On the Road: In Royal Prussia

It’s been quite a while since the last time I posted anything to this blog. This does not mean, however, that I quit my research, abandoned the idea, or decided to change profession. The last few months, apart from a two-week summer break dedicated solely to charging my mental and physical batteries, were actually quite intense and productive. I won’t annoy the readers with details as most of this intensity and productivity means simply sitting, reading, discussing, writing, revising and copy-editing – an endless loop known pretty well to those who are trying to make some sense out of the material they have gathered, find some new sources and publish essays on their findings in a place that would guarantee some level of readership to their work. Hopefully, some of the results of these efforts will see soon the printing press and the future posts published here will reveal some behind-the-scenes details related to other currents of my research.

Right after the summer holidays, at the turn of August and September, I rushed to Ermland, a region in the far North of Poland and visited two libraries. One of them, the Cyprian Kamil Norwid City Library in Elbląg (Elbing), was once a library of the Lutheran gymnasium, member of the famous Protestant triad consisting of educational institutions established in the 16th century in Elbląg, Toruń (Thorn) and Gdańsk (Danzig) and radiating on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea and beyond. For those of you who have visited this blog earlier, the reason for this visit will be quite predictable: I was chasing for marginalia. There are many reasons why one should expect finding some libri annotati in a library like the one in Elbląg: such historical institutions usually hold not some random old prints but volumes that were actually used in local school(s) or read by local intellectuals and then were bequeathed to or purchased by the library.

This picturesque series of buildings, starting with the 14th-century former Holy Spirit church, is the house of the Elbląg Library (although its special collections are located across the street in a 19th-century building)

This picturesque sequence of buildings, starting with the 14th-century former Holy Spirit church, is the house of the Elbląg Library (although its special collections are located across the street, in a 19th-century building)

There is always a chance that looking through a pile of volumes will bring some new materials that will shed some light on the topics one is working on – that’s what I do in every collection I visit, apart from consulting some unique prints and manuscripts that can be consulted only in this particular place. This kind of research requires time. My list of names worth checking is constantly growing and sometimes I feel as if I was creating an alternative version of the library catalogues: the catalogues of the libraries I visit, both the ones available online and the old-fashioned card catalogues that can be consulted on-site are extremely laconic and they very rarely provide information on the ownership marks and absence/presence of annotations. The provenance catalogue is usually a mythical box hidden in the restricted area and provided only upon special request. Should I add that such thing as a catalogue dedicated explicitly of libri annotati is only an object of wishful thinking? This always end up in massive orders, semi-automatic filling of order slips, great confusion about the shelfmarks in the end (“Have I seen this volume?”). On the last day of such a weekly visit I am usually totally confused (and so are the librarians).

Yet, with this method comes also a risk, a risk that the volumes one is hoping to see – those filled with marginalia with ownership annotations that can be easily tracked back to particular scholars – are not always those one eventually gets. And my visit to Elbląg gave me a lesson: do not expect too much, even if the catalogue seems to be rich and promising. This is not to say that I found nothing, in fact I digged up a lot of new materials which I would like to refer to in my future studies (some of them related to chronological debates, and some of them representing the ‘Ramist’ branch of my studies), but it simply did not bring any sources that could play a leading role in a yet another chronology-and-calendars narrative. Again, the hope to find some revelatory materials right behind the corner, in every library one pays a visit to can be deceptive so one needs to nourish it carefully, just in order to avoid grave disappointment that can paralyse further work. My visit to Elbląg was one of these hunting trips the results of which are, so to say, less spectacular but at the same time have broadened my knowledge about the specificity of local collections in the region I am particularly interested in, so despite this lack of fireworks I must say that I already have some plans where to use material the material I have seen there and this could not have happened without the help of helpful, friendly and patient staff (they are also blogging!).

Working space for visitors to the Library's Special Collections Department

Working space for visitors to the Library’s Special Collections Department

In the middle of my visit to Elbląg I took a one-day trip to Frombork (Frauenburg), one of the key cities in the intellectual and public biography of Copernicus. For quite a while I knew that the Library of the Nicholaus Copernicus Museum has in its collection of old prints a copy of the 3rd edition of De revolutionibus, the one published in Amsterdam in 1617 and known under the title of Astronomia instaurata, which belonged to Peter Crüger, whom I mentioned in my penultimate post. There is only one, three pages long article dedicated to Crüger’s annotations in this volume and it seemed to me so confusing that I decided to combine these two research trips into one in order to examine the Copernicus volume in person. I am still digesting marginalia I transcribed there thanks to the hospitality of the Museum staff, trying to link them with other annotations left by this Danzig-based astronomer in volumes preserved in other libraries and, what is most important, I finally have a feeling that I am quite close to writing a large study on Crüger’s astronomical library, reading and writing habits, the way he worked with particular books, how he digested them in relation to particular scholarly plan and about his views on technical chronology. I had the occasion to discuss the preliminary ideas of this article with an excellent group of historians concerned with medieval and early modern writing practices during the “Loca scribendi” conference organized in Warsaw this June and I think that I have found a way to write about Crüger’s annotations which will take me at least a little beyond what I wrote about the first annotator I have studied, Joannes Broscius. Writing about Crüger is really important for the internal logic of my project, as it allows me to link various levels of my research, but it is also of great importance on the, so to say, personal level as I am seeking a way that would help me to avoid becoming a one trick historian.


A really nice plaque on the door to the Museum Library, used also as a bookplate

Leaving the methodological concerns aside, at least for now, I cannot start writing this essay, which will be probably a long one, without having another look at the books preserved in Gdańsk. So I decided to take another trip there, in order to verify my transcriptions (some of them were made in haste, 10 minutes before the closing of the library and few hours before my departure back home so I simply do not trust my memory and intuition). But the careful analysis of Crüger’s notes gave me a bundle of hints and leads I would like to verify, again, in hope that I will find at least one or two volumes he might owned and annotated or just annotated while working at the city library (back in the 17th century leaving one’s annotations in the book belonging to a public institution was not considered a crime or violation of the regulations). I have printed out a set of transcriptions I have made so far and updated a list of volumes that I would like to consult next week – I guess it’s not a bad starting point for the execution of the plan described above.

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Statue of Copernicus sitting reflectively by the heliocentric fountain at the market square in Frombork

After my return from Gdańsk, I am will be attending the 106th Annual Meeting of the Polish Philological Society organized in Toruń. And once the session is ended, I will be rushing towards another point on my map and yet another set of (this time confirmed) annotations, left by a first-class superstar early modern astronomer. Stay tuned for more news!

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!

Every chronology has its beginning

Every decent chronology has, or at least should have, its beginning and what one should expect from a project dedicated to the discussions on chronology and calendar reform in late medieval and early modern Central Europe is to have its own chronological backbone. In my case, however, it is difficult to give a precise terminus a quo that would define the beginning of my interest in these matters. It was the spring of 2012 when I was working on the final version my doctorate on Ramist rhetoric and its reception in Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth which I wrote at the Chair of Old Polish Literature of the Faculty of Polish Studies, Jagiellonian University in Kraków. I was leafing through the pages of volumes that belonged to a Krakow-based seventeenth-century scholar, Jan Brożek (Joannes Broscius, 1585-1652) who is probably the only Polish scholar who wrote a separate treatise addressed explicitly against Ramism, especially against the Ramist vision of geometry. I was working on the image of Ramus in Broscius’s Apology of Aristotle and Euclid against Peter Ramus and others of 1652, trying to reconstruct at once his views on Ramist method in general and geometry in particular and his scholarly workshop as such, when I noticed for the first time that a large number of notes left by Broscius in his volumes is related to such issues as the reform of calendar, coexistence of Gregorian and Julian calendar in Poland and Lithuania, and to the comparative chronology. All these notes lead me to two brochures he had published in Kraków and Warsaw in 1641 in which he tried to convince the Uniates to accept the Gregorian calendar. His creative process related to the problems of calendric astronomy seemed to me far more attractive, especially at the exhausting final stage of work on my ‘Ramist’ dissertation and, frankly, for few weeks I completely neglected writing about figures of speech, early modern scholars and disciples reading Ramist textbooks and even Broscius’s anti-Ramist Apology, trying to trace down calendar-related volumes that belonged to Broscius and that are still preserved in the vast and rich collection of the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków. So there is no particular date of origin when I came up with the whole idea and what I have instead is a process which lead me to this current exciting research project.

After the defence of my doctorate, I have been generously awarded a three-year research grant funded by the Polish National Science Centre (Narodowe Centrum Nauki, NCN) within the FUGA scheme for post-docs and which I am carrying out since October at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales” of the University of Warsaw. However Broscius constitutes a main point of reference, the project is not limited to his scholarly achievements in this field. It turned out that despite the fact that numerous primary sources has been recognized by scholars, mostly historians of astronomy, of previous generations, there is no narrative that would have taken together all Central-European, mostly Polish-Lithuanian, late medieval and early modern attempts to cope with the issue of calendar reform, Central-European input to the discussion on chronology as well as the regional reception of the views on these matters proposed by Western-European scholars. Over the next three years I am going to focus on such diverse primary sources as Latin manuscripts of computus, wokrs on calendar and chronology that are available both in print and in manuscript, networks of scholarly correspondence, and finally, early modern readers who were trying to understand these issues.

This blog is conceived as a kind of a field notebook or collection of miscellaneous materials related to the project. You may expect some longer posts on particular issues I will be dealing with, shorter posts on my progress, photos of primary sources, especially the manuscript ones. Just another blog written by an early modernist, one could say, but I hope that despite the immense proliferation of the early modern corner of the academic blogosphere and information overload we all experience nowadays, you will add this page to your RSS reader and decide to have a look at the next posts.

Just as I cannot give you the exact date when the idea of this project was born, I cannot give you either the exact date when Jan Brożek started to think about the calendars. I really like to think, however, that it happened somewhere in 1617, when he bought a copy of the third edition of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus, i.e. Astronomia instaurata libris sex comprehensa, the Amsterdam edition with Nicholaus Müller’s commentary. In it, on the title page, he wrote down his name and a laconic reference to page 475, where he found some arguments against Joseph Justus Scaliger, one of the intellectual titans of the second half of the sixteenth to whom we owe much of the early modern chronological and calendric fever. I believe the image below makes a fabulous epitome of what is yet to come within the next years.


Astronomia instaurata libri sex comprehensa, qui de Revolutionibus orbiumcoelestium inscribuntur […], Amstelodami: Wilhelmus Jansonius Blaeu, 1617; title page of Broscius’s working copy, Jagiellonian Library, Kraków, shelfmark: Mag. St. Dr. 311204 II

Photo: Jakub Niedźwiedź