Tuesday, 5 August 2008

A little more on Tadeáš Hájek z Hájku...

Note: this article has now moved to a-little-more-on-tadeas-hajek-z-hajku on Cipher Mysteries

A nice little thing just arrived in the post: I had contacted the Prague-based Society for the History of Sciences ("DVT" = dějiny věd a techniky) to ask how to get hold of a copy of its 2000 monograph on Tadeáš Hájek z Hájku. To my surprise, the DVT's Igor Janovský said - don't worry about paying, we'll just send you a copy (which they did).

It's a rather pleasant little blue-covered volume: though all in Czech, there is a contents page at the back in English. As this doesn't appear anywhere on the Internet, I thought I'd copy it here:-

5 … Introduction
7 … Zdenĕk Beneš: Lifetime of Tadeáš Hájek of Hájek – his personality, time and milieu
15 … Jaroslav Soumar: Tadeáš Hájek of Hájek and his time
25 … Michal Svatoš: Tadeáš Hájek of Hájek and Prague University
35 … Martin Šolc: Astronomy in activity of Tadeáš Hájek
41 … Alena Hadravová & Petr Hadrava: Observation devices in the time of Tadeáš Hájek
49 … Petr Hadrava: Tradition in Czech stellar astronomy (Conclusion to the astronomy of Tadeáš Hájek and foreward to S. Štefl’s article)
51 … Stanislav Štefl: Stelar studies of Be-stars with spectrograph Heros
55 … Voytĕch Hladký & Martin Šolc: Tadeáš Hájek and the calendary reform of Pope Gregorius
61 … Karel Krška: Tadeáš Hájek as meteorologist
67 … Zdenĕk Tempír: Cultivation of hop-plants up to 16th century and Tadeáš Hájek of Hájek
79 … Gabriela Basařová: Contribution of Tadeáš Hájek to Czech and world brewing
93 … Pavel Drábek: Aspects of medicine in Hájek’s treatise on beer
95 … Václav Vĕtvička: Tadeáš Hájek of Hájek as botanist
103 … Jaroslav Slípka: Tadeáš Hájek of Hájek and his “Methoposcopy”
109 … Milada Říhová: Treatise on methoposcopy of Tadeáš Hájek of Hájek
115 … Pavel Drábek: Antonius Mizaldus an interpreteur of Hájek’s Methoposcopy into French
117 … Bohdana Buršiková: “Actio medica”, or the professional dispute of Tadeáš Hájek
125 … Josef Smolka: Andreas Dudith (1533-1589) – penfriend of Tadeáš Hájek
169 … Josef Petráň: Tadeáš Hájek’s relation to practice
175 … On bibliography Hageciana
189 … Obsah
[i.e. “Contents” in Czech]
190 … Contents

By far the biggest (44-page long) piece is Josef Smolka's article (pp.125-168) on Hájek's correspendence from Andreas Dudith: the table on p.137 lists 47 extant letters dating from 1572 to 1589. Dudith's correspondence is currently being edited by L. Szczucki a T. Szepessy: parts I to IV were published in 1992, 1995, 2000, and 1998, with the last two corresponding just to 1574 and 1575 (which must have been busy years). Note that Smolka has examined the letters to Hájek past 1575, not just the ones that have been edited & published.

I must admit that all this changes what I thought about the 16th century. I had previously got the impression that there was a huge explosion in scientific letter writing only in the mid-17th century, triggered by the Royal Society and Kircher's encyclopedic output. My impression of the preceding century had been that its letters had been more literary and political. But here we can see a 16th century group corresponding intensely: this pushes the boundary right back in time.

Was this an "invisible college"? Owen Gingerich received light flak for using the phrase ("The Book Nobody Read", p.82), which he defines (pp.178-179) as "tutorial and mentor relationships that transcended institutional boundaries": though in modern sociological usage, it is usually a rather more hand-waving way of expressing undocumented (but implicitly present) loose connections between members of an extended community through which ideas flow. For once, the Wikipedia entry is mostly helpful (well, up until its final summary, anyway).

I'd point out that 'mentoring' is a somewhat inexact term (as well as being a modern back-projection onto history, with "mentor" dating only from 1699, and becoming trendy in the 1990s): and that the whole "invisible college" notion comes with extensive occult, Rosicrucian, and secret society baggage which perhaps we would be better off not carrying on our journey forwards. Basically, I fail to see how using "invisible" to denote "non-academic" is helpful to anyone: I've met plenty of essentially invisible academics, haven't you?

For the most part, I think that what is meant by "invisible college" is no more than a geographically- extended community of letter-writers, trading ideas rather than goods. Others might prefer to call this a "community of letters" (though I'm not sure if this is helpful either).

And so we come to Rene Zandbergen's comment on my earlier post on Tadeáš Hájek. He writes that "According to Dr.Smolka, if Hajek had had access to the MS now known as the Voynich MS, it should be expected that he would have mentioned it to Duditius, but this is not the case." [Smolka's article on Duditius and Hájek is the one discussed above].

Actually, I do buy into this: if the VMs did get bought by Rudolph II (who, let's say, then gave it to Horcicky), we may be able to rule out the pre-1590 (and indeed the pre-1600) period. In fact, I'd say the best place to look would probably be in the community of scientific letter-writers around Europe circa 1600-1612, and particularly before 1606-1609 when Rudolph II's grip on the court started to yield to his brother Matthias. So rather than Duditius and Hájek themselves, we ought to be hunting down their successors' letters. But who would that be?

It would need someone with a better grasp of 'unpublished Bohemian scientific correspondence 1600-1610' than me to know where best to look next. All the same, I have some ideas... ;-)

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