. Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Francfort, Duisburgh, and Utrecht. Extracted from his system of divinity, called Theologia theoretico-practica; and faithfully translated into English; with an appendix, containing extracts from many celebrated divines of the Reformed Church, upon the same subject, New Haven: Thomas & Samuel Green 1769/1770.

[4] Ibid., p. [1].

[5] Ibid., p. 94. Emphases in the original.

[6] Johannes Braun: Doctrina foederum, sive Systema theologiae didacticæ & elencticæ, Amsterdam: Petrus van Someren, Groningen: Carel Pieman 1688.

[7] Anon: A treatise on regeneration 1770, p. 91-92.

[8] Ibid., p. 94.

[9] Charles Inglis: A charge delivered to the clergy of the diocese of Nova Scotia at the primary visitation holden in the town of Halifax, in the month of June 1788. By the Right Reverend Charles, Bishop of Nova Scotia, Halifax: Anthony Henry 1789.

[10] Ibid., p. 59.

[11] Ibid., p. 76; Johannes Braun: Bigdê kohanîm id est, Vestitus sacerdotum Hebræorum, sive Commentarius amplissimus in Exodi cap. XXVIII, ac XXIX. & Levit. cap. XVI. (2 vols.), Leiden: Doude/Elzevier 1680.

[12] Inglis: A charge delivered to the clergy 1789, p. 62; Thomas Lewis: Origines Hebrææ: the antiquities of the Hebrew republick : In four books. I. The origin of the Hebrews; their civil government; the constitution of the sanbedrim; forms of trial in courts of justice, &c. II. The ecclesiastical government; the consecration of the high-priests, priests, and levites. The revenue of the priesthood the sects among the Hebrews, pharisees, sadducees, essenes, &c. III. Places of worship. The use of high-places; a survey of the tabernacle, and the proseucha’s of the Hebrews. A description of the first temple from the scriptures, and of the second from the rabbinical writings. The sacred utensils. The institution of synagogues, &c. IV. The religion of the hebrews. Their sacrifices; and their libations. The burning of the red heifer, and ceremonies of purification. Their sacraments, publick fasts and festivals, &c. Design’d as an explanation of every branch of the levitical law, and of all the ceremonies and usages of the Hebrews, both civil and sacred. By Tho. Lewis, M.A (3 vols.), London: Samuel Illidge/John Hooke 1724-1725; Adrien Reland: Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata (2 vols.), Utrecht: Willem Broedelet 1714.

[13] Inglis: A charge delivered to the clergy 1789, p. 59.

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.“