Samples of Letters

1. Scaliger, Casaubon and Lipsius

Joseph Scaliger, Isaac Casaubon and Justus Lipsius are often mentioned as the princely triumvirate of the late sixteenth-century Republic of Letters. From 1593 onwards, Scaliger and Casaubon maintained an extensive correspondence, which survives almost intact: 113 letters from Scaliger to Casaubon and 145 letters from Casaubon to Scaliger. Contacts between Scaliger and Lipsius were less frequent: we know of 33 letters which Lipsius wrote to Scaliger and of 20 replies. Although Scaliger spoke highly of Lipsius, he thought little of Lipsius’ knowledge of Greek, failed to come up with constructive advise for Lipsius’ De militia romana (1595) and Admiranda (1598), and did not approve of Lipsius’ stylistic ideals. Confessional differences may have tempered warm feelings as well: Lipsius had lectured subsequently in Catholic Leuven, Lutheran Jena, and Calvinist Leiden. After he left Leiden in 1591, he openly returned to the Catholic Church, to the astonishment of his Protestant admirers. Contacts with Casaubon broke off: before 1591 the two scholars had exchanged at least eight letters (six from Casaubon, two from Lipsius). Seven years of silence followed until contact was restored in 1598. From then onwards, the correspondence continued regularly until Lipsius’ death in 1606: 46 letters remain from 1598-1605 (22 from Casaubon; 24 from Lipsius). Here we present images of autographs of Lipsius and Casaubon (for images of Scaliger’s handwriting, see below, under 3. More images of manuscript letters).

An autograph of a letter from Lipsius to Scaliger (with verso). Hamburg, SUB, Sup.ep. 28, fols. 177r-178v. (olim 343). Image by courtesy of the Staats- und Universitaetsbibliothek Hamburg.

An autograph draft of a letter from Casaubon to Scaliger. Hamburg, SUB, Sup.ep. 94, fol. 38r-v. Image by courtesy of the Staats- und Universitaetsbibliothek Hamburg.

Title pages of Casaubon’s edited correspondence:

 - First edition, by Andre Rivet and Johannes Fredericus Gronovius of Isaac Casaubonus, Epistolae, The Hague 1638. On this edition, see Dibon’s article listed in the bibliography under Some secondary literature.       

 - Second, enlarged, edition by Johannes Georgius Graevius of Isaacus Casaubonus, Epistolae, Magdeburg & Helmstadt 1656. Mind the little faces in the capital C and O. Leiden University Library, 671 D 12. Image by courtesy of the Leiden University Library and the Scaliger Institute.

- Third edition [forthcoming]

2. A letter from Scaliger to Meursius

Here is an example of a short letter from Scaliger’s Leiden period. We present an image of the original letter (kept in Leipzig ), an image of a manuscript copy (kept in Hamburg ) and our edition. The letter was printed in the eighteenth century, but the editor got the year wrong.

Contents and context

Johannes Meursius (1579-1639) was just 21 years old when he received this letter. At eighteen, he had already published four scholarly works. At twenty, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, Land's Advocate of Holland , appointed him as tutor of his two children. In 1610, he was appointed professor of Greek at Leiden University . Later, he became professor of history in Denmark . He would become famous as an extremely prolific editor of Greek texts and as a historiographer. In his Athenae Batavae, a successful book with biographies of professors, an advertisement for the University of Leiden , he presented himself as second to no other Leiden professor. Some five years after the present letter was written, Scaliger said to the brothers Jean and Nicolas Vassan (as the Scaligerana has it): ‘Meursius is a pedant, a son of monk. ... He was promising as a young man, but he is so proud that even the servants at the place where he stays mock him because of his arrogance. He is ignorant’. But at the time this letter was written, Meursius was a promising young man, tutor to the children of Oldenbarnevelt, and living in The Hague. 

Scaliger often entrusted his letters for German scholars to merchants travelling twice a year to the famous Bookfair in Frankfurt . In this letter, Scaliger offered Meursius to forward a letter to his friend Marcus Welser, a famous antiquarian in Augsburg . It might be inferred that Welser would be present at the fair.

Scaliger also informs Meursius that the family of the Leiden humanist Janus Dousa is grieving over the death of George, one of their sons. Janus Dousa, nobleman, Neo-Latin poet, historiographer and first curator of Leiden University , had been the driving force behind plans to bring Scaliger to Leiden . Dousa and his sons belonged to the inner circle of Scaliger’s Leiden network. When Dousa’s eldest son, the talented poet, scholar and historiographer Janus jr, died in 1596 at the age of 24 (three years before his brother George) Scaliger was devastated: ‘I cried for eight weeks like an old woman’, he remembered in his Scaligerana. His grief over the death of Janus Dousa frequently recurs in the letters following the young man’s death: ‘Every time I think of the fate of the unlucky lad I burst into to tears like a child’, he writes on one occasion. Elsewhere he informs the great French historian Jacques Auguste de Thou that six weeks after the death of Janus, there did not pass in hour in which he did not think of the boy. He was, he said, too overwhelmed with grief to write a poem in his memory.

George Dousa was not as scholarly-minded as his older brother. Late in 1599, three after Janus’ death, he died on military service abroad at the age of twenty-five. The death of young George is mentioned in the Scaligerana, where Scaliger remembers: ‘George Dousa ate as much as twelve others of us. I took pleasure in watching him devour an entire turkey and something more still. He was hardened on his return from Constantinople , because he walked in the snow. On the isle of Sao Tomé he drank Spanish wine, which killed him.’ The present letter shows Scaliger’s sympathies with the Dousa family: he wanted to present them with some consolation, most probably a poem, but thought it best to wait for a while because the wounds of grief were still too fresh.

 Scaliger also informs Meursius about the future projects of a scholar even more prestigious than Welser: Justus Lipsius, who planned to write a commentary on Seneca. This commentary, together with an emended text of Seneca, eventually came out in 1605. Two years later, Scaliger would write about this edition to the young scholar (and his future successor) Claude Saumaise: ‘That magnificent critic: how childishly he assessed the Tragedies of Seneca! I am talking about Lipsius.’

At the end of the letter, Scaliger asked Meursius to pass on his greetings to Oldenbarnevelt. This brief letter shows that Meursius was very well connected at a very early age. In the first place, Scaliger offered him his services to contact Welser, a rich and prestigious scholar. Secondly, Scaliger chose to tell Meursius about the feelings of the noble Dousa-family, with whom Meursius was clearly familiar. Moreover, Scaliger considers Meursius worthy of being informed about the plans of one of the three major scholars of Europe at the time: Justus Lipsius (a friend of Welser). Meursius was in the service of one the most influential politicians of the time, Oldenbarnevelt. Finally, Meursius could be – and probably was – proud that Scaliger himself, another of the three most prominent European scholars, took the time to write him a letter. (DvM).

Picture autograph (Leipzig UB, Ms. 0355 (olim 1274) fol. 227r. Image by courtesy of the Universitaetsbibliothek Leipzig).

Picture apograph (no. II) (Hamburg, SUB, Sup.Ep. 50, fol. 7r-v. Image by courtesy of the Staats- und Universitaetsbibliothek Hamburg).


25 February 1600 Scaliger [ Leiden ] to Johannes Meursius [ The Hague ]

Autograph:Leipzig, UB ms. 0355 (olim 1274), fol. 227r.

Copy: Hamburg , SUB, Sup. ep. 60, fol. 7r-v.

Print: Ioannis MeursI aliorumque virorum doctorum ad Ioannem Meursium Epistolae, in: Opera omnia, 12 vols, Florence 1741-1763, vol. XI, cols 61-62, no. 66.

Literature: Chris Heesakkers, ‘Scaliger en de Dousa’s’, in P.G. Hoftijzer (ed.), Adelaar in de wolken. De Leidse jaren van Josephus Justus Scaliger 1593-1609, Leiden 2005, 36-58: 40-41. Id., ’Te weinig koren of alleen te veel kaf? Leiden’s eerste Noordnederlandse filoloog Joannes Merusius (1579-1639)’‚ in Collegium Classicum c.n. M.F. (eds),Miro Fervore. Een bundel lezingen & artikelen over de beoefening van de klassieke wetenschappen in de zeventiende en achttiende eeuw, Leiden 1994, 13-26.

Note: The Greek word is transliterated to avoid technical complications. In the actual edition a Greek font is used. The numbers refer to the line numbers of the critical edition.

Iohanni Meursio suo salutem.(1)

Mercatores ad nundinas cogitant post quinque aut sex dies. Si quid ad  literarum dare vis, ego recte illas curabo, nisi tu ipse mercatorem habes cui recte illas committas.

Tota familia Douziana, ut audio, flebilibus lamentis resonat. Volebam aliquid paramuthètikón mittere, sed nimis adhuc crudum vulnus est. Itaque melius est non tangere. Postea videro.

Ante hos dies accepi literas a Iusto Lipsio. Meditatur in Senecam commentarium, ‘magis’ - ut ipsius verbis utar - ‘utilem quam ambitiosum’. Haec ille.

Tu vale et, ni grave est, dominum Bernaveldium (12) meis verbis saluta, cuius in aere totus ego sum.
 V. Kalendas Martii. MDC. (14)

Tuus Iosephus Scaliger. (16)

apparatus criticus:

1 Idem ad Eundem SUB Sup.ep.60 Ioseph. Scaliger I. Meursio suo S. Meursii Epistolae 
12 Barneveldium SUB Sup.ep.60 
14 MDIC Meursii Epistolae
16 Tuus ... Scaliger om. SUB Sup.ep.60