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Letters in Focus: Snooze Flash


Having stumbled across a discussion, inter alia, of early modern sleep and nocturnal activity in an article on the BBC News website, I found myself deep in EMLO this week on the elusive trail of sleeping patterns and experiences. As you might expect, cacophonous night-time irritants – cockerels, ostlers ‘scraping horses down and removing stones from their hooves’, fellow academics and students discoursing in the small hours – conspired to rob the worthy of their peace at night. We find poor Comenius and Johan Christoph Wolf suffering from insomnia, the latter ‘prostrated’ as a result. Sir John Cotton records being ‘indisposed for want of sleep’, and Narcissus Marsh finds himself so overworked he is rendered ‘unable to stand without help and more fit to sleep than write’. Dutch scholar and poet Nicolaas Heinsius the elder deserves our sympathy. Clearly a poor sleeper, he makes repeated reference to sleeplessness in letters spanning from 1650 to 1680, and the problem seems to have become especially acute towards the end of his life. Had he known of her, he might have envied the unfortunate unnamed woman, the subject of a curious case recorded in 1723, who slept ‘continuously for more than 6 weeks’ (presumably she was in some sort of coma).

Tips and recommendations for more effective slumber abound. To aid sleep, I found remedies of a cowslip mixture prescribed by Sir Hans Sloane to a long-suffering patient, and advice to Arthur Charlett, should he wish to sleep during the day, to indulge himself but to ‘sleep in a chair & not lying down’. The best counsel, however, came from none other than our own Jan Amos Comenius who, in a letter to a young man called Jindřich Dobříkovský, suggested dividing the day, taking eight hours for sleep, eight for work and study, and eight for recreation. All wonderfully wholesome and wise. As late as 1785, John Scott Hylton was writing to the Reverend Mark Noble with rules for ‘healthy living (light supper, bed and asleep by 11: nocturnal studies as bad as nocturnal revels)’. No excuse, then, for either of these gentlemen dropping off in the library.

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.

Snooze Button

Two New Comenius Publications

In exciting news for scholars of the Moravian educator and CofK stalwart Jan Amos Comenius, two Comenius-related publications prepared by colleagues and partners at the Czech Academy of Sciences have recently been released:

opera_omnia_newsThe new volume of J. A. Comenii Opera Omnia, 15/IV, appeared with Academia (Prague) in November 2011. Prepared by Martin Steiner, Markéta Klosová, and others, the volume builds on three installments already published under 15 and continues the ongoing work of the Opera Didactia Omnia corpus. The edition encompasses a significant part of Comenius’s activities in Hungary, including complete versions of textbooks prepared for the first two classes of his Latin school, and includes a full editorial apparatus as well as notes, comments, and summaries of information on edited works already available in English. For further information and to order a copy, please visit the publisher’s website.

patocka_newsThe letters of Jan Patočka, prepared by Věra Schifferová, have also been released in two volumes (1931-77) by Oikoymenh. A leading Czech philosopher of the twentieth century, Patočka was an eminent interpreter of Comenius’s life and work who corresponded extensively with other students of the pedagogue worldwide such as Milada Blekastad, Stanislav Sousedík, Julie Nováková, Jiřina Popelová, Josef Brambora, Antonín Škarka, Dmytro Čyževskyj, Klaus Schaller, Marcelle Denis, Franz Hofmann, and George Henry Turnbull. The letters, published in Czech, shed important light on Comenius as well as on the evolution of scholarly attitudes towards him. For further information and to order a copy, please visit the publisher’s website.

Universal Reformation: Intellectual Networks, 1560-1670


The opening plenary session.


Relaxing in the foyer.

The Project’s inaugural conference, Universal Reformation: Intellectual Networks in Central and Western Europe, 1560-1670, took place at St Anne’s College on 21–23 September 2010. The event, which was attended by over ninety delegates, built on three preparatory European workshops (held in Prague, Cracow, and Budapest), and allowed forty-two emerging and established scholars from eleven countries to share their perspectives on the international networks and intellectual traditions brought into being by the upheavals of the Thirty Years War. Themes explored included institutional networks and intellectual exchange, encyclopaedia and pansophia, the early modern European media revolution, ecclesiastical reconciliation, and millenarianism, prophecy, and propaganda. Delegates also enjoyed a drinks reception in the Bodleian Library‘s historic Divinity School (incorporating a private viewing of the exhibition ‘My Wit was Always Working’: John Aubrey and the Development of Experimental Science), and were present for the prototype launch of our union catalogue. For further information, including speaker profiles and abstracts, please visit the conference microsite; for details of our 2011 event, please visit the conference webpage.

Join the Project!

We are currently seeking a Postdoctoral Fellow, fluent in both Czech and English, to work on the correspondence of the pioneering Moravian educational theorist Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670). The successful candidate (who will be employed by and based at the Department for the Study and Editing of Comenius’s Work at the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague) will continue the compilation, translation, and correction of a database and digital archive of Comenius’s complete correspondence, which will form a central component of the Project’s union catalogue. The deadline for applications is noon on Wednesday 15 September 2010; further details and application instructions are available in English on our vacancies page and in Czech on the website of the Institute of Philosophy.

Universal Reformation: Booking Now Open!

conference_websiteWe are pleased to announce that booking is now open for ‘Universal Reformation: Intellectual Networks in Central and Western Europe, 1560-1670’, the first Project conference, which will take place at St Anne’s College, Oxford, on 21-23 September 2010. Organised by Howard Hotson and Vladimír Urbánek, the event will showcase the work of a diverse group of emerging and established scholars, many from east central Europe, who will converge on the intellectual networks and traditions engendered by the upheavals of the Thirty Years War. For provisional programme information, a steadily growing lists of speaker profiles and abstracts, and to book online, please see the new conference website. The deadline for registration is Friday 10 September.

Seminar 6: The Correspondence of Antoinette Bourignon


Discussions continue with Professor de Baar during the wine reception.

In the sixth installment of the Project’s seminar series on Thursday 3 June, Professor Mirjam de Baar (University of Groningen) described the epistolary practice and strategies of a seventeenth-century female prophet and mystic in a paper entitled ‘The Re-construction of a Spiritual Network: The Correspondence of Antoinette Bourignon (1616-1680)’. From her base in Amsterdam (where she purchased her own press in the late 1660s), Bourignon used a variety of textual media to disseminate the message that she was a spiritual leader – ‘The Mother’ – chosen by God to restore true Christianity on earth, and to consolidate a following around this ecumenical identity. Bourignon’s letters, argued de Baar, were central to this programme; over 600 manuscript versions survive (both originals and scribal copies), eleven different printed editions appeared during her lifetime, while nine further volumes were subsequently published posthumously. Her correspondents included luminaries such as Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670), Robert Boyle (1627-1691), Jan Swammerdam (1637-80), and Pierre Poiret (1646-1719), as well as a wide range of socially diverse disciples who wrote to her seeking advice on a variety of spiritual and personal issues, and whose preoccupations and voices are anonymously reproduced in published responses. In consequence, her letters have a dialogic, polyphonous quality, while the same followers who wrote to her seeking guidance in turn represented an important market for the letters in their printed manifestations, suggesting a close relationship between epistolarity and the mechanics of early modern publishing, and the existence of a shrewd business model beneath the spiritual discourse (a point further underlined during subsequent discussion). Despite her failure to establish a long-term community on the island of Nordstrand, and the fact that in the later years of her life the suspicions of Lutheran clergy forced her into exile in Eastern Friesland, Bourignon maintained a prolific output of letters, and continued to combine the roles of spiritual leader, publisher of epistolary collections, and manager of what might be interpreted as a spiritually driven commercial enterprise. Seminars take place in the Faculty of History on George Street on Thursdays at 3pm. For future seminars in the series, please see here.

Podcast now available on the seminar page!

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