The first heroes here are the printer-publishers who fed the inky stream on which knowledge flowed from mind to mind and from generation to generation. The great publishing house of the Estiennes was continued in Geneva by Henri Estienne II, and in Paris by Robert Estienne III. A similar dynasty was founded at Leiden (c. 1580) by Louis Elzevir; his five sons, his grandsons, and a great-grandson carried on his work and gave their name to a style of type. At Zurich Christopher Froschauer earned a place in the history of printing and scholarship by his careful editions of the Bible.

Libraries were providing new homes for old treasures. We have noted the Bodleian at Oxford, the library of the Escorial, the exquisite Biblioteca Ambrosiana at Milan (1606). Catherine de Médicis added many volumes and manuscripts to what is now the Bibliothèque Nationale. The new Vatican Library of Sixtus V (1588) seemed to Evelyn “the most nobly built, furnished, and beautiful of any in the world.”29

Newspapers were sprouting. As far back as 1505 single-sheet Zeitungen (tidings) had been sporadically printed in Germany; by 1599 there were 877 such publications, all irregular. The oldest regular newssheet known to history was the weekly Avisa Relation oder Zeitung founded at Augsburg in 1609 and composed from reports of agents posted throughout Europe by merchants and financiers. The Frankfurt Oberpostamzeitung, founded in 1616, continued publication till 1866. Similar regular weeklies began in Vienna in 1610, in Basel in 1611. Soon Fischart was making fun of the “newspaper-believing” public and its credulous avidity for news. The inadequate and biased transmission of news, and the profitable dissemination of nonsense, barred the general public from any intelligent or concerted participation in politics, and made democracy impossible.

Censorship of publications was practically universal in Christendom, Catholic and Protestant, ecclesiastical and secular. The Church set up in 1571 the Congregation of the Index to guard the faithful against books considered injurious to Catholic belief. Protestant censorship was not as powerful and severe as the Catholic, but it was as sedulous; it flourished in England, Scotland, Scandinavia, Holland, Germany, and Switzerland.30 The diversity of dogmas in different states allowed heretics in some measure to defeat the censorship by publishing their books abroad and importing copies clandestinely. Modern literature owes something of its wit and subtlety to censorship.

In divers translations, but always interpreted as the word of God, the Bible continued its career as the most popular of all books and the most influential in doctrine and language, even in conduct, for the worst brutalities of the time—wars and persecutions—quoted Scripture in self-justification. As the humanist Renaissance receded before the theological Reformation, the idolatry of the pagan classics was replaced by worship of the Bible. A commotion was caused when scholars discovered that the New Testament was written not in classical Greek but in the Koine of the populace; but the theologians explained that the Holy Ghost had used the common diction to be better understood by the people. Another heartache came when Louis Cappel, Protestant professor of Hebrew and theology at Saumur, concluded that the vowel points and accents in the canonically accepted Hebrew text of the Old Testament were additions made to older texts by the Masorete Jews of Tiberias in or after the fifth century B.C., and that the square characters of the accepted text were Aramaic substitutes for Hebrew letters. Johannes Buxtorf the Elder, the greatest Hebraist of the time, begged Cappel to withhold these views from the public as injurious to belief in the verbal inspiration of the Bible. Cappel published nevertheless (1624); Johannes Buxtorf the Younger tried to refute him, and argued that the points and the accents were also divinely inspired. The controversy continued through the century; orthodoxy finally yielded the points, and a modest step was taken toward appreciating the Bible as the majestic expression of a people.

Some of the most famous scholars in history belong to these years. Justus Lipsius, oscillating between Louvain and Leiden and between Catholicism and Protestantism, earned European fame by his corrective editions of Tacitus, Plautus, and Seneca, and surpassed all previous grammars with his Aristarchus, she De arte grammatica (1635). He mourned the imminent death of European civilization, and warmed himself with “the sun of another new empire arising in the west”—the Americas.31

Joseph Justus Scaliger, “perhaps the most extraordinary master of general erudition that has ever lived,”32 inherited from his famous father, Julius Caesar Scaliger, the throne of European scholarship. At Agen, in southwestern France, he served his father as amanuensis, and absorbed learning with every breath. He read Homer in three weeks and marched triumphantly through all the major Greek poets, historians, and orators. He learned Hebrew, Arabic, and eight other languages, ventured into mathematics, astronomy, and “philosophy” (which then included physics, chemistry, geology, and biology), and for three years studied law. His legal training may have helped to sharpen his critical teeth, for in the editions that he issued of Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius, and other classical authors he raised textual criticism from haphazard surmises to laws of procedure and interpretation. He had a wise respect for dates in the understanding of history; his greatest work, De emendatione temporum (On the Correction of Dates, 1583), for the first time collated the dates given by Greek and Latin historians with those given or indicated in the history, calendars, literature, and astronomy of Egypt, Babylonia, Judea, Persia, and Mexico. His Thesaurus temporum (1606) collected and arranged every chronological item in classical literature; and on this foundation he established the first scientific chronology of ancient history. It was he who suggested that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. When Justus Lipsius left Leiden in 1590, the university offered its chair of classical scholarship to Scaliger. After three years of hesitation he accepted; and thereafter, till his death in 1609, Leiden was the Olympus of savants.

Scaliger, like his father, was vain of their family’s supposed descent from the della Scala princes of Verona, and he was acidly critical of fellow scholars; but in a forgetful moment he called Isaac Casaubon “the most learned of living men.”33 Casaubon’s career explored the uses of adversity. He was born at Geneva because his Huguenot parents had fled from France. They returned to France when he was three, and for sixteen years he lived amid the alarms and terrors of persecution. His father was absent for long periods of service in Huguenot armies; his family often hid in the hills from fanatical bands of armed Catholics; he received his first Greek lessons in a cave in the mountains of Dauphiné. At nineteen he entered the Academy of Geneva; at twenty-two he became its professor of Greek; for fifteen years he held that post through poverty and siege. He could barely live on his salary, but he skimped on food to buy books, and he comforted his scholastic loneliness with kindly letters from the great Scaliger. He issued editions of Aristotle, Pliny the Younger, and Theophrastus, which captivated the learned world not merely by textual emendations but by illuminating notes on ancient ideas and ways. In 1596, when Henry IV had eased the theological strife, Casaubon was appointed to a professorship at Montpellier. Three years later he was invited to Paris, but the university had closed its doors to non-Catholics, and Henry had to take care of him as curator of the Bibliothèque Royale, at the comfortable salary of 1,200 livres per year. The economical Sully told the scholar, “You cost the King too much, sir: your pay exceeds that of two good captains, and you are of no use to your country.”34 When the great Henry died, Isaac thought it time to accept an invitation from England. James I welcomed him as a fellow scholar and gave him a pension of £300 a year. But the French Queen Regent refused to let his books follow him, the King pestered him with disquisitions, the London wits could not forgive him for not talking English. After four years in England he gave up the battle (1614) at the age of fifty-five, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

In that age the title of scholar was honored above that of poet or historian, for the scholar was revered as one whose patient learning preserved and clarified the wisdom and beauty hiding in ancient literature and philosophy. Scaliger, entering Leiden, was hailed like a conquering prince. Claude de Saumaise, known to the world of scholarship as Salmasius, was desired of many nations; after Casaubon’s death he was by common consent “the most learned of all who are now living” and, in general, “the miracle of the world.”35 What had he done? Born in Burgundy, educated—and converted to Calvinism—at Heidelberg, he shone forth, at the age of twenty, with a scholarly edition of two fourteenth-century writers on the controverted primacy of the popes, and, a year later, with an edition of Florus’ Epitome. Work after work followed, thirty in all, marked by all-embracing erudition. He reached his peak with a tremendous folio of nine hundred double-column pages, Exercitationes in … Solini Polyhistora (1629). Solinus, a third-century grammarian, had brought together the history, geography, ethnology, economy, fauna, and flora of all the major countries of Europe in an encyclopedic work which a later editor christened Polyhistor; upon this text Salmasius hung notes covering with cosmic erudition the whole world of Imperial Rome. Choosing among a dozen invitations, he accepted a professorship at Leiden, where he was at once made head of a brilliant faculty. All went well until Charles II of England, then an exile in Holland, engaged him to write a condemnation of Cromwell for beheading Charles I. His Defensio regia pro Carolo I appeared (November 1649) only ten months after the execution. Cromwell did not enjoy it; he hired the greatest poet in England to answer it; we shall hear of it again. Salmasius wrote a reply to Milton, but died (1653) before completing it, and Milton took the credit for killing him.

With so much learning in a few, probably eighty per cent of the people in Western Europe were still illiterate. John Comenius spent forty years seeking to improve the educational systems of Europe. Born in Moravia (1592), rising to be a bishop of the Moravian Brethren, he never lost his faith in religion as the basis and end of education; there could be no wisdom without the fear of God. Though his life was made an odyssey of tribulation by the religious hatreds of his time, he remained true to the tolerant philosophy of the Unitas Fratrum:

We are all citizens of one world, we are all of one blood. To hate a man because he was born in another country, because he speaks a different language, or because he takes a different view on this subject or that, is a great folly. Desist, I implore you, for we are all equally human…. Let us have but one end in view, the welfare of humanity; and let us put aside all selfishness in considerations of language, nationality, or religion.36

After writing half a hundred pedagogical texts, he summarized his principles in Didactica magna (1632), one of the landmarks in the history of education. First, education should be universal, regardless of sex or means: every village should have a school, every city a college, every province a university; advancement to higher education should be made possible for all who show themselves fit; the state must finance the discovery, training, and utilization of all the ability in its population. Second, education should be realistic: ideas should at every step be kept in touch with things; words in the vernacular or in a foreign language should be learned by seeing or touching or using the objects they represent; grammatical instruction should come later. Third, education should be physical as well as mental and moral; children should be trained in health and vigor through outdoor life and sports. Fourth, education should be practical: it should not stay in the prison of thought, but should be accompanied by action and practice and should prepare for the business of living. Fifth, more and more science should be taught with the advancing age of the student; schools of scientific research should be established in every city or province. Sixth, all education and knowledge should be directed to improving character and piety in the individual and order and happiness in the state.

Some progress was made. The German princes labored to establish an elementary school in every village. The principle of universal compulsory education was proclaimed by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar in 1619 for all boys and girls from six to twelve years of age,37 with a month’s vacation at harvest time, and by 1719 this system had been established throughout Germany. Secondary schools were still closed to women, but they multipled and improved. Twenty-two new universities were opened in this age.II Oxford was flourishing, as described by Casaubon in 1613; he was impressed by the remuneration and the social standing of the teachers there, as compared with their analogues on the Continent. Professors in Germany (1600) were so poorly paid that many of them sold beer and wine to eke out a living; at Jena the students caroused in taverns maintained by professors.38 Spanish universities declined after Philip II, withering under the glare of the Inquisition; meanwhile several universities were founded in Spanish America—at Lima in 1551, at Mexico City in 1553, long before the establishment of Harvard College in 1636. The prospering Dutch organized six universities in this period. When Leiden successfully resisted Spanish siege (1574), the States-General of the United Provinces invited the citizens to name their reward; they asked for a university; it was so ordered. In Catholic and Calvinist countries education was controlled by ecclesiastics; in England and Lutheran lands it was largely administered by clergymen controlled by the state. In nearly all universities except Padua teachers and students were required to accept the official religion, and academic freedom was strictly limited by both the state and the Church. Religious differences put an end to the international character of the universities; Spanish students were confined to Spain, English students no longer entered the University of Paris, and Oxford continued till 1871 to exact from every candidate for a degree assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of the Established Church. Originative thought tended to disappear from universities and to find refuge in private academies and noninstitutional studies.

So, in this age, private academies arose uncensored for study and research, especially in science. At Rome in 1603 Federigo Cesi, Marquis of Montebello, founded the Accademia dei Lincei (Academy of the Lynx-eyed), which Galileo joined in 1611. Its constitution defined its aim:

The Lincean Academy desires as its members philosophers who are eager for real knowledge, and will give themselves to the study of nature, especially mathematics; at the same time it will not neglect the ornaments of elegant literature and philology, which, like graceful garnets, adorn the whole body of science. … It is not within the Lincean plan to find leisure for recitations and debates…. The Linceans will pass over in silence all political controversies and every kind of quarrels and wordy disputes.39

The academy was dissolved in 1630, but its purposes were carried on (1657) by the Accademia del Cimento (trial and proof). Soon similar societies were to be formed in England, France, and Germany, and the inspiring International of Science would lay the intellectual and technical foundations of the modern world.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!