Serendipity in provenance research: A postscript

It’s been quite a while since I presented here the Serendipity Trilogy about the unexpected discovery of two books annotated by Joannes Broscius that were purchased in the second half of the 20th century by the Nicolaus Copernicus University Library. The reality wrote a postscript to this story as my article providing an extended discussion of these two small volumes owned previously by Broscius has appeared in the recent volume of Folia Toruniensia, a yearbook dedicated to book history. Although this article is rather technical and contributory and will be anly a tiny element of the overall output of the project, I am really happy about this publication for two reasons: (1) the article appeared in a journal which is dedicated to presentation of research based of local special collections; (2) its publication allows me to spread further my web of commentaries to Broscius’s papers (and it will take some time before I settle the score with him!).

For those who are interested, the electronic version of the journal is available through the regional digital library and the local television even informed about the publication of the yearbook on its daily news show!


A Ramist Postscript

As I mentioned some time ago, part of my scholarly soul still belongs to Ramism. Although I have moved into a slightly different field, I wouldn’t be here  without my research on the reception of Ramism in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – it was then when I started to study Broscius’s marginalia and realized that he was involved in the calendrical debates and these two facts made me to think about carrying out a larger project that could embrace not only Broscius but also a number of other fascinating early modern figuers who got involved into these debates. After I completed my PhD I had to take a kind of intellectual leave from all these logical distinctions, branching schemes, anti-Aristotelian polemics and rather dry textbooks and the Ramist virus remained dormant for a while. It was thanks to my faculty colleague, Simon Burton, that we started to think about organizing a seminar on broadly understood theories of knowledge and arts in late medieval and early modern, mostly Central, Europe which allowed us to join our forces.

The seminar, scheduled to take place in less than four weeks, on the 28th and 29th of May, was actually one of the reasons I visited Gdańsk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences two weeks ago. I wish I had more time to study Peter Crüger’s microscopic, erudite and highly critical marginalia related to chronology (although, in the long run, this might lead to a serious deterioration of my sight), the agenda of my visit was twofold and I spent at least half of my time in Gdańsk consulting manuscripts and books that have very little to do with chronology but will help me to shape the first version of my argument on the reception of Ramism in early modern Gdańsk/Danzig. This does not necessarily mean that I have to abandon Crüger – as a disciple of Danzig omnivorous logician and encyclopaedic polymath, Bartholomaeus Keckermann, he remains on the horizon as one of the elements of the picture I would like to include in my May paper, yet this time not as an active reader, but as an author of texts. (As an annotator, he will reappear in mid-June, at another exciting conference organized by Warsaw historians and dedicated to the manucript and handwriting cultures.)

Having said this, I am happy to officially announce the schedule of the Tree of Knowledge seminar and I really look forward to meeting all fabulous speakers and listening to their fascinating papers in Warsaw in a couple of weeks.

An Annotated Postcard

Last December, when I carried out phase I of my preliminary survey in the tremendous special collections of the Gdańsk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences my dreams of a marginalia fetishist came true once again. It turned out that my hopes of finding Central European scholars annotating works on calendars and chronology and polemicizing with Scaliger, Clavius, Petavius, Calvisius et consortes by means of annotations left on the pages of their books won’t be limited to the (rich enough) set of glosses left by Joannes Broscius and a bundle of anonymous libri annotati found here and there but will be expanded by at least one more reader who can be identified and whose annotations can be linked with his own works. This is the case of Peter Crüger (1580-1639), professor of astronomy and poetics in the Gymnasium Academicum in Gdańsk, one of the three famous Lutheran educational centers in the broadly understood Pomerania region.

Gdańsk Library is well-known as a treasure trove of various unique primary sources to the intellectual history of the region and its institutions and it seems that even after many years of scholarly efforts there are materials that have never been studied closely or have been studied for wrong reasons. This is the case of Crüger, whose annotations, mostly those left in the 3rd edition of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus (now preserved in the Copernicus Museum in Frombork) attracted attention of scholars not due to the fact that he was an scholar in his own right, but mostly because he was a teacher of a much greater mind, i.e. Johannes Hevelius. This attitude can be best observed in a 3-pages long article published ca. 70 years ago by Tadeusz Przypkowski. In it, Przypkowski presented Crüger’s annotations in his copy of the 3rd edition of De revolutionibus but the conclusion he drew is somewhat surprising as he postulated creation of a monograph of Hevelius! It seems that only Owen Gingerich, in his Census of the first and second edition of Copernicus’s groundbreaking work did Crüger justice, presenting him as an actual reader and giving a very concise yet instructive report on the contents of his marginalia in one of the Moscow copies of De revolutionibus.

Title page of Astronomia instaurata (so-called 3rd edition of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus), owned in turn by Peter Crüger and Johannes Hevelius; Nicolaus Copernicus Museum, Frombork, Poland


Apart from these two volumes, notes in Crüger’s hand seem to be a virgin land and I am going to explore it a little bit, starting from the calendrical and chronological corner yet I guess there may be also some other areas that turn out worth exploring.

My December visit to Gdańsk proved to be only a beginning of a longer journey. After studying few books annotated by Crüger it turned out that one of them is preserved in quite a surprising location:


My March trip to the 2015 Annual Meeting in Berlin, where I organized a series of panels on chronology in the early modern period, seemed to be an excellent occasion to have a look at this volume. On Wednesday before the official proceedings of the RSA began, I spent a lovely morning at the Library of the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam-Babelsberg where a copy of Kepler’s Astronomia nova, owned in turn by Crüger and Hevelius, is preserved. It is a fine volume which was carefully restored in 1950’s and all the annotations except for few minor ones have survived until today in highly legible form. I am really happy for two reasons: this brief, technical visit allowed me to pick up a single yet quite substantial piece of a puzzle which can be somehow linked to the astronomical workshop of Crüger and at the same time, like all good marginalia (should) do, opens up new paths for further queries.

Two days after my visit to Postdam and just seconds after the chronological panels, a bucket of cold water was poured on my head. I went to the roundtable session celebrating the 25th anniversary of Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine’s seminal essay on Gabriel Harvey’s reading of Livy. One of the most important things I learned during this fabulous meeting is that Grafton and Jardine, calling themselves “granpa and grandma of marginalia studies”, are not satisfied with the way their article was applied and imitated in further studies on early modern readers and that they ment something different than establishing a simple generative model for writing an endless series of papers on ‘X reading Y‘. While I believe every case is different and it always depends on the skills and approach of particular historian what s/he will eventually do with such kind of primary sources as marginalia, I must admit that Grafton and Jardine diagnosed an important illness (or a sin) of letting oneself believe that finding a reader and his annotations is a sufficient condition to write yet another study following the rules established by their 1990 paper. I have spent few past years with annotations, either doing research for my PhD, then moving on to other fields, and it was last December when the symptoms of this illness (or inclination towards this sin) struck me for the first time. It was then when I saw Crüger’s annotations for the first time during my visit to Gdansk: they simply triggered a feeling of finding something familiar yet new, something that you dealt with earlier and you know how to proceed with this kind of sources (or at least you believe you know) and at the same time something idiomatic and unique, which will force you to find new way of writing on this kind of sources even if you feel OK with the way you wrote your earlier studies. This feeling of familiarity can be misleading and cannot end well and it always takes great effort to overcome one’s mental and scholarly habits in order to find new approach and I think the apparent ease with which the “Studied for Action” paper can be emulated is the main fault for the entire confusion about the method and purpose of studying marginalia.

Certainly, there are some aspects of early modern annotations that can be treated as basis for data-mining and large scale analysis based on a large corpora of libri annotati – this is mostly the purpose of a new exciting project on the “Archaeology of Reading” with Grafton and Jardine as principal co-investigators. I really look forward to the development of this enterprise and I can only imagine what kind of tools and results the project will bring over the years to come. Yet, being also an admirer of micro-narratives, I do not want to let early modern readers dissolve in the pool of hundreds and thousands of annotations. I am not sure if the authors of the paper celebrated in Berlin would agree with me that what makes the set of marginalia writing about is the fact that they allow one to go beyond the closed cycle of references between a series of books and look at the relationship between these annotations and some other kinds of evidence. It is really difficult to find such a link in some cases, sometimes it is not necessary – it depends on the kind of history you would like to write and how far your sources and your imagination can take you. And I believe that this fact gives me at least partial absolution: “my” readers were involved in public activity, both as teachers and polemicists, and even if large chunks of their annotations have a technical or theoretical character and create a coherent system of internal references between piles of books, some of them still extant, some of them perished, they can be linked to their involvement in the public sphere where they translated their professional knowledge into the more popular kind of discourse and tried to shape views of citizens without professional training in calendrical astronomy or training of any other kind.

Having said this, I must confess that my sin drove me again to Gdańsk where I arrived yesterday and will stay until Friday, carrying out phase II of my survey. Here I am, an irredeemable sinner, willing to study marginalia in hope that there is some kind of order that can be derived out of them and that they can create pieces of narrative that can be written on Crüger – not as an isolated scholarly reader but as a scholar who by means of reading and linking various texts laid foundation for education of next generations of citizens of Gdansk/Danzig and whose knowledge of astronomy and the way it can be applied to chronology allowed him to get involved into public debate on Gregorian calendar and use chronology as a vehicle for other kinds of knowledge. Having transcribed a large portion of Crüger’s notes today and awaiting to see some other of his volumes over the next four days, I am still thinking about differences and similarities between him and other readers I have studied or read about. When you are sitting in a reading room, trying to decipher Crüger’s tiny hand, focusing on direct relations between the note left in the margin and printed text, trying to figure out the real meaning of all these references to Josephus, Bucholzer, Tremellius, Scaliger, Casaubon, Kepler and Petavius – it is easy to forget about the reality outside the library. Bu the world behind the library’s walls does exist, just as it did in Crüger’s times – and this is probably one of the arguments which gives some value added to the study of annotations and makes this kind of scholarship useful not only for book historians and manuscript fetishists but also for people interested in social interactions and the history of shaping of public sphere through of education, scholarship, and debate.


Dies natalis

Even if I would really want to avoid him – because he is simply too big for me, because everything had been already written on him, name all possible reservations you want – he comes out from nearly every corner I visit. Starting from the writings on calendar reform, to the mid-sixteenth-century obscure astrological manuscripts I studied recently, to even more obscure chronological manuscripts I have studied for the past year and am going to study for a while longer, to the marginalia of a bunch of Central European scholars who are important for me due to their activities at the intersection of astronomy and history – there is always a 99% chance that I will end up with him. Everything – at least in my scholarly world – seems to revolve around him. Well, I should have seen this coming.

I guess you already know who that is. And since he was born on February 19, 1473, as his reader and a citizen of Toruń since 2013, I can’t say nothing else but: Happy birthday, old chap, we’re gonna spend some time together.

As a birthday card, for obvious reasons of greater interest to modern readers than to Copernicus himself, I would like to present a page from Astronomia instaurata, the third, 1617 edition of De revolutionibus, prepared by Nicholaus Müller’s and published in Amsterdam. Here we come back to Joannes Broscius and his annotations. Broscius used all three early modern editions, the Nuremberg 1543 edition, which belonged actually to the university, the Basel 1566 one and the Astronomia instaurata, and all of them bring some interesting materials on the reception of Copernican ideas in Kraków (as well as the way Broscius incorporated Copernicus’s claims into his own research). If you have access to the famous Owen Gingerich’s Census (which nowadays seems to be more rare than Copernicus), you can check it on your own and/or have a look at the digitized Nuremberg edition at the Jagiellonian Digital Library (and when you get bored with Broscius’s notes, check out the Jag. Lib. MS 10000 – the autograph of De revolutionibus!). As to the birthday card: Broscius, as a vigilant reader and one of the first biographers of Copernicus simply decided to join the discussion about Copernicus’s date of birth and the annotation’s he left on the first page of Müller’s Life of Copernicus testify that.

Kraków, Jagiellonian Library, shelfmark Mag. St. Dr. 311204-311205 II

Kraków, Jagiellonian Library, shelfmark Mag. St. Dr. 311204-311205 II

P.S. In one of my tweets I sent earlier this month I included a photo of a title page of Rheticus’s Narratio prima.

This copy belongs to the Copernicus House Museum in Torun and from the annotations it is clear that this reader of Rheticus confused his date of death. In the light of the discussion’s summarized by Müller and notes left in Rheticus, it seems that Copernicus and early Copernicans were out of luck as far as the daiting of their lives was concerned…

P.P.S. Those of you who are still hoping to read part 2 of the new cycle on the manuscript of Jan Latosz I inaugurated in January, rest assured it will appear shortly. I am still buried in the edition and creating commentary and as soon as I dig myself out, I will be able to tell something more (and general) about the MS. As for now, I can say it is even more interesting now than it was when I read it for the first time and it has some Copernican elements too!

In the year 252525…, or: How to bore your opponent to death

All the readers of “Chronologia Universalis” probably heard at some point the 1969 hit by the Zager and Evans duo. In it, the musicians propose a pessimistic, if not apocalyptic, insight into the relatively distant future, asking questions about such important issues as the survival of humankind by the year 9525 and so on and so forth. At the moment of its premiere, the song somehow reflected all the Cold War-related uncertainties and concerns, just as did other kinds of popcultural texts preoccupied with apocalyptic visions and predictions. To say that I like the song would be an overstatement, yet I must confess I could not get it out of my head while I was working on one of the texts that belongs to the long line of polemical writings related to the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. And although I intend to include it in the critical edition of these sources, there are moments when I wonder whether this decision won’t turn as suicidal.


What I would like to propose you today is to make a thought experiment. Instead of two pop-rock musicians singing about what may happen in the distant future imagine a Catholic priest of Armenian origin, sitting in his studio and writing. The whole scene is settled in the city of Lviv somewhere in 1660’s. Jakub Gawath (1598-1679), the priest in question, is in his sixties and is already know as the author of a number of religious texts. Some of them will have to wait for their publication by the 1690’s, but at the moment when we meet Gawath he is working on something really special – the ultimate argument for the acknowledgement of the Gregorian calendar.

The harbinger of this argument was Gawath’s 1661 brochure entitled Pokazanie jawnej omyłki starego kalendarza w święceniu Wielkiejnocy (The Demonstration of the Blatant Error of the Old Calendar with regard to the Celebration of Easter). In it, Gawath developed a brief and rather loose line of argumentation about the reasons why the Gregorian calendar should be acknowledged by the Uniates and Orthodox Christians. Once again, following into the footsteps of his predecessors, Gawath made use of the standard arguments such as references to the early Christian synods, citations from the Church Fathers, scriptural arguments, etc. although he put them in a somewhat different form than the one employed by Joannes Broscius, Kasjan Sakowicz or even Jan Dubowicz. From the structure of The Demonstration it can be easily of observed that Gawath had some real difficulties in organizing this text around one idea and he could not resist the temptation to use all arguments that he had at hand. What the readers got in result is a loose combination of images and arguments of all possible kinds, a real mishmash which is still comprehensible, yet a bit annoying.

Jakub Gawath, The Demonstration of the Blatant Error of the Old Calendar..., Lviv 1661, title page

Jakub Gawath, The Demonstration of the Blatant Error of the Old Calendar…, Lviv 1661, title page; Cracow, Princes Czartoryski Library, shelfmark 63682 I

The function of The Demonstration, however, was to prepare the ground for the ultimate battle. In 1665 Gawath brought out the big guns although he masked them wisely with a verbal camouflage. If you see two titles, The Demonstration of Blatant Errors… and the other, i.e. A Supplement to Two Treatises on Calendar (Supplement dwóm traktacikom o kalandarzu), you quite naturally expect that the supplement will be simply a supplement, nothing more, nothing less and will be shorter than the basic text. But this is not the case of Gawath as his supplement is several times longer than his previous works on calendar and goes well beyond the standard polemical argumentation as it also includes several featuers of a computistical manual.

Gawath’s Supplement is a text difficult to read for a number of reasons. Although by the moment of its publication the Polish ortography has been adopted for print quite well and seemed to be pretty stable, the Supplement brings a set of quite puzzling attempts to write down words in a completely new, sometimes amusing, way. The same goes for punctuation. In the Old Polish prints it was based not on the logical division of the text, be it a sentence or paragraph, but on the intonation. In case of Gawath’s treatise (oh pardon, supplement to treatises) punctuation marks were used without any visible rules, some long sentences merge into one mega-sentence or sentence-like structure because either the author or the typesetter did not know where to put a full stop. Sometimes, just like in the case of the Oxford comma, the enumerations become rather confusing as it is difficult to determine wheter a series of words should be treated as a list of, let’s say, four items or a list of three items determining the fourth one – both options make sense and this is a real challenge for an editor. The general impression is that the text was prepared for print by a typesetter who got drunk or by an absolute newcomer to the profession. (Needless to say that there is no Erratum at the end of the brochure…)

Jakub Gawath, Supplement to the Two Treatises on Calendar..., Lviv 1665; Cracow, Princes Czartoryski Library, shelfmark 63681 I

Jakub Gawath, Supplement to the Two Treatises on Calendar…, Lviv 1665; Cracow, Princes Czartoryski Library, shelfmark 63681 I

However, once you get accustomed to the peculiarities of Gawath’s logic, punctuation and ortography, you can try to figure out what he had in mind and why he decided to publish his Supplement. It turns out that the basic idea was to make his readers aware of the long-distance consequences of the fact that the Orthodox Christians decided to keep the Julian calendar and treated the recognition of the new system of time reckoning  as an act of treason against the tradition established at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. A similar attempt has been already reported by Joannes Broscius in his Apology of the Roman Catholic Calendar, where the Cracow scholar suggested that if the calendrical divide lasts long enough, the Orthodox Christians and Uniates will celebrate their Easter in the summer. Broscius however, although he had all qualification to do this, did not decide to involve calculations or tables that would prove his readers that he was right. Such a paradox, if put in a witty way, could do its job as a link in the long line of argumentation. You can show the implications of this fact in few sentences and ask rhetorically your readers if they really want to sentence the next generations to the everlasting, totally errant celebration of the Easter. This could also gain you some respect among the learned who could share your love for puns and paradoxes and appreciate the knowledge of astronomy. Finally, it could also serve as a quite evocative argument to those who are less educated as the image of Easter celebrated in the summer, during the harvest, could be really appealing even to the imagination of less educated public.

Unlike Broscius, Gawath decided to do the opposite as he made a risky attempt to tell something what should be presented in a tabular form. At the moment of the introduction of the reform in 1582 the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars amounted to 10 days. To keep the spring equinox in its place, i.e. on the 21st of March, just as it was decided in Nicaea in the 4th century, the Gregorian calendar brought a new system of leap years, which eventually lead to the growth of difference between the two calendars. This could be easily shown in a neat and elegant table, as there is nothing difficult in showing the growing difference between these two systems in few colums.

Gawath took the road less taken and presented the tabular data in a narrative form. This decision resulted in a kind of an obscure litany to the old and new calendar, in which he enumerated the crucial moments in the future when the divergence between the two systems will be growing and provided some computistical calculations of the golden number and epacts, giving the exact dates of Easter that could be of use for the generations of Christians who would come hundreds or even thousands of years after his own generation. Needless to say that this makes his text really annoying: one, two or three paragraphs of this kind are fine and they give you the general idea, but the fourth, fifth … and the fifteenth make you a bit impatient and you start peeking at the next pages, just to make sure this sequence will finally conclude at some point. This is as if Gawath decided to bore his Orthodox oponents to death, or at least exhaust them to a point when they would be ready to admit that the Gregorian calendar is a much better and more precise tool for time reckoning than the old Julian calendar.

Gawath's Supplement, p. 4-5, an example of his calendrical litany - evey paragraph begins with a reference to another year which is important for his argument

Gawath’s Supplement, p. 4-5, an example of his calendrical litany – evey paragraph is dedicated to a single year which plays significant role in his entire argument on the desynchronization of two calendars

The radicality of Gawath, however, consists not only in his attempt to rhetoricize something which is completely at odds with rhetoric, but in the fact that at some points he seems to suggest that he assumes quite an optimistic view that in the year 48900 A.D. we as a humankin will still be here on Earth, arguing about the dating of Easter and the legacy of the synod of 325 A.D.. Up to a point, this attitude seems to clash with the apocalyptic and millenarist tendencies of Gawath’s times, when the Second Coming and the Last Judgement seemed to be right behind the corner. If you assume that the date of the Easter in 48900 A.D. is really an issue, the perspective of salvation becomes nearly unavailable, especially for those who are particularly impatient. The long-term scenario outlined by this Armenian Catholic priest had obviously nothing to do with the doctrine of salvation and interpretation of the Scripture but it is an interesting paradox, however, how these two attitudes towards time coexisted – the impatient awaiting of the Second Coming and the quiet, yet still quite apocalyptic, calculations of the disorder of time in the 488th century C.E.

Maybe, then, if one is looking for some antecedences of apocalyptical images of the future in early modern texts, he or she should turn not only towards the literary works that offered imaginary narratives to the Moon and other celestial bodies or utopian visions of the future that would come within the period of two or three hundred years, but also to the texts that were created for completely different reasons and purposes.

If the coexistence of two systems of time reckoning in early modern Christianity caused so many difficulties, imagine the social consequences of the further desynchronization of calendars in the future. Thus, the Zager and Evans-style question, “In the year 252525, will the Easter be on time?” seems to promise quite an intriguing starting point for an apocalyptic novel.

P.S. Those of you who are awaiting the Part 2 of the series dedicated to the manuscript of Jan Latosz’s Przestroga are kindly asked to have patience. The next post will appear here within the next few days.

Serendipity in provenance research, part 3

Recently on Provenance Research: The author of “Chronologia Universalis” carries out a preliminary survey in the Special Collections Department of the University Library in Toruń. By a complete accident he receives a copy of Kepler’s Strena that contains marginalia made by a suspiciously familiar hand. After having a closer look at the notes left by this mysterious early modern reader he realizes that what he has on his desk is a copy that belonged and was used by Joannes Broscius, whom he studied for the past five years and never expected to dig up one of his books here, in Toruń. The author disappears for six months, leaving the mini-series unfinished and marking his existence only with a brief note sent from Galway.


The best part of the discovery of Broscius’s copy of Strena is not the fact that the existence of this volume remained unknown to all scholars interested in the marginalia left by this scholar, but the fact that the minor notes he left in his Kepler can be linked directly to one of his own works. It is natural that we, students of Broscius are happy about that, but what makes us even happier is the fact that by this discovery we have yet another piece of the puzzle that can be tied together with particular scholarly effort made by Broscius and have a look at the way he worked with texts that served as direct stimuli for his own work.

In his “New Year’s gift”, dedicated to Johannes Matthaeus Wacker von Wackenfels, an imperial councillor at the court of Rudolf II, Kepler tried to solve the problem of the regularity of snowflakes and derive from these tiny ice structures geometrical rules that would underpin the entire reality. As such, Strena should be and is actually being read in the context of the entire corpus of Keplerian cosmology and metaphysics – without that it would be just a geometrical exercise part of which would remain illegible. And although the entire text of Strena is filled with word-plays based on the ideas derived from the vanity of a snowflake and he seems to diminish things he accomplished in his work in the eyes of the addressee, it does not change the fact that the actual goal of his work was quite an ambitious one and went far beyond geometrical observations.

Leaving Kepler’s accomplishments aside, one needs to realize that his work inspired a young, 25 years old Cracow scholar, Joannes Broscius, who following the ideas of the author of Astronomia nova, tried to solve the problem of the regularity of the structure of the honeycomb. At the turn of the first and second decade of the 17th century Broscius was at the very beginning of his academic career so his attempt to solve this Keplerian problem should be read as an attempt to enter the world of academic discussion and scholarly publishing.

It was in 1611 when Broscius published a quasi-Keplerian work of his own, i.e. Problema geometricum. This tiny brochure in quarto, counting only 7 leaves including the title page, was published in the printing office of Andrzej Piotrkowczyk in Cracow and survived until nowadays only in one copy which is preserved in the Old Prints Department of the Ossolineum Library in Wrocław (shelfmark XVII-847). For Polish-speaking readers the text of Problema is also available through the Polish translation which was published in the second volume of Broscius’s Selected works in 1956, along with his Dissertation on the comet of Astrophil and excerpts from his Apology of Euclid and Aristotle against Peter Ramus and others.

Joannes Broscius, Problema geometricum, title page

Joannes Broscius, Problema geometricum, title page (Wrocław, Ossolineum, shelfmark XVII-847)

The text of Problema was dedicated to Jan Żółkiewski, the castellan of Kiev and son of Stanisław, the Crown field hetman and should be seen as yet another example in the long line of attempts to seek patronage for his scholarly enterprises. No wonder then, that Broscius is trying to convince his noble reader that what is most valuable in geometry is not the beauty of its purely theoretical structures but the fact that these structures can be implemented into the real life practice. In the dedicatory letter, which serves also as a kind of accessus ad auctores, he invokes the authorities of Socrates, Euclid, Archimedes and several other Greek mathematicians in order to convince his patron that the real geometry should be somehow involved in the real life and should be aimed at solving actual problems, making our life more rational and simply better. Since Broscius addressed his later works to other patrons it seems that Żółkiewski either did not find his arguments convincing or was not interested in patronage. Despite this failure, Broscius’s letter remains interesting as an explicit declaration of practical way of thinking about the patronage over the exact sciences.

Problema geometricum, fol. A2r: Broscius's dedicatory letter to Jan Żółkiewski

Problema geometricum, fol. A2r: Broscius’s dedicatory letter to Jan Żółkiewski

The text of Problema is much shorter than the one of Kepler’s. While Strena has a narrative form and Kepler is leading his reader by his or her hand, Broscius limited the structure of his dissertation to the logical skeleton which consists of nine main propositions (propositiones). His line of argumentation is simple and could be boiled down to a number of theses. Broscius, while examining the regularity of the honeycomb, takes an assumption that the honeycomb structure is not a result of accident, nor is the byproduct of the insect anatomy, but is the direct effect of the general mathematical rules that govern the entire reality. This lead him to yet another presupposition that the geometrical structures that underlie the everyday phenomena are somehow rational and as such are aimed at reaching the greatest efficiency. Having assumed this, he examines the regular figures, the equilateral triangle, square and hexagon, in search for the proof that the last figure guarantees the best ratio of the lenght of sides to the measure of angles and surface. As moder scholars have observed, Broscius argumentation is not free from mistakes as he seems to completely forget about the fact that the honeycomb is a spatial, three-dimensional structure, not the flat drawing on a sheet of paper. This fact should have lead Broscius to the examination of solids made of regular polygons but for some reasons he did not do this, leaving thus his proof incomplete and a bit unconvincing.

Among numerous manuscripts left by Broscius and books he annotated the Toruń copy of Strena is the first document that can be linked directly to his work of 1611. What is curious about it is the fact that it does not bring any dense comments about the structure of Kepler’s argumentation, nor does it reveal any information about what he might liked or disliked, agreed or disagreed with in Kepler’s opusculum. The volume also does not help in the search for answer to the question of the incompleteness of Broscius’s argumentation Actually, from the point of view of marginalia lover, this volume could be treated as a real disappointment – only few minor annotations, most of them based on the phraseology of Kepler’s text and one attempt to render Keplerian phrase in Polish does not make one’s hart beating faster. But for me the lack of marginalia makes a memento that the chase for annotations has its own limits and rules and that the process of reconstruction of one’s reading list and working methods is not a mechanical activity. It would make things much easier if Broscius annotated everything, laying his cards on the table and leaving them to the future researchers. But this is not the general rule, neither in case of Broscius, nor in the case of any early modern reader whose library survived the historical turmoils. And such ‘negative facts’ as the lack of long and rich annotations in a text that was the main inspiration for creating one’s own work as well as the lack of references to this inspiration in the published text are also meaningful.

What’s the moral of this Serendipity Trilogy, then? I guess I can draw at least two. The first one is quite obvious: you should keep your eyes open, expect everything and let the collection you are working with surprise you. The second one is a preliminary observation: the history of not-annotating or not-leaving notes is the inherent part of the history of the book and reading and the lack of notes does not mean by necessity that the unannotated volume did not play role in the creative process and served merely as decoration.

Problema geometricum, fol. Bv, detail

Problema geometricum, fol. Bv, detail

Serendipity in provenance research, part 2

A week ago, in the first part of this tripartite story about serendipity in provenance research, I gave you some general information about the context of the accidental discovery I made.

On Thursday, July the 3rd, I continued my survey at the special collections of the University Library in Toruń. I decided to move from the manuscripts gathered at this library towards the regular analysis of the provenance marks left in the works by early modern chronographers and astronomers that are available at this particular library as I still have only a cursory knowledge of both the character of this collection and its ownership structure. As usual, I filled in a number of order slips and started to leaf through the subsequent volumes in hope of finding some early modern annotations.

Nothing unusual happened, the pages were clean as if they came freshly out of the printing press, until I received an awkward-looking cardboard box with multiple titles. It was not a regular book-block or sammelband as the brochures gathered under a series of consecutive shelfmarks were never bound together and were not even related to one another by a common subject or author. Apparently, the librarians gathered them together due to their relatively small size. What alerted me right after I opened the box was the fact that two titles with the lowest shelfmarks were actually missing. After a quick verification it turned out that two of the items which should be in the box were removed as they did not fit exactly into the box’s format and could be easily damaged.

The title I was looking for was one of minor works by Joseph Scaliger, i.e. his commentary to De tribus Judaeorum by Nicolaus Serarius, so I asked the librarian on duty to bring me this particular position. This, however, was not the end of the whole confusion as I wrote the cipher 5 in the Scaliger’s shelfmark in such a way that it was read as 6. Thus, by a pure accident, I received a completely different title and since it turned out to be a work of Johannes Kepler I decided to have a look at it.

I opened the cardboard wallet and what I saw was a poorly preserved brochure without any binding but with damaged page edges and some occasional, light brown stains. It was the 1611 Frankfurt edition of Strena, a minor yet quite interesting work of Kepler’s.

Kepler's StrenaI never read it in the original until now but I knew it through it’s recent Polish translation. I turned the page carefully and what I saw on the margin of the next page (i.e. sig. A2r) made me to look around and make sure if I am actually sitting in the reading room at Toruń as the shape of the letters left next to the opening paragraph of Kepler’s dedicatory letter seemed oddly familiar.

Kepler's Strena, sig. A2rFive years ago, when I came to the Old Prints Department at the Jagiellonian Library and ordered my first book annotated by Broscius in order to prepare a paper for the Cracow workshop of the “Cultures of Knowledge” project, the librarian on duty opened the volume, had a look at some random pages and said that this was definitely his handwriting. Then I was ready to assume that being able to tell the difference between various early modern hands was a symptom of lunacy and that it was nearly impossible to give such a judgment after having just a quick glance at some minor scribble. After all these years, when I got accustomed to Broscius’s handwriting and transcribed hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of his words, including a rough draft of hist 1652 Apologia pro Aristotele et Euclide, I feel quite confident when I am asked whether it is his handwriting or not. Moreover, I can say that I fully understand the Cracow librarians and their level of familiarity with Broscius’s hand and I am actually ashamed of my past lack of belief. Although I still experience some difficulties with reading some parts of his manuscripts as some of them are blurred and some of them are simply so tiny it is really difficult to tell the difference between certain letters but despite that, I have the general idea of how he wrote particular letters, how he marked interesting passages, what types of ink or pencil he used, in which places of the book he used to leave notes, etc. and this knowledge, a classical example of learning by doing, substantially facilitates the process of verification of subsequent annotated volumes.

When I turned the page of the Toruń brochure I saw another annotation left in the margin of fol. A3r. This time it was in Polish and it read as follows: “Nie chuchay aby sie snieg nie rozpłynał”, “Don’t breathe on the snow as it will melt”, which is not an entirely meaningless comment if you take into consideration the fact that Kepler’s work was dedicated to the problem of the regularity of snowflakes and then I become absolutely sure that what I am looking at is in fact a working copy of Kepler’s Strena which belonged to Broscius!

Broscius’s marginalia in Polish are pretty rare as the majority of his annotations is in Latin. If one is looking for more notes in Polish, he or she should have a look at his diary I mentioned in the previous post. Latin or Polish, his annotations share one quality, which is an awkward combination of irony, sarcasm and maliciousness. However, the Polish commentary to Kepler is nothing in comparison to the Latin note Broscius left on the title page of another title which was bound together with Strena and which, along with few other positions constituted at some point a bigger book-block, now being broken with its parts dispersed (or lost). Here we have Broscius’s sacrasm in its pure form as he crossed out part of the title of Johann Remmelin’s work, providing it with a rather straightforward and laconic commentary:

Until the 3rd of July, I thought that I will always study Broscius’s manuscripts in the reading rooms at the 2nd floor of the Jagiellonian Library. This assumption turns to be false and the University Library in Toruń should be added to the list of libraries which have Broscius’s libri annotati. From the price tags attached to the final page of the volume and the year included in the acquisition number on the verso of Kepler’s title page, it appears that the volume was bought in one of the Dom Książki state-owned chain of antiquarian bookstores in 1968, althought it is not clear how these titles got into the antiquarian book market. It is highly possible that the works of Kepler and Remmelin dissapeared from the Jagiellonian Library in the 19th century and were included in one of the private collections. After the twentieth-century turmoil, these collections must have got dismantled and at least part of them found its way to the antiquarian bookshops and since the research questionnaire of the Toruń librarians was and is completely different from the one applied at the Jagiellonian Library, it is not a surprise that these annotations have escaped their attention.

However I am really happy about this accidental discovery, this is just the beginning of the actual research work. And since I made an observation that marginalia left by Broscius can provide some additional information about his scholarly workshop and the works he actually published, in the third and last part of this serendipitous cycle, to appear in a couple of days, I will make a preliminary attempt to explain the origin of marginalia in Kepler’s Strena.

Stay tuned if you wish to know why Broscius bothered with melting snow and how Kepler’s snowflakes are related to research carried out by the Cracow scholar.