Letters in Focus: University Challenged

Following in the footsteps of a host of EMLO correspondents, students and lecturers the world over are currently acclimatizing themselves to a new academic year. With a plethora of challenges and possibilities beckoning, the beginning of university term is always exciting.

For many, it’s a period of upheaval, of relocation from one place to another, and of settling in, usually without home comforts, as Johann Freinshem reveals in a letter of 1642 to G. J. Vossius when he asks, for fear his baggage be detained, whether he might extract ‘books and furniture for his private use, which he understands other students have done’. Even the journey to the seat of learning itself is not without risk and a Danish student, Johann Wandalin, recounts to William Sancroft his misfortune as all his possessions were lost at sea en route to England.

This is a time when academics worry about funding, fees, and maintenance costs, and, like Polyander, might even fret over money promised for Hungarian students which has not arrived. Whilst some seek extra work to make ends meet, just as the Reverend William Stonestreet tells of a young student desperate for employment to help ‘eke out his subsistence’, others might go up in the world and take possession of bigger and more comfortable digs; we read of Francis Heardson, who in 1668 became a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, transferring from a student chamber to something significantly more commodious, describing ‘its advantages and the furniture which is in it’. Year after year at this particular moment, lecturers face a mountain of preparatory work and it’s no surprise to find Henry Dodwell advising on a forthcoming course in ecclesiastical history.

There are rocks to be navigated and opportunities which should not be squandered. Jacques Philippe D’Orville laments how certain students succumb to poor work habits and stresses ‘the importance of attentive listening to Professors’ lectures; and attacks students’ prevalent vice of inattention in its various manifestations; as galling to the teachers and coming home to roost with students in wasted opportunities and backwardness.’ Everyone is aware of the brickbats the terms ahead might hurl, yet not everyone is faced with an incident as dramatic as the ‘student Mr. Bonython being seized with madness’ who set fire to his chambers, nor the fate that befell Francis Bayly, a poor unfortunate Christ Church student who, according to John Keill, on the day that George Smalridge was installed as Dean of Christ Church ‘fell into the house of office & was suffocated’ (there was apparently a strong tradition of untimely ends in the latrines of early modern Oxford; see Philip’s recent blog post Death in the Privy for another sad example).

Such is the beginning of term. With so much to remember, so much to explore, so much to learn, good luck to all concerned. We hope you find EMLO useful in your studies; and look out for those treacherous toilets…

emlo_logo_infrastructureLetters in Focus with Miranda Lewis

Miranda is editing metadata from the Bodleian card catalogue of correspondence for our union catalogue, Early Modern Letters Online. On a regular basis, she brings us hand-picked and contextualised records.

Correspondence of Joseph Justus Scaliger Published

The Correspendence of Joseph Justus Scaliger (8 volumes) has just been published by Droz. Edited by Paul Botley and Dirk van Miert, with supervision, advice, and coordination from Henk Jan de Jonge, Anthony Grafton, and Jill Kraye, the simultaneous appearance of all eight volumes of this major early modern corpus represents one of the most impressive scholarly achievements of modern times (work on Scaliger’s correspondence only started in earnest in 2004).

The critical edition contains nearly 1,700 letters sent to or by the French polymath, all of which are presented alongside a complete scholarly apparatus as well as English synopses. Scaliger’s correspondents include such luminaries as Dominicus Baudius, Tycho Brahe, Isaac Casaubon, the Dousa and Dupuy families, Daniel Heinsius, Johannes Kepler, Justus Lipsius, Claudius Salmasius, Jacques-Auguste de Thou, Marcus Welser, and Joannes Woverius. The edition was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and (via Anthony Grafton’s Balzan Prize) the Balzan Foundation, with additional contributions from London’s Warburg Institute, the Scaliger Institute of the University of Leiden, and a number of Dutch societies and foundations.

No let-up in the pace: editors at work

The scene is set for the reception

The next generation of edition-makers

Rhodri Lewis and Sarah Rivett

This major publishing event was celebrated at the second of two publisher-sponsored drinks receptions at our latest conference Communities of Knowledge: Epistolary Cultures in the Early Modern World (20-22 September, 2012). Nearly one hundred delegates and guests assembled in the Bodleian Library’s magnificent Divinity School to toast the launch, where they were treated to wine, cocktail snacks, music from professional harpist Stephen Dunstone, ‘The Path to Scaliger: An Intellectual Journey’ (an animated presentation created especially for the occasion by Dirk), and speeches from Anthony Grafton and Max Engammare, Director of Droz. In related news, metadata from the edition is currently being prepared for inclusion in our union catalogue Early Modern Letters Online, while Dirk and Paul can be heard discussing the Scaliger corpus in their joint contribution to our 2010 seminar series.

Jan Loop, Noel Malcolm, and Dirk

Anthony Grafton’s address

Not pictured: four more volumes

Scaliger raises a glass

We congratulate Paul, Dirk, Henk Jan, Anthony, Jill, and Max (and thank them, as well as Wilma Minty and the rest of the Bodleian’s Historic Venues team, for their help with the reception), and wish the edition every success! For more information and to order online – in hard copy or electronic format – please visit the publisher’s website or download the flyer (pdf).

The Seventeenth Century and Routledge

From 2013, The Seventeenth Century journal will be published by Routledge. This exciting new partnership was celebrated at the first of two publisher-sponsored drinks receptions at our latest conference Communities of Knowledge: Epistolary Cultures in the Early Modern World (20-22 September, 2012).

A leading journal in early modern studies, focusing in particular on close textual analyses of fresh sources and innovative interdisciplinary approaches, The Seventeenth Century is published four times per year. During the reception, over eighty delegates and guests assembled in the modern and airy senior common room and terrace of the Faculty of English to toast this new relationship over sparkling wine and delicious canapés provided by the Organic Deli Café. We were also treated to short speeches from Professor Richard Maber, General Editor of the journal and speaker at the conference, and Adam Burbage, Managing Editor at Routledge. In moves close to the Project’s heart, both described plans to increase the journal’s online presence, including the digitization of all back issues, full-colour publication online, a new digital submission and refereeing system for prospective authors, and a new journal website on Routledge’s cutting-edge platform.

Adam Burbage from Routledge samples some canapés

General Editor Richard Maber describes the new partnership

Guests circulate around the Routledge display table

Lilies, celebratory slides, sparkling wine, sparkling conversation

We congratulate Richard as well as Adam, Mark, Andrea, Rachel, and Louise from Routledge (and thank them for their help with and generous sponsorship of the reception), and wish The Seventeenth Century every success in its new home! Stay tuned to developments on the publisher’s website.

Exhibition and Lecture: The Art of Seventeenth-Century Science

Post updated to include photographs

Our Martin Lister Research Fellow Anna Marie Roos has curated a small exhibition entitled ‘The Lister Sisters and the Art of Seventeenth-Century Science’, which will run in the Proscholium of the Old Bodleian Library from 18 August to 30 September (the poster can be downloaded here [pdf]). The free display showcases a unique set of drawings, prints, and copperplates of molluscs and their shells, (re)discovered among the library’s holdings by Anna Marie in 2010, which formed the basis for the illustrations in Martin Lister’s conchological magnum opus, the Historiae Conchyliorum (1685-92). Prepared by Lister’s teenage daughters, Susanna and Anna, the materials shed light on representational conventions within late seventeenth-century natural history, as well as on the gendered nature of illustrative practice in this boom era for lavishly illuminated scientific books. Anna Marie will also be giving a free lecture on ‘The Art of Science: The Rediscovery of the Lister Copperplates’ at 1pm on Wednesday 19 September in the Bodleian’s Convocation House (more info and booking on the library website). Further details of both events on The Conveyor.

Anna Marie in front of the display

Lecturing in Convocation House

In conversation with Stephen Johnston

The exhibition proves a hit

Cultures of Knowledge Receives Further Grant

We are delighted to report that Cultures of Knowledge has been awarded a further grant of $758,000 from the Scholarly Communications and Information Technology program of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for the period from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2014.

While our existing formula of scholarly projects, events, and digital infrastructure will be retained, the centrepiece of our work will now become the further development of our union catalogue of learned correspondence, Early Modern Letters Online:

  • One task will be to collaborate with a large number of individuals, projects, and repositories beyond Oxford to add significant quantities of new epistolary metadata to EMLO, thereby developing it into an increasingly representative catalogue of the seventeenth-century Republic of Letters.
  • A second focus of activity, pursued in partnership with colleagues in Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services, will be the addition of exciting new features to both the editorial toolset and the discovery interface, designed to transform the catalogue from a finding aid into a genuine tool of research and analysis.
  • A focused programme of onboard scholarly projects and events will serve to inform this further phase of systems development, so that it produces editorial and analytical tools closely tailored to the needs of the community of scholars and repositories most engaged in the preservation and study of the epistolary remains of the early modern period.

As we transition to this new phase of activities over the coming months, we will publish these plans in more detail here on the Project website. To receive news of upcoming events and fresh opportunities for collaboration in the meantime, please join the mailing list.

We are extremely grateful to the Trustees of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their ongoing support of our activities, and particularly to the Scholarly Communications team for their expert oversight of our Project and its follow-on application.

Death in the Privy (or, Strange Things Done in Sleep)

As I finalise annotations for Volume IV of The Correspondence of John Wallis (OUP), I encountered afresh one of the more curious letters in the corpus (pdf). In characteristic fashion for Wallis, the missive – written to Henry Oldenburg in April 1674 and read aloud at the Royal Society – concerns lofty topics, including Robert Hooke’s efforts to measure stellar parallax and thus to provide incontrovertible proof of the motion of the Earth. However, at the end of the letter, we find a rather more tragic story on a very human scale.

Wallis relates the tale of two young Danish scholars, the brothers Peter and Martin Rosenstand, who had resided in Oxford since late 1672 in the lodging house of a Mrs Mumford near the Sheldonian Theatre (Peter, incidentally, was the letter’s bearer). The pair rapidly gained a reputation throughout the city for combining impeccable scholarship, good manners, and sparkling wit; they were ‘civil persons, studious and good scholars’, according to Wallis, whose ‘commendable and ingenuous conversation’ had won them ‘acquaintance with persons of the best quality’. However, these halcyon days were not to last, for Wallis reports an ‘astonishing accident’ which took place the previous Candlemas Day (2 February). Martin, the elder brother at age twenty, ‘was found in the House of office, some distance from the house… he lay in, dead’, with severe contusions to the neck. Although his injuries were consistent with hanging, Wallis could not believe that such a dazzling young man could commit such a heinous act as ending his own life – suicide was a serious crime in early modern England – and so floated the theory to Oldenburg that Martin had ‘in his sleep, or dream, hanged himself… it is not accountable how it should be otherwise’. This consoling explanation was apparently widely shared by seventeenth-century Oxford’s great and good as news of the ignoble death of a rising star sent shockwaves through the quads: ‘It hath occasioned many discourses… and many stories of strange things done in sleep’.

The Sheldonian Theatre, in the vicinity of which the Rosenstands lodged

The yard of St Mary Magdalen parish church in St Giles

This ‘favourable’ view (in Wallis’s terms) was not, however, subscribed to by the Oxford antiquarian Anthony Wood, who provided a graphic account of the incident in his memoirs, the Life and Times (Volume II, pp. 280-1). While confirming Wallis’s claim that the siblings were ‘both the civilest men that ever came into that house [Mrs Mumford’s]’ (adding that Martin Rosenstand was ‘apt to blush’), for Wood the latter’s untimely passing was not a tragic misadventure but a willful act of self-destruction: ‘He rose up about four, struck fier, put off his shirt, went down naked (with his cote, loynings, hose and shoes in his armes), and so with the candle in his hand to the privy house, where (though I myself can just stand up in it) [he] hanged himself with his cravet, which came across his neck twice, upon a little rafter that went cross the house’. Moreover, in Wood’s version of events, Peter Rosenstand meddled with the scene in order to conceal his older brother’s actions: ‘His brother rising… went down to the privy house, and found him [Martin] stark naked hanging, tooke him downe and covered his privities with his coat, strived to conceal his death viz reporting that he died at his business’. This intervention notwithstanding, a surgeon ‘found that by his neck he had hanged himself’.

Whether Martin Rosenstand’s self-inflicted demise in a lavatory on a cold February morning in 1674 was deliberate or not, University coroner William Hopkins and his attending jury agreed with Wallis and the rest of Oxford’s learned community: the young Scandinavian had ‘hanged himself in his sleep… he dreamed of it, and so hanged himself’ (a verdict Wood deemed ‘doubtfull’). With the accidental nature of the death officially confirmed, Martin’s corpse was interred in the graveyard of St Mary Magdalen parish church at the southern end of St Giles at ten o’clock the following night, ‘close under the wall next to the stile or passage’ (church burials were denied to victims of suicide). Perhaps tellingly, ‘nobody [was] present but the carriers and clerk of the parish’…

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