A CASE STUDY OF A SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY GATEKEEPER:
THE ROLE OF NICOLAS-CLAUDE FABRI DE PEIRESC
IN THE DISSEMINATION OF SCIENCE THROUGH THE CORRESPONDENCE
JANE THORNTON TOLBERT
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA Ui"'.IS
Jane Thornton Tolbert
To Sandra and Alexis
It is my sincere hope that this project will enable me
to establish epistolary contacts with scholars sharing an
interest in Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc. Completion of
this dissertation has been a cooperative endeavor, not
unlike the activities of Peiresc. My committee has
provided guidance and expertise throughout my work on this
study. I would like to express my deepest appreciation to
Mickie Edwardson, Robert A. Hatch, Kurt Kent, Sid Pactor,
and Les Smith for constructive suggestions and editorial
assistance. I would like to thank Dr. Smith for serving as
chairman and for helping me focus my work. I would like to
convey my gratitude to Dr. Hatch, who introduced me to the
world of Peiresc in 1988 and provided constant support in
During my studies at the University of Florida, fellow
students in seminars have provided many critiques of my
presentations. I would like to thank Brian Dolan,
Christian Gregory, Dave Lashmet, Michel Kinney, and
Kristen Walsh for their insightful comments.
Some sources used in this dissertation were located by
Interlibrary Loan. My special thanks go to Melanie Davis,
who obtained many obscure documents. I would also like to
express my appreciation to our bibliographers, Frank
Ditrilio, who kept me informed of recent publications on
Peiresc, and Delores Jenkins. Within our department, our
administrative assistant, Kaye Laurila, has been extremely
helpful in keeping me appraised of deadlines. My teaching
supervisor, Dr. Julie Dodd, has helped in scheduling
classes to enable me to devote more time to research.
My parents, E.L. and Frances, and sister, Margaret,
have all served as readers of this manuscript. Together
with my children, they have been my enthusiastic and
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. . . . . . .
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS . . . .
ABSTRACT . . . . . . . .
. . . . iv
. . . .viii
1 INTRODUCTION . . . . . .
Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc .
Purpose . . . . . . .
Research Questions . . . . .
Plan of Study . . . . . .
Significance . . . .
Method . . . . . . . .
Summary . . . . . . .
2 SOCIAL CONTEXT . . . . . .
Background . . . . .
French Academies . . . . .
Patronage and Science . . . .
Correspondence Networks . . .
Summary . . .. .. .
3 CENSORSHIP . . . . . . .
The Waning Authority of the Catholic
Censorship Procedures . ..
Role of the Inquisition . . .
Summary . . . . . . .
. . . 1
* . . 2
. .... 18
.* . 22
. . . 25
. . . 28
. . . 36
. . 37
. . . 40
. . . 51
. . .. 67
. . 77
. . . 78
. . .
* . .
* . .
4 EVASION . . . . . . . . .
The Role of Gatekeepers in Evasion . . .
Strategies of Evasion . . . . .
Religious Influences on Science ..
Summary . . . . . . . .
. . .
5 PEIRESC, PATRON OF SCIENCE . . . . . 124
Arrangement of Patronage Positions ... . 125
Scientific Evidence . . . . . ... 131
Astronomy at Aix-en-Provence . . . .. 134
Interlude . . . . . . . ... 144
Scientific Activity . . . . . .. .146
Organization of Observation Stations ... .157
Summary . . . . . . . . . 157
6 PEIRESC'S USE OF PATRONAGE AND SCIENTIFIC
COMMUNICATION . . . . . . . 159
Peiresc and Galileo . . . . . . 159
Telescopic Observation Stations. . . . 179
The Lunar Eclipse of 28 August 1635 ... .181
Summary ..... . . . . . . 202
7 CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . 204
Peiresc and the Development and Communication
of Scientific Activity . . . . . . 205
Peiresc, Patron of Scientific Activity . .. 213
Provengal School . . . . . . ... 217
Further Research . . . . . . . 227
GLOSSARY. ...... . . . . . . 230
BIOGRAPHICAL INTRODUCTION TO PEIRESC'S
CORRESPONDENTS . . . . . . ... 236
LETTERS AND DOCUMENTS CONCERNING GALILEO . . .. .242
LETTERS AND DOCUMENTS CONCERNING
ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATIONS . . . . . . 251
REFERENCES . . . . . . ...... 264
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . . . . 278
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
GL Lettres familibres a Francois Luillier pendant
MC Correspondance du Pare Mersenne.
MO Oeuvres de Malherbe.
PC Les correspondents de Peiresc: Lettres inedites,
publi6es, et annothes.
PL Lettres de Peiresc.
PM Peiresc: Lettres A Malherbe (1606-1628).
PN Peiresc: Lettres a Naud6.
PV Correspondance de Peiresc avec plusieurs missionaries
et religieux de l'ordre des capuchins, 1631-1637.
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of
the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
A CASE STUDY OF A SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY GATEKEEPER:
THE ROLE OF NICOLAS-CLAUDE FABRI DE PEIRESC
IN THE DISSEMINATION OF SCIENCE THROUGH THE CORRESPONDENCE
Jane Thornton Tolbert
Chairman: Dr. F. Leslie Smith
Major Department: Mass Communication
With official channels of communication regulated by
censors, many natural philosophers exchanged information in
the private academies and correspondence networks, or they
used rhetorical strategies to publicize views. Other
natural philosophers sought the protection of a patron with
ties in the church and crown.
As a gatekeeper in correspondence networks, Nicolas-
Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637) was instrumental in the
development and dissemination of a new science throughout
seventeenth-century Europe. He transformed the existing
networks of the Republic of Letters into scientific channels
of communication, often sending telescopes and astronomical
instructions to correspondents in Europe and the Levant.
During his career, he corresponded with more than 500
individuals. As an intermediary between scholars in France
and Italy, Peiresc communicated Galileo's innovations and
telescopic observations. His family wealth, social
position, and prestige enabled him to legitimize scientific
activity as a means of gaining knowledge, at a time of
oppression, when new ideas threatened traditional social,
political, and religious order. His ties with influential
circles in Rome enabled him to ask for a mitigated sentence
for Galileo and pursue astronomy at a time when the
Copernican propositions were condemned.
Peiresc used the promise of gifts and improved social
status, as well as rational arguments to ensure compliance
with his requests for telescopic observations from
missionary priests. The acceptance of patronage implied the
need to reciprocate or risk the loss of status. He sent
astronomical instruments and instructions to correspondents
and established a training program for work in determining
terrestrial longitude. The standardization of instruments
and directions actually served to define the context in
which claims could be made and to determine acceptable
evidence. While letters carried detailed descriptions and
information on procedure and viewing, and the names of
witnesses, their key function was to persuade reader of the
plausibility of the claim. By communicating the results of
telescopic observations through Europe, Peiresc secured
recognition for the activities of the Provencal School.
Gatekeepers1 played a critical role in the
dissemination of early modern science through seventeenth-
century correspondence networks. Perceptive of the
interests and needs of correspondents, these individuals
held the authority to transmit, adapt, or retain
information. One of the more noteworthy gatekeepers in
seventeenth-century France was Nicolas-Claude Fabri de
Peiresc (1580-1637). His family wealth, education at
French and Italian universities, and membership in
prestigious circles enabled him to cross social boundaries.
As a magistrate of Parlement and a cleric, Peiresc could
legitimize scientific activity at a time of censorship.
Recognized for his erudition in many scientific
disciplines, he was instrumental in the dissemination of
scientific innovation through the correspondence networks.2
1In communication theory, the term gatekeepers is used
to describe those individuals controlling information flow
between sources and the public. Bazerman has used this
term to describe the role of Henry Oldenburg as editor of
the first scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions.
Charles Bazerman, Shaping Written Knowledge: The Genre and
Activity of the Experimental Article in Science (Madison:
University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 136-138.
2Mersenne to Doni on Peiresc, 2 Feb 1635, MC 5: 41.
From the south of France, Peiresc used gifts and the
promise of patronage to solicit information from his
correspondents. When he asked a missionary priest to
observe the lunar eclipse of 1635 from one of the great
pyramids in Egypt, he sent a gift of a telescope and a
silver chalice as a reminder of obligations.3 On other
occasions Peiresc sent Angora cats, mummies, rare
manuscripts, or the odd gazelle to motivate correspondents
to cooperate with requests for information and services or
as a reminder of friendship and loyalty at a time of
oppression. Under the direction of Peiresc, the scientific
community in Aix-en-Provence established a protocol of
communication, cooperation, and reward for investigations
Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc
Born at Belgentier in 1580 into a noble family,
Peiresc was educated to assume his uncle's position in the
Parlement5 of Aix-en-Provence. Peiresc and his younger
brother, Palamede, studied astronomy at the Jesuit school
3Peiresc to Agathange de Vend6me, 28 May 1635, PV 141;
12 Sept 1635, PV 171.
4Barry Barnes and David Edge, eds., "The Organization
of Academic Science: Communication and Control," Science in
Context: Readings in the Sociology of Science (Cambridge,
MA: The MIT Press, 1982), 15.
SDavid T. Pottinger, The French Book Trade in the
Ancien Regime, 1500-1791 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1958), 354.
of Tournon. At the universities of Aix and Avignon, the
brothers began reading law and philosophy, formally
continuing their education at the University of Padua
The University of Padua was famous for its law school
and its Aristotelian teachings in sciences and mathematics.
As an anti-clerical school, it provided a forum for many
theological issues prohibited in the French universities,6
which stressed reading and commentary on the texts of
Aristotle and the Holy Scriptures.7 While in France, an
examination of theological issues was permitted only among
theologians,8 at Padua debates centered on the immortality
of the soul, the nature of matter, and rational proof of
Many of the innovative thinkers of this period were
educated here. Copernicus studied at Padua in the
sixteenth century, as did William Harvey, who made the
*The University of Paris had four faculties: arts,
law, medicine, and theology.
7Ira Wade, The Intellectual Origins of the French
Enlightenment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
8Pearl Kibre and Nancy G. Siraisi, "The Institutional
Setting: The Universities," Science in the Middle Ages, ed.
David C. Lindberg (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1978), 120-141 passim.
first accurate examinations of the circulatory system.10
Peiresc studied under Galileo, who privately admitted to
supporting the Copernican hypothesis.11
Presumably Peiresc and Palamede went to Padua for law
school. But here, Peiresc filled his spare time with his
visits to archaeological sites and participation in
influential circles, including those of the humanist
Giovanni Vincenzo Pinelli (Padua), of Cardinal Robert
Bellarmine (Rome), and of the physician Giambattista della
Peiresc did not return to Aix upon completion of his
studies in Italy. Instead, he shipped crates of artifacts
to his father, refused an arranged marriage, probably asked
for an increase in allowance, and continued his studies in
Montpellier under the direction of a well-known Protestant
jurisconsult, Pacius de Beriga.13
10Charles Coulston Gillispie, The Edge of Objectivity:
An Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1960), 20, 68-69.
11Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo,
trans., intro, and notes by Stillman Drake (Garden City,
NY: Doubleday, 1957), 15, 71.
12Pierre Humbert, Un amateur: Peiresc (1580-1637)
(Paris: Descl6e de Brouwer et cie., 1933), 31-32.
13During his travels and education, Peiresc collected
approximately 300 medals, numerous books and manuscripts,
and two crates of ancient objects, as well as gifts for his
family. Humbert, Amateur, 38.
After studying law at the University of Montpellier
and receiving his doctorate from the University of Aix in
1604, Peiresc traveled extensively throughout France and
Europe before assuming his position with the Parlement of
Aix in 1607.14 He accompanied Guillaume du Vair, chief
justice of the Parlement (Aix), to Paris; here he was
introduced to Jacques-Auguste de Thou I, uncle of Pierre
and Jacques Dupuy and founder of the famous academy, later
known as the Cabinet Put6ane or Dupuy. Peiresc began what
became a lifelong correspondence with the Brothers Dupuy,
comparing their letters on the "theatre of the court" with
Galileo's telescope, which enhanced observation of the
skies. Peiresc established contacts with many humanists
and natural philosophers throughout England, Holland, and
Belgium, only formally assuming his duties as a magistrate
in Parlement on 24 June 1607.
Peiresc's work as a magistrate involved attending
trials, registering and implementing laws in Provence, and
serving Du Vair.15 Early in his legal career, Peiresc was
charged with ensuring the historical accuracy of a mural in
the Palace of Justice depicting the French kings. This
work involved historical research including a visit by
14Humbert, Amateur, 41-47.
15Jules-Marie Priou, "Magistrat et citoyen francais,"
Les fioretti du quadricentenaire de Fabri de Peiresc, ed.
Jacques Ferrier (Avignon: Acad6mie du Var, 1988), 81-96.
Palamede to the tomb of Charlemagne to make sketches.16 In
1618, Peiresc earned intellectual renown and royal
patronage for his work in genealogy by disproving claims
that the King of Spain was heir to the French throne.17
Louis XIII awarded Peiresc a clerical title, Abbot of
Guitres,18 for this work. Peiresc entered the priesthood,
but retained his position in Parlement through a special
permission from Louis XIII and the pope to serve at
criminal trials.19 The position as abbot proved to be an
honor and a burden. Peiresc went to great effort to
restore and maintain the abbey near Bordeaux, a venture
fraught with problems and political implications.20
Peiresc's avid interest in numerous disciplines bought
him into contact with erudite groups throughout Europe.
His friendship with the cleric astronomer Pierre Gassendi
developed into scientific collaboration, while letters from
Paolo Gualdo (Padua) and Elie Diodati (Paris) kept him
informed of Galileo's activities.
16Humbert, Amateur, 64-65.
17Georges Cahen-Salvador, Un grand humaniste: Peiresc
(1580-1637) (Paris: Albin Michel, 1951), 84.
18This title was recognized by Pope Paul V on 5 Jan
19Humbert, Amateur, 117.
2oJean Clement, "Peiresc et le monastere de Guitres,"
Les fioretti du quadricentenaire de Fabri de Peiresc, ed.
Jacques Ferrier (Avignon: Acad6mie du Var, 1988), 75-80.
Exchanging letters with more than 500 individuals
scattered throughout Europe and the Mediterranean basin,21
Peiresc played an important role in organizing and
extending correspondence as a means of scholarly
communication.22 But Peiresc selected and cultivated his
Peiresc did not send inquiries to anyone, but this
Prince des curieux inquired beforehand, or the
personality of his intended correspondents, of their
tastes in order to coerce or flatter them. No one
other than Peiresc knew how to obtain what he wanted:
gentleness, persuasion, ruse. . threats,
supplications, are used in turn to achieve his goals.23
Although the press provided a means of wide dissemination
of information, radical ideas could be dissimulated in
publications by using rhetorical strategies. Personal
letters offered many advantages, notably rapid exchanges
and the evasion of censors.
Peiresc's closest friend, Pierre Gassendi, wrote that
the Provengal magistrate was much admired "for his
21Robert Mandrou, From Humanism to Science. 1480-1700,
trans. Brian Pearce (Middlesex, UK: Penguin, 1978), 189.
22Harcourt Brown, Scientific Organizations in
Seventeenth Century France (New York: Russell and Russell,
23Sydney Aufrere and Marie-Pierre Foissy-Aufrere,
"Peiresc, ses 6missaires et ses correspondents de l'6chelle
d'tgypte," Egypte et Provence (Avignon: Fondation du Musee
Calvet, 1985), 182.
sparkling wit and most temperate manners."24 The libertine
Jean-Jacques Bouchard described him as "without equal in
Europe for courtesy and kindness as well as for wisdom in
science. . [T]here is not a kingdom, country, or famous
town in which he does not have a correspondent."25
Bouchard wrote that Peiresc was "respectful in conversation
but with an imperious expression making him respected in
His correspondents addressed him as a man dominating
other scholars27 or as a "castaway from antiquity."28 In
private exchanges, his friends portrayed him as jealously
guarding his role as gatekeeper in correspondence
networks.29 Peiresc encouraged his bookbinder, Simon
Corberan, in astronomical observations30 and awarded the
Prior Guillemin with improved status. Yet he did not spare
harsh words when his requests were not fulfilled or when a
24pierre Gassendi, Book 1, The Mirrour of True
Nobility and Gentility, trans. William Rand (London: J.
Streater, 1657), 27.
25Jean-Jacques Bouchard, Les confessions de Jean-
Jacques Bouchard suivies de son voyage de Paris A Rome en
1630 (Paris: Isidore Liseux, 1881), 126-127.
26Bouchard, Voyage, 131.
27Saumaise to Peiresc, 1 June 1635, PC 1: 262.
28PC 2: 267.
29Gassendi to Luillier, 9 Nov 1632, GL 8; 4 Dec 1632,
30Gassendi to Peiresc, 7 Feb 1634, PL 4: 453.
breach of protocol occurred. He was generous with his
books and collections; he rewarded requests for information
or services with gifts or the promise of patronage.
On the death of the great humanist and bibliophile
Pinelli in 1601, Gualdo wrote, "If our century knows a
second Pinelli, it will be Nicolas Fabri."31 Peiresc
considered himself "heir" to the Pinelli tradition. He
maintained the correspondence networks and sought occasion
to serve those who "honored him with their friendship."32
The geographical location of Aix and Belgentier, the
distance from Paris and proximity to the ports of
Marseilles and Toulon made Peiresc's homes convenient
stopping places for scholars traveling between Europe and
the Levant. Cardinal Francesco Barberini, nephew of the
pope, visited in 1625. Missionary superiors advised
priests to receive training with Peiresc and to bring
instruments to the Levant to continue the work in a method
of determining terrestrial longitude.33 With the help of
two local clerics, Pierre Gassendi of Digne and Joseph
Gaultier of la Valette, Peiresc established the Provencal
School, which became the center of European astronomy.
31Humbert, Amateur, 36.
32Peiresc to Clusius, 18 Jan 1602, PL 7: 941.
33Agathange de Vend8me to Pierre de Guingamp and
Agathange de Morlaix, 22 April 1636, PV 225-230.
Peiresc's social status and family wealth enabled him
to acquire rare manuscripts and patronize scholarship.34
Not only was Peiresc remembered as a bibliophile and
collector, but as willing to share his books, collections,
and research. It has been said that these collections did
not belong to Peiresc, but to "all the savants of Europe as
his residence provided a haven for the erudite."35 Given
the depth of his scholarship and the meticulous records of
observations, one would expect Peiresc to publish. For
many intellectuals, dedication of scholarly treatises
offered a means of enhancing personal prestige. Instead,
Peiresc said he preferred to share his "little ideas and
fantasies" with a few friends,"36 to serve as a "midwife"
to scholarly works of others.37 He secured recognition
through the quality of his work, his patronage and training
of missionary priests in astronomy, and the coordination of
international scientific activities.
34Jean Bernhardt, "Les activities scientifiques de
Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637)," Nouvelles de
la republique des lettres 2 (1981): 166.
35Isaac Uri, Un cercle savant au xviie si6cle:
Francois Guyet (1575-1655) (Paris: Hachett, 1886), 41.
36Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 9 May 1634, MC 4:
37Peiresc to Gilles de Loches, 3 July 1634, PV 60.
Peiresc had to overcome personal obstacles in carrying
out his research. Tension prevailed in the house he shared
with Palamede, a niece, and a nephew. His nephew Claude
showed little concern for Peiresc's collections of
curiosities. And, as fate would have it, after Peiresc's
death, one niece used his letters as beds for silk worms
and as paper twists.38
Although Peiresc suffered from numerous ailments
throughout his life, illness did not affect his zeal for
research or astronomical observations. On one occasion, he
complained of paralysis of the right side of his body
resulting in a temporary loss of speech and movement.39 He
often sought remedies from doctors or relied on herbal teas
and what he believed to be the curative properties of musk
melons.40 He suffered from attacks of nephritis, kidney
stones, and gout.41 On 24 June 1637, Peiresc died.42
Gassendi was with him at the time of death and later
recorded in his journal, "Every night the sky was beautiful
38E. J. B. Ratherym "Peiresc," Nouvelle biographies
g~n6rale (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1862), 465.
39Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 23 May 1631, PL 2:
4oYvan Verd, "Peiresc et les m6decins," Les fioretti
du quadricentenaire de Fabri de Peiresc (Avignon: Acad6mie
du Var, 1988), 123-124.
41Gassendi to Peiresc, 6 July 1635, PL 4: 537; Peiresc
to the Brothers Dupuy, 26 Dec 1631, PL 2: 287.
42Humbert, Amateur, 275.
but I did not have the heart to observe because of the
illness [of Peiresc] that began the 10th [of June], and
because of the painful death which occurred this 24th, a
little before 3 o'clock in the afternoon."43
Peiresc's esteemed friend and colleague, Gassendi,
portrayed him as "dominating" other scholars and going
beyond book learning to the study of things in
themselves.44 Peiresc combined an interest in antiquity
with numismatics and, as the story goes, gained recognition
in his youth for his identification of a Roman coin found
at nearby Frejus. His studies in philology were
complemented by investigations of astronomy. Peiresc
maintained that references to a lunar eclipse during the
battle of Arbela of 331 B.C.45 would permit the
determination of the distance to Carthage, destroyed in 146
B.C.46 His investigations of red droplets--commonly known
as rains of blood--covering the Provencal countryside and
viewed as a presage, demonstrated his application of the
43Gassendi, quoted in Humbert, Amateur, 275-276.
44Claude Saumaise to Peiresc, 1 June 1635, PC 2: 262-
45Alexander the Great was credited with the defeat of
Darius III of Persia in 331 B.C.
46See Peiresc to Arcos, 18 Oct 1635, PL 7: 164; 30 May
1636, PL 7: 178.
scientific method to natural phenomena and his willingness
to question traditional explanations. In astronomy,
Peiresc stressed the need for long-term telescopic
observations of planetary movements and the standardization
of instruments and instructions.
As a powerful patron with connections in many
influential circles, Peiresc was able to promote scientific
activities at a time when the church used censorship and
the Inquisition to reestablish its waning authority. He
exploited friendships and used patronage to organize
telescopic observation stations through Europe and the
Levant for work on determining terrestrial longitude. He
circulated Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief
World Systems, condemned in 1633, through the
correspondence networks to the broader scientific
community. As a gatekeeper in correspondence networks,
Peiresc played an instrumental role in the development and
communication of scientific activities in early
47Increasing scholarship has been directed to the
importance of these individuals in the dissemination and
development of early modern science. Among recent works
are those by: Peter Dear, Mersenne and the Learning of the
Schools (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988); Robert A.
Hatch, The Collection Boulliau (BN, FF. 13019-13059), An
Inventory (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical
Society, 1982); Lynn Sumida Joy, Gassendi the Atomist:
Advocate of History in an Age of Science (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1987); and David S. Lux,
Patronage and Royal Science in Seventeenth-Century France
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989).
Amateur or "Proto-scientist"?
The amateurs or virtuosi of the seventeenth century
professed an interest in the arts and sciences and
displayed a passion for collecting curiosities. But they
showed little concern for the social value of research.48
These amateurs were not seeking the advance of knowledge or
material progress. They were merely pursuing an interest.
In his Annales celestes, the eighteenth-century
astronomer Alexandre-Guy Pingr6 made the following entry
for the year 1637: "This year astronomy lost, not quite a
great astronomer, but an amateur to whom astronomy, [and]
physics . have the greatest obligations."49 Because of
his diverse interests, encyclopedic knowledge, and absence
of publications, Peiresc has been described as an amateur.
But his vast erudition, numerous journals of observations,
and collections of curiositiesso lend support to Gassendi's
assessment that Peiresc "does not neglect anything and
takes advantage of all he can."51 Be it measuring
48Walter E. Houghton, Jr., "The English Virtuoso in
the Seventeenth Century," Journal of the History of Ideas 3
49Alexandre-Guy Pingr6, Annales celestes, ed.
Guillaume Bigourdan (Paris: Gauthier-Villars, 1901), 121.
50FranCoise Charles-Daubert, "Libertinage et
erudition: Peiresc relais de l'Europe savante," Peiresc ou
la passion de connaitre, ed. Anne Reinbold (Paris: J. Vrin,
51Gassendi to Diodati, 29 Aug 1634, MC 4: 340.
elephants, organizing telescopic observations, or
dissecting chameleons, Peiresc never lost an occasion to
learn. He wrote that he "let no opportunity escape . .
For as much as experience uncovers pure truth, and insofar
as I can devote myself to this work in peace and quiet, I
would let no day pass without some research."52
A desire for knowledge led Peiresc to seek distant
correspondents. His requests for information and services
were accompanied by gifts, which obliged correspondents to
respond. By sending instruments, instructions, and a model
for reporting astronomical observations, Peiresc specified
the criteria for observations and defined a "rhetorical
site"53 in which scientific claims could be made.
Peiresc represented a departure from the traditional
use of ancient textual authorities to support claims about
nature, maintaining that observation and inquiry would
provide the foundations of a new science.54 Peiresc
advocated the need for "conclusive proof" as opposed to the
earlier tendency to base claims on "simple conjecture."55
52Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 7 April 1633, PL 3:
53The author would like to thank Christian Gregory,
who stressed the need to examine the rhetorical site of
scientific communication. Personal Communication,
Gainesville, FL, fall 1991.
54Peiresc to Arcos, 17 Oct 1634, PL 7: 142.
55Peiresc to Gassendi, 13 Nov 1633, PL 4: 383.
He often emphasized that several observations of the
heavens would correct misconceptions about astronomy. To
legitimize this new empirical approach, he spoke of study
of the Book of Nature as a means of gaining knowledge of
God and demonstrated that scientific activity led to
Peiresc did not serve only to transmit scientific
initiatives, but he extended correspondence networks and
developed a research program.57 As a liaison between
scholars in France and Italy, Peiresc communicated
Galileo's discoveries and introduced the telescope to
Northern Europe. He developed a research program at the
Provencal School and advanced practical applications of
astronomy as shown by his method of determining terrestrial
His quest for information was not limited to
astronomy; his inquiries cover a range of topics. He
developed plans for transporting water to Aix.58 He
studied the rituals and traditions of the natives of Guinea
56Peter Dear, "Totius in verba: Rhetoric and
Authority in the Early Royal Society," Isis 76 (1985): 146.
57Peiresc's role as organizer of the new science was
similar to that of the seventeenth-century editor of the
Philosophical Transactions, Henry Oldenburg. Marie Boas
Hall, "Oldenburg and the Art of Scientific Communication,"
Journal for the History of Science 2 (1965): 286.
58Peiresc to Mersenne, 1 May 1635; MC 4: 110; and 8
May 1635, MC 5: 176.
and solicited information on customs in Ethiopia.59 He
inquired about the location of marine fossils in Italian
mountains,60 the eruption of Vesuvius,61 and religious
practices based on sun worship.62
Devoting his career to the cultivation of
correspondents, Peiresc recognized the importance of
communication and reward to secure information and
cooperation. On his death, scientific activities of the
Provencal School and exchanges of information through
personal correspondence networks were interrupted. Within
20 years, the deaths of Mersenne (1648), Gassendi (1655),
and the Brothers Dupuy (Pierre Dupuy in 1651; Jacques Dupuy
in 1656) brought an end to an era of scientific innovation
in private academies. Emphasis changed from telescopic
discovery and group endeavor to isolated individual work in
the so-called Parisian school, and to teaching in the
Jesuit schools.63 The establishment of the Accademia del
Cimento (Florence, 1657) and the Royal Society of London
"5Paul Amargier, "Peiresc et Marseille," Les fioretti
du quadricentenaire de Fabri de Peiresc, ed. Jacques
Ferrier (Avignon: Acad6mie du Var, 1988), 99.
soPeiresc to Menestrier, 22 Feb 1629, PL 5: 559.
s1Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 4 July 1633, PL 2:
62Peiresc to Arcos, 25 Jan 1634, PL 7: 123.
63Pierre Humbert, "Les astronomers francais de 1610 A
1667," Bulletin de la Soci6t6 d'6tudes scientifiques et
arch6ologiques de Draguignan 44 (1942): 7-9.
(1662) indicated the need for an equivalent French
institution. After the founding of the Paris Academy of
Sciences (1666), most astronomical activity was carried out
under the auspices of a state-supported and controlled
institution, which limited endeavors to acceptable
topics.64 Scientific activity was directed toward the
glorification of the king and the power of France.
Communication is a critical component of scientific
activity, offering a means of establishing priority of
discovery, popularizing innovation, and of mobilizing
research funding.65 Through communication, claims can be
transformed from speculation into knowledge.66
Hundreds of journals are available today for the
publication of scientific findings. In the seventeenth-
century, books, broadsides, and newspapers, provided the
means of communication. But control by clerical and royal
censors and publication delays forced natural philosophers
to exchange information in personal correspondence
64Roger Hahn, The Anatomy of a Scientific Institution:
The Paris Academy of Sciences, 1666-1803 (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1971), 10.
66Bruno Latour, Science in Action: How to Follow
Scientists and Engineers Through Society (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1987), 26-29.
Prior to the emergence of the periodical press in
France (ca. 1631) and the first scientific journals (ca.
1666), personal correspondence played a significant role in
the development and dissemination of early modern science.
Barring plague or civil unrest, letters sent through the
postal system took from five67 to nine days to travel
between Aix-en-Provence in the south of France and Paris,
while letters exchanged between Paris and Rome took
approximately nine to 14 days through the papal courier
service.68 In addition to expediting the exchange of
information, correspondence offered a means of evading
censors of the Faculty of Theology or the Sorbonne. Mail
was not sent along the most direct route but through what
has been called nodall points"69 or gatekeepers in
The main purpose of this study is to provide an
examination of the role of Peiresc as a gatekeeper and
patron in the development and dissemination of scientific
initiatives in seventeenth-century France. Peiresc's
67See Ren6 Pillorget, Les movements insurrectionnels
de Provence entire 1596 et 1715 (Paris: Editions A. Pedone,
1975), 136 n. 473; and Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 4
July 1632, PL 2: 308.
68E. Rodocanachi, "Les courriers pontificaux du
quatorzieme au dix-septieme siecle," Revue d'histoire
diplomatique 26 (1912): 426.
69Sarah S. Gibson, "Scientific Societies and Exchange:
A Facet of the History of Scientific Communication,"
Journal of Library History 17 (1982): 148.
correspondence provides a window to the world of the
organizers of early modern science. As a magistrate, he
could legitimize scientific activity at a time of
oppression. His gatherings in the south of France provide
one example of the intellectual activity taking place
outside of Paris, in the provinces.
Peiresc's social position enabled him to carry out
investigations of natural phenomena when new ideas
threatened social and political order. As a gatekeeper
with ties in influential European circles, Peiresc had the
authority to transmit, adapt, or retain information. He
controlled content and direction of information exchanges,
hence affecting the formulation of scientific claims.
The promise of patronage and the exchange of gifts
were critical in the development and communication of
scientific initiatives. Patronage offered scholars
financial support; more importantly, it provided a means of
self-advancement and legitimation of scientific activity in
a time of oppression.7o Patronage brought recognition to
telescopic observations when a new science of empiricism
threatened the authority of the Scriptures and Aristotle.
Peiresc secured social recognition for his observations by
demonstrating the practical applications of science, by
70Mario Biagioli, "Galileo's System of Patronage,"
History of Science 28 (1990): 12.
citing the names of witnesses, and by communicating results
to influential individuals. Without patronage, a
mathematician or astronomer could never achieve the status
of a philosopher or theologian at a university. The Medici
patronage enabled Galileo to leave his position of
mathematician at the University of Padua and become a
"philosopher" in the court of a prince.71 As Frank Wigham
has pointed out, the prince served as the "original source
and final arbiter of reward, but also the source of social
place itself."72 While compliance with requests for
information or services brought prestige, refusal to
cooperate could result in loss of patronage.
An examination of the use of patronage, communication,
and reward systems will provide insight into the process of
science and the role of the lesser known organizers of
scientific activity prior to the establishment of a state-
supported academy. The major question investigated in this
study is stated as follows:
71Mario Biagioli, "Galileo the Emblem Maker," Isis 81
72Frank Wigham, Ambition and Privilege, The Social
Tropes of Elizabethan Courtesy Theory (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1984), 46.
What was the role of Peiresc in developing and
disseminating scientific initiatives through the
In responding to this question, the following subordinate
questions will be examined:
1. What were the responses of natural philosophers to
attempts by the church and state to prevent the spread
of a new experimental science?
2. What was the extent of scientific censorship in France
and did it achieve its intended effect?
3. What types of strategies were devised to dissimulate
information and evade censors? What was Peiresc's role
in the communication of information?
4. How did Peiresc use patronage to extend correspondence
networks and organize scientific activity? How did he
obtain compliance for his requests for information and
legitimize telescopic observations in the wake of
5. How did Peiresc and members of the Provengal School
secure recognition for their observations in the
broader scientific community?
Plan of Study
This study includes seven chapters, a glossary, and
appendices containing biographical introductions to
Peiresc's friends, documents and letters relating to the
Galileo affair and to astronomical observations. Chapter 1
offers a biographical introduction to Peiresc and an
overview of the plan of study. Chapters 2, 3, and 4
provide an examination of the new intellectual gatherings
in the private academies, the exchange of information in
personal correspondence, and use of censorship to protect a
traditional conception of the world. Of specific concern
is the role of Peiresc in controlling the exchange of
information and in legitimizing scientific investigations
through the use of rhetorical strategies and through his
Chapter 2 offers a discussion of the social context of
the period, focusing on the private academies and
correspondence networks, which provided the setting for
intellectual exchanges. Among the more elite gatherings
were those of the Brothers Dupuy in Paris and of Peiresc in
the south of France, which played an important role in the
development and communication of a new experimental
The introduction of a scientific method based on
observation and inquiry and the publication of a Bible in
the vernacular contributed to a questioning of the
criterion of certainty, in traditional terms, reason or
divine revelation. Faced with the Protestant Reformation
and the rise of new intellectual centers outside the
university setting, the church implemented censorship to
restore its waning authority and protect the conception of
a finite and hierarchical world. As shown by the
discussion in Chapter 3, the church implemented censorship
to restore the authority of the Scriptures and protect the
conception of a finite and hierarchical world. But
rivalries between censoring agents and divided loyalties
among Catholics73 resulted in ineffectual efforts to
monitor channels of communication.
With the press and book trade regulated by censors,
many natural philosophers exchanged information in the
private academies and through correspondence networks or
relied on rhetorical strategies to publicize views. Others
sought the protection of a patron with ties in the church
and state. Chapter 4 provides an examination of
strategies of evasion used by Peiresc and his
contemporaries to communicate new ideas.
Chapters 5 and 6 offer an investigation of Peiresc's
use of patronage to develop and disseminate astronomical
observations. A system of rewards and gift-giving provided
an effective means of soliciting information and achieving
cooperation in organizing celestial observation stations.
These chapters also provide an examination of Peiresc's use
of rhetorical strategies to legitimize telescopic
73The Catholic Church was divided between
Ultramontanes, who were loyal to the pope, and the
Gallicans, primarily the magistrates of Parlement, who
supported the French king.
observations at a time when the Copernican propositions
were condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. The exchange
of scientific information along correspondence networks,
the establishment of an acceptable rhetorical format for
scientific claims,74 and the interaction of individuals and
groups are of specific concern in these chapters.
Chapter 7, the conclusion, provides an assessment of
Peiresc's role in the development and communication of
astronomical information at a time of censorship. The
extension of the correspondence networks and the successful
establishment of the Provencal School can be attributed to
Peiresc's exacting but generous personality. He provided
funding and established a research program, which focused
on projects (e.g., selenography, training) that would
contribute to a method of determining terrestrial
longitude. His death and the absence of a patron and
successor brought an effective halt to the activities of
The use of correspondence as a primary source reflects
a shift in interest from the "context of justification" to
74Christian Gregory, Personal Communication,
Gainesville, FL, fall 1991.
the "context of discovery"75--from the final published
product of science to the ongoing process of communication,
conflict, cooperation, and innovation. Correspondence is
the key; it reveals the interaction of individuals and
groups and the broader social, political, and cultural
underpinnings of the Scientific Revolution.
Through correspondence, the historian can trace an
idea from its inception to its publication, or in the case
of Galileo's Dialogue, to its condemnation. Peiresc's
letters provide a case study for his work on determining a
method of terrestrial longitude and reveal the process of
scientific innovation.76 From the time he procured a
telescope and made his first observations to the
coordination of observations stations throughout Europe and
the Levant, Peiresc systematically recorded and transmitted
his work in astronomy.
As one of the more prolific correspondents of the
early seventeenth century, Peiresc established contacts
with hundreds of individuals, often for the purpose of
acquiring specific information. A study of his
correspondence networks, role of a gatekeeper, and use of
75"Context of discovery" and "context of
justification" are terms attributed to the philosopher Hans
Reichenbach. Ian Hacking, Representing and Intervening:
Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 5-6.
7SHerbert Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science:
1300-1800, rev. ed. (New York: Free Press, 1965), 9.
patronage offers a means of understanding the importance of
communication in scientific innovation. As suggested by
the pioneering works of Guillaume Bigourdan,77 Harcourt
Brown,7s and Ren6 Pintard,79 a thorough study of Peiresc's
role in the correspondence networks and private academies
is needed to fill the hiatus in scholarship on the
organizers of the new science.
Recent scholarship has offered a portrayal of Peiresc
as a multifaceted individual--a magistrate in Parlement, a
natural philosopher, and as a figure of transition between
the Renaissance and a new science. This study provides
another interpretation: Peiresc's use of patronage and his
role as a gatekeeper in the correspondence networks is
considered critical in the development and dissemination of
From the perspective of communication research, this
study of the exchange of information through correspondence
networks will contribute to an understanding of the
relationship between the communication and the production
77Guillaume Bigourdan, Histoire de l'astronomie et
l'observation et des observatoires en France (Paris:
78Harcourt Brown, Scientific Organizations in
Seventeenth Century France (1934, New York: Russell and
79Ren6 Pintard, Le libertinage 6rudit dans la premiere
moiti6 du xviie siecle (Paris: Boivin, 1943; repr. Geneva:
of scientific knowledge.80 Correspondence not only
provided a rapid and efficient channel of communication, it
offered a means of securing recognition and legitimation
When censorship and oppression determined views
expressed in published texts, historian Harcourt Brown has
emphasized, "[T]he real substance of the radical ideas of
an age has circulated in manuscript, under the cloak."81
To understand intellectual activity in this period,
historians must look beyond printed texts and examine
private exchanges in the correspondence networks.
Scope of the Study
This study is defined in terms of spatial, temporal,
and thematic parameters. While many of the private
academies were located in Paris, Peiresc's gatherings at
Aix attest to the intellectual activity in Provence. He
was a contemporary of the great thinkers of the period,
including Galileo and Descartes, as well as of the
organizers of the new science, such as Pierre Gassendi and
Marin Mersenne. As a gatekeeper in the correspondence
80Shapin has shown the importance of communication in
securing assent for claims about nature. Steven Shapin,
"Pump and Circumstance: Robert Boyle's Literary
Technology," Social Studies of Science 14 (1984): 481.
81Brown, Scientific Organizations, xiv.
networks, he served as liaison between scholars in France
and Italy. His contacts with priests in the Levant enabled
him to organize telescopic observation stations. His
exchanges with hundreds of individuals facilitated the
acquisition of artifacts and information that he used to
enhance his personal prestige.
While secondary sources served to identify significant
periods in Peiresc's life, primary sources convey a
diversity of information that is often qualitatively
different from publicized views--daily routines, hopes and
frustrations, cooperation and rivalry.82 Content of
letters ranged from astronomical investigations to the
curative properties of melons, or the "scandal" caused by
the bordello of the Bishop of Riez.83 Correspondence
reveals subtleties of language--rhetorical strategies to
dissimulate and legitimize scientific endeavors, and the
use of persuasion and manipulation to secure compliance for
One challenge presented by this study was to link the
activities of the scientific subculture with the broader
social context. An examination of the role of the patron
82Ren6 Taton, "Le r6le des correspondances
scientifiques dans la diffusion de la science aux xvii et
xviii si6cles," Proceedings of the International Congress
on the History of Sciences (Tokyo: Science Council of
Japan, 1974): 221.
83Peiresc to Valavez [Palamede], 26 July 1626, PL 6:
and gatekeeper provides a means of understanding how
scientific initiatives were carried out in the private
academies were legitimized and disseminated to the broader
reading community. Patronage is a system of relationships
between patrons and clients, often arranged by an
intermediary,84 in which social status and legitimacy can
be traded for services or information.85 Peiresc used
patronage to develop communication networks and secure
cooperation for his requests. As his authority was
grounded in the established institutions of the church and
crown, he could legitimize scientific activities.
Furthermore, portraying Peiresc as a gatekeeper in
communication networks offers a means of understanding his
role in processing, disseminating, and adapting information
to individuals and groups.
To understand the scientific community of the
Provencal School, shared values, beliefs, and commitments
are explored. Communication reveals controversies and
rivalries, and offers a means of accessing beliefs. The
subtleties of language and the adaptation of style and
content to the recipient further contribute to the
understanding of group dynamics.
84Biagioli, "Patronage," 3-4.
s8Barnes and Edge, 16.
Primary sources. The published correspondence of
Peiresc86 covers a period of nearly 40 years. Smaller
collections of related correspondence are edited by Raymond
Leb6gue,87 Bernard Rochot,88 Phillip Wolfe,89 and
Apollinaire de Valence.90 The major volumes of published
correspondence edited by Tamizey de Larroque are incomplete
and unorganized. The Mersenne correspondence is
annotated and indexed, providing a baseline for scientific
activity of this period. These collections of published
letters have provided the basis for this study.
86Philippe Tamizey de Larroque, ed., Lettres de
Peiresc 7 vols. (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1893).
87Raymond Lebegue, Peiresc A divers (Paris: CNRS,
1985); Leb6gue, Peiresc: Lettres A Malherbe (1606-1628)
(Paris: CNRS, 1976).
88These exchanges between Gassendi and Luillier
provide insight into Peiresc's personality. Bernard
Rochot, Lettres familibres A Francois Luillier pendant
I'hiver 1632-1633 (Paris: J. Vrin, 1944).
89Phillip Wolfe, ed., Peiresc: Lettres a Naud6
(Seattle: Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature,
90Le Pere Apollinaire de Valence, ed., Correspondance
de Peiresc avec plusieurs missionaires et religieux de
l'ordre des capuchins. 1631-1637 (Paris: Alphonse Picard,
91Paul Tannery, Cornelis de Waard, and Armand
Beaulieu, eds. Correspondance du Pere Mersenne, 16 vols.
(Paris: Beauchesne et fils, 1932).
Secondary sources. Biographies by Georges Cahen-
Salvador and Pierre Humbert offer a general introduction to
Peiresc's diverse interests, scientific investigations, and
ties with intellectual circles. Several edited editions92
of articles on Peiresc, such as the Fioretti and Peiresc ou
la passion de connaitre, provide well-researched
examinations of Peiresc's scientific activity and ties in
the church and crown.
The more significant studies remain those by Harcourt
Brown93 and Seymour L. Chapin.94 In his Scientific
Organizations, Brown has identified critical issues: the
scientific and intellectual activity taking place in the
French provinces and the role of Peiresc in the
correspondence networks, as an intermediary between
scholars in France and Italy, and as a close friend of the
92These editions include: Jacques Ferrier, ed., Les
fioretti du quadricentenaire de Fabri de Peiresc (Avignon:
Academic du Var, 1988); Anne Reinbold, ed., Peiresc ou la
passion de connaitre (Paris: J. Vrin, 1990); Henri Dubled,
Jean Bernhardt, Pierre Costabel, and Agnbs Bresson, eds.,
Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637), humaniste et
savant, sa famille et ses amis (Carpentras: Mus6e Comtadin,
93Harcourt Brown, Scientific Organizations in
Seventeenth Century France, New York: Russell and Russell,
1934; and "Peiresc," Dictionary of Scientific Biography, v.
10, 1973: 488-492.
94Seymour L. Chapin, "The Astronomical Activities of
Nicolas Claude Fabri de Peiresc," Isis 48 (1957): 13-29.
Brothers Dupuy. Brown also has portrayed Peiresc as a
patron and organizer of the new science, and as an amateur
and a "proto-scientist."
Chapin introduced Peiresc's astronomical activities,
described participants of the Provencal School in terms of
competence and involvement, and assessed Peiresc's role in
the development of early modern astronomy. Chapin has
suggested that Peiresc's utilitarian concerns were among
the factors motivating his work in a method of determining
Astronomical sources. Pingre95 has identified
participants observing celestial phenomena in the
seventeenth century. Guillaume Bigourdan96 and Pierre
Humbert have indicated the level of involvement and
competence of many individuals assisting Peiresc. Humbert
has written numerous articles on lesser known astronomers,
on instrumentation and procedure, and on published
instructions sent by Peiresc to the missionary priests.97
95Alexandre-Gui Pingr6, Annales celestes du dix-
septieme siecle, ed. Guillaume Bigourdan (Paris: Gauthier-
96Guillaume Bigourdan, Histoire de l'astronomie
d'observation et des observatoires en France (Paris:
97Pierre Humbert, "Les astronomers francais de 1610 a
1667," Bulletin de la Soci6t6 d'6tudes scientifiques et
archeologiques de Draguignan 44 (1942-1943): 5-72; and
L'oeuvre astronomique de Gassendi (Paris: Hermann, 1936).
Limitations. The primary sources used in this study
are the published letters of Peiresc and Mersenne. The
editing of the Peiresc correspondence and expurgation of
passages judged "too scientific"98 by Philippe Tamizey de
Larroque, editor of the Peiresc correspondence, have
limited the conclusions that can be drawn, particularly
concerning the competence and involvement of members of the
Attempts to understand Peiresc as a communicator and
organizer of scientific activity is biased somewhat by what
Pintard has described as the "role of conjecture."99
Peiresc and Gassendi did not explicitly address assumptions
or beliefs. They did not express their support of the
Copernican system.1oo At other times, they dissimulated
views. Often what is not said is as revealing as what is
said.o10 Hence, this study offers one interpretation of
the role of Peiresc in patronizing and communicating
9aPierre Humbert, L'oeuvre astronomique de Gassendi
(Paris: Hermann, 1936), 7 n. 1.
100Gassendi described his conception of the Copernican
system in a letter to Peiresc. Gassendi to Peiresc, 26 Feb
1632, PL 4: 259; he wrote that he was pleased Boulliau was
a Copernican, Gassendi to Boulliau, 24 Jan 1634, MC 4: 11.
From an early age, Peiresc displayed an interest in
natural philosophy, taking advantage of opportunities to
explore nature and solicit information from friends.
Contacts with diverse scholars, earlier cultivated by
Pinelli, provided the foundation for Peiresc's personal
correspondence networks. The promise of patronage and
gifts enabled him to secure information and cooperation in
investigations of natural phenomena; social position and
family wealth allowed him to establish and maintain ties
with influential circles. In the following chapters, an
examination of Peiresc's interactions with individuals and
groups provides a means of understanding the role of
patronage and communication in legitimizing scientific
activity, securing information, and developing scientific
initiatives in early seventeenth-century France.
Peiresc's gatherings at Belgentier have been described
as "the retreat and rendezvous of all men of talent"1 where
the conversations were "carefree."2 This academy in
Provence was just one of many of the scholarly circles in
France. Private academies were held in the house of a
patron, an individual whose official position afforded
sufficient income to provide a library and instruments as
well as protection from censors. Members of the private
academies gathered on a regular basis to share books,
literary news, results of scientific inquiries, or letters
from correspondents. Travel accounts,3 dissections,4 a
conjunction of planets,5 or the care of Angora cats6 were
valid subjects of inquiry in the academies and
1Jean-Jacques Bouchard, Les confessions de Jean-
Jacques Bouchard suivies de son voyage de Paris A Rome
(Paris: Isidore Lixeux, 1881), 128.
2Bouchard, Voyage, 131.
SPeiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 13 July 1633, PL 2:
556; Gassendi to Peiresc, n.d. May 1635, PL 4: 483.
4Peiresc to Jacques Dupuy, 25 July 1634, MC 4: 251;
Gassendi to Diodati, 29 July 1634, MC 4: 339.
5Peiresc to Paolo Gualdo (a friend of Galileo's), 20
Feb 1605, quoted in Pierre Humbert, Un amateur: Peiresc
(1580-1637) (Paris: Desclbe de Brouwer et cie., 1933), 77.
6Peiresc to Guillemin, 15 Sept 1610, PL 5: 1.
correspondence. Discussions were not confined within these
academies, but were transmitted through correspondence
networks to be shared with members of other scholarly
The sixteenth- and seventeenth-century French
universities promoted a traditional world-view based on the
Scriptures and texts of Aristotle. Medieval Christianity
appropriated a number of Aristotelian and Platonic
concepts. The hierarchy of being, the cosmic division
between the sublunar and supra-lunar regions, the perfect
spheres moving with uniform motion coupled with the
Aristotelian Prime Mover supported the conception of a
world moved and sustained by God. Hence, the introduction
of a new ordering of the world had implications for the
organization of society or at least a church-informed
The rhetoric of the new science emphasized empiricism
as opposed to the traditional reading of the Scriptures and
Aristotle. Galileo's telescopic observations of the moon,
an obvious example, revealed that earth's nearest neighbor
was not a perfect celestial globe but marked with mountains
and craters. The discovery of sunspots also provided
evidence refuting the Platonic conception of immutable
heavenly bodies and the Aristotelian distinction between
the sublunar and supra-lunar realms.
The emerging world-view also had implications for the
scholastic or pedagogical framework. The medieval
university maintained a hierarchy among academic
disciplines which recognized theology as the only science
that could yield truth and certainty whereas astronomy and
mathematics could only provide information about the world
of appearances or as perceived by the senses.7 The
Ptolemaic system of equants and epicycles was not
considered a reality, but rather a means of "saving
appearances" or explaining planetary movements. Beginning
with Copernicus (On Revolutions, 1543)8 and Galileo, many
of the new astronomers presented what they considered real
systems rather than hypothetical schemes. Copernicus and
Galileo explained what appeared to be anomalies under the
Ptolemaic system--retrograde motion and the variation in
the brightness of Venus. But they were reluctant to
publicize their views from fear of ridicule by colleagues
and later from fear of censors.9
7Edward Grant, Physical Science in the Middle Ages
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 33.
SCopernicus's conception of a heliocentric world was
not revolutionary in itself. Aristarchus of Samos had
developed a similar system in the third century B.C. But,
Copernicus presented his theory in terms of a real rather
than a hypothetical system.
9Galileo to Kepler, 4 Aug 1597, quoted in Ren6 Taton,
"Le r6le des correspondances scientifiques dans la
diffusion de la science aux xviie et xviiie siecles,"
Proceedings of the 14th International Congress on the
History of Sciences (Tokyo: Science Council of Japan,
Peiresc's position in the church and Parlement assured
favored protection from censors and enabled him to
legitimize his scientific initiatives. He followed in the
Scriptural and Baconian tradition, justifying the
observations of nature as a means of knowing God through
his works;10 as Galileo claimed, God is revealed in two
"books," the Holy Scriptures and the "Book of Nature."
Peiresc demonstrated that observational astronomy had
practical applications--the determination of terrestrial
longitude11 and the reform of the church calendar.
Accurate tables of planetary movements would enable a more
precise dating of the vernal equinox and hence religious
feast days, such as Easter. These practical applications
provided a means of securing the cooperation of missionary
priests in observations.
The origins of investigations of nature in the
seventeenth-century private academies can be traced to the
earlier Italian gatherings of Girolamo Ruscelli (Accademia
Segreta) and Giambattista della Porta (Accademia Secretorum
Naturae),12 which legitimized observation and inquiry by
O1Robert K. Merton, "Puritanism, Pietism, and
Science," The Sociological Review 28 (1936): 1, 7.
11Peiresc to Menestrier, 22 Feb 1629, PL 5: 559.
12William Eamon and Francoise Paheau, "The Accademia
Segreta of Girolamo Ruscelli, A Sixteenth-Century Italian
Scientific Society," Isis 75 (1984): 339-340.
proclaiming that "the most majestic wonders of nature are
not to be concealed, that in them we may admire the mighty
power of God, His wisdom, His bounty, and therein reverence
and adore Him."13 Della Porta maintained that the study of
nature would "remove all blindness and malice, which are
wont to dazzle the sight of the mind and hinder the
truth."14 Investigations of nature secured increasing
social recognition as they contributed to material progress
and knowledge of God through His works.
Private academies, headed by a powerful patron,
offered a forum for discussing new ideas.15 Membership was
determined by social standing, with the exception of the
conferences at the Bureau d'adresse, which admitted the
general public. These early scientific academies developed
13Giambattista della Porta, Preface, Natural Magic,
ed. Derek J. Price (New York: Basic Books, 1957), n. pag.
14Della Porta, "Preface," n. pag.
15Pintard has described the bourgeoisie as the
"infantry of science." While Peiresc had a noble heritage,
the families of Gassendi and Mersenne were farmers;
Boulliau's father was a notary and Naud6's a bailiff. Ren6
Pintard, Le libertinage 6rudit dans la premiere moiti6 du
xvii siecle (Paris: Boivin, 1943; repr. Geneva: Slatkine,
a protocol of scientific investigation involving
empiricism, cooperation, and communication.16
Origins and Development
The Italian antecedents of the French societies
established a private, patron-supported tradition.
The Accademia Secretorum Naturae (Naples) and the Accademia
Segreta popularized the "secrets" tradition17 of alchemists
among its members.18 The Accademia dei Lincei (1603-1630,
Rome),19 led by Prince Federico Cesi, introduced
experimentation and largely discredited the Aristotelian
underpinnings of astronomy. While these academies
maintained secrecy in proceedings, they often communicated
their observations to other scientific groups and the
16Sarah S. Huckaby, "The Accademia dei Lincei: A Study
in 17th Century Scientific Communication," Fifth Library
History Seminar (Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University
Press, 1972), 171.
17Movable type had a role in transforming the esoteric
or secrets tradition into public knowledge. The secrets
tradition refers to certain practices--often recipes and
formulas--whereby individuals could understand the
mysteries or secrets of nature. William Eamon, "From the
Secrets of Nature to Public Knowledge," Reappraisals of the
Scientific Revolution, ed. David Lindberg and Robert
Westman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 340-
18Eamon and Paheau, 339-340.
19Galileo was a member of this academy.
public through correspondence and publications.20 In
Paris, gatherings at the study of the President of the
Parlement of Paris, Francois Auguste de Thou I, shifted
emphasis from philology to natural philosophy under the
direction of his nephews, Pierre and Jacques Dupuy.21 In
the south of France, traveling scholars and missionary
priests visited Peiresc, often receiving instruction in
scientific endeavors before leaving for Italy and the
Gassendi valued exchanges in private academies,
writing that the "true philosophy is found in refuge under
the roof of some individuals who practice it in the shadow
and in the silence."22 The freedom they enjoyed was not
sanctioned by religious or political institutions, rather
it was a personal freedom--the freedom to express one's
opinion without fear of reprisals. One individual told the
20The Lincei sponsored the publication of Galileo's
Letters on Sunspots in 1613, his Assayer in 1623 on the
controversy over the comets, and other works on botany,
bees, and musical harmony. Huckaby, 171-181.
21Harcourt Brown, Scientific Organizations in
Seventeenth Century France (New York: Russell and Russell,
22Gassendi to Reneri, Oeuvres completes, 6 vols.
(Lyon: n.p., 1658), 4: 30, quoted in Isaac Uri, Un cercle
savant au xviie siecle: Francois Guyet (1575-1655) (Paris:
Hachette, 1886), 29.
Dupuys that "had I lost the honor of your good graces for
having a differing opinion . the freedom of the
Cabinet23 [Dupuy] would have suffered."24
A cabinet has been defined as a private room which
contained books and objects, a place in which to retire and
pursue scholarly endeavors.25 It contained books,
instruments, and artifacts, as well as a variety of
curiosities. Unique and bizarre collections impressed
friends or attracted visitors. The cabinets of
curiosities, once condemned by the church due to their
association with the occult or hidden qualities of
nature,26 were recognized at this time as representing
knowledge and learning,27 and as attesting to the prestige
23The term cabinet has been used in several ways in
this study. It can refer to an academy (e.g., Cabinet
Dupuy), to a room in which discussions are held, or to a
place where curiosities are displayed.
24La Hoguette to the Brothers Dupuy, 16 May 1649,
Lettres de Ph. Fortin de la Hoguette A J. Dupuy (1644-
1649), quoted in Pintard, 97.
25Bernard Beugnot, "L'ermitage parmi les livres,"
Revue franchise d'histoire du livre 24 (1979): 688.
26Krzystztof Pomian, Collectors and Curiosities, Paris
and Venice, 1500-1800, trans. Elizabeth Wiles-Portier
(Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990), 59.
27William Eamon, "From the Secrets of Nature to Public
Knowledge: the Origins of the Concept of Openness in
Science," Minerva 23 (1985): 332.
of patrons.28 Some cabinets were open to visitors and
served to popularize the study of natural phenomena. As
Peiresc stressed to one correspondent in Rome, visitors
interrupted a natural philosopher in his work:
You did not tell me that you have set up now such a
beautiful cabinet and have enriched it with such
rarities, that you need to be chained to stop from
receiving the gallant men who can visit you daily,
S a diversion capable of consuming much time.29
Membership in the private academies was limited to an
elite group of intellectuals. Family wealth and social
status did not ensure entry to these gatherings. Some
individuals, such as the wealthy but dull magistrate Habert
de Montmor, were excluded from the Cabinet Dupuy.30
Traveling scholars and visitors needed letters of
recommendation to be admitted. These letters addressed the
merits of the individual, official position, and family
ties. Peiresc said Arcos was "a friend of extraordinary
merit."31 Describing Gassendi as skilled in philosophy and
mathematics, Peiresc asked that his friend be admitted to
the Cabinet Dupuy. He made excuses for his lack of
28Giuseppe Olmi, "Science-Honour-Metaphor: Italian
Cabinets of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," The
Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in
Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Europe, ed. Oliver Impey
and Arthur MacGregor (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 8.
29Peiresc to Menestrier, 25 Aug 1631, PL 5: 590.
31Peiresc to Brothers Dupuy, 22 Nov 1632, PL 2: 376.
friendship with influential circles. "This country, removed
from the trade of books and visits of distinguished
individuals as typical of your region, cannot produce
individuals having circles of cultivated friends as found
there [Paris]," Peiresc explained. "But I still hope that
you will find pleasure in his modest and gentle
The more noteworthy gatherings in the early
seventeenth century were held by the Brothers Dupuy (ca.
1616) in Paris and by Peiresc (ca. 1607) in Aix-en-
Provence. The library of the Cabinet Dupuy on the Rue des
Poitevins, near the Boulevard St. Michel, contained 16,000
books and manuscripts.33 Peiresc described the cabinet as
the "true domicile of virtue34 and the rendezvous of all
lettered men of the nation and abroad."35 As many as 50
individuals met daily in the late afternoons at the Cabinet
Dupuy to exchange news of foreign governments,
publications, and scientific activities,36 or to carry on
32See Peiresc to Brothers Dupuy, 21 April 1628, PL 1:
34Virtue referred to the "giving of favor and reward."
Linda Levy Peck, Court Patronage and Corruption in Early
Stuart England (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990), 13.
35Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 12 May 1628, PL 1:
36Brown, Scientific Organizations, 14.
"useful and agreeable" discussions.37 Libertines Francois
Luillier, Gabriel Naud6, and Jean-Jacques Bouchard
attended, as did the Jesuit confessor Jacques Sirmond and
the physician Guy Patin. Also there were astronomers and
mathematicians, including the priest Marin Mersenne and the
cleric astronomers Pierre Gassendi and Ismael Boulliau.38
There were other scientific circles in Paris.
Mathematicians and astronomers, such as Claude Mydorge,
Ismael Boulliau, Rene Descartes, and Gassendi attended
Mersenne's circle (1635-1648), which he described as "the
noblest of all academies in the world, dedicated to
Peiresc modeled his academy on the Cabinet Dupuy,
which he attended while in Paris from 1616-1623.40 The
proximity of Aix to the ports of the Mediterranean Sea made
his cabinet a convenient stopping place for scholars
traveling between Europe and the Levant. Missionary
priests stopped here for training in telescopic
observations. Among the visitors were ambassadors, agents
to the king, adventurers., and traveling scholars.
Gassendi noted that Peiresc often "spent his time in the
39Letter of 1635, Pintard, 91.
40Brown, Scientific Organizations, 8.
company of such men, interposing frequent reading, and the
cultivation of rare plants . [and on occasion] detained
[visitors] as long as he could."41
Peiresc's gatherings also attracted a local
population; the Chief Justice of the Parlement of Provence
Guillaume Du Vair attended, as did the Hellenic scholar
Francois de Villeneuve and the poet Francois de Malherbe.42
Villeneuve later participated in Peiresc's astronomical
observations; Malherbe served as a liaison to the crown
upon taking a position with the royal entourage in Paris.
Among the regular members of these meetings were Gassendi
and Joseph Gaultier de la Valette, a cleric and an
experienced astronomer. The priest Pierre Antelme of
Fr6jus and Tonduti de St. L6gier may have also attended.
There were other scientific gatherings in the French
provinces, indicative of intellectual activity taking place
at this time.43 Francois-Gilles Mac6, professor of
mathematics and medicine at the University of Caen, led
discussions and made astronomical observations.44 His
41Pierre Gassendi, Book 4, The Mirrour of True
Nobility and Gentility, trans. William Rand (London: J.
Streater, 1657), 41-42.
42Humbert, Amateur, 50.
43Brown, Scientific Organizations, 215.
44In 1618, Isaac Beeckman, the Dutch scholar and
friend of Descartes, came to Caen to study medicine. At
that time, Mac6 showed him a telescope. H. Prentout,
"Francois-Gilles Mac6: Un professeur de math6matiques a
l'Universit6 de Caen au commencement du xvii siecle,"
M4moires de l'Acad6mie Nationale des Sciences de Caen,
academy at Caen, carried on by his nephew Pierre-Daniel
Huet, became one of the centers of experimentation in the
country.45 Scientific groups, often associated with Jesuit
schools, emerged in other provincial cities, including
Tournon and Avignon in the south of France.46
Conferences at the Bureau d'adresse
The Bureau d'adresse was a combination pawn shop,
printing press, employment office, medical dispens, and
public academy. The weekly conferences of Theophraste
Renaudot47 at the Bureau d'adresse were held on Monday
afternoons from 1629 to 1642.48 According to Renaudot,
these conferences functioned to "rescue the liberal
sciences from the bondage of scholastic obscurities [e.g.,
university teaching], and to render things intelligible
without obliging the studious to the unpleasing and
45Brown, Scientific Organizations, 216.
46Francois de Dainville, "Foyers de culture
scientifiques dans la France mediterran6nne du xvie au
xviiie siecle," Revue d'histoire des sciences et de leurs
applications 1 (1947-1948): 289-300.
47Cardinal Richelieu was the patron of Renaudot.
48The conferences were held on Monday afternoons from
August 1633 through August 1642.
perpetual task of first surmounting the difficulties of
Renaudot, who communicated and popularized a new
experimental science to the public, was probably more
interested in promoting a personal agenda than in educating
public. He used various channels of communication to
publicize information--a medical clinic, conferences and
demonstrations, a newspaper, and published proceedings of
meetings. He opened a medical dispensary to treat
indigents--a move contested by the Faculty of Medicine,
notably by Guy Patin.50 Furthermore, he promoted chemical
treatment of disease, a practice condemned by physicians,
who relied on the traditional methods of purges and
Renaudot's scientific conferences reflected
discussions carried out in the private academies and
letters.52 While his Gazette (ca. 1631) contained mainly
49Eusebe Renaudot, ed., Preface, General Collection of
Discourses of the Virtuosi of France, trans. G. Havers
(London: printed for Thomas Dring and John Starkey, 1664),
5OHoward Solomon, Public Welfare, Science, and
Propaganda in Seventeenth-Century France: The Innovations
of Th6ophraste Renaudot (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1972), 46-47, 170.
52For example, the subject of echoes, described in
exchanges with Mersenne, was also discussed in a conference
in November 1633. Villiers to Mersenne, mid-November,
1633, MC 3: 546 n. 1. Conference on the movement of the
earth and a theory of the tides took place within six
months of the condemnation of Galileo's Dialogue Concerning
news of foreign countries and the French crown, his
published proceedings of his conferences at the Bureau
d'adresse included a range of topics: natural magic, truth
and certainty, love and vengeance, and movement of the
earth. Two subjects were excluded from discussion:
"Not only is slander banished, but for fear of
irritating minds easily upset by problems of religion,
all such concerns are referred to the Sorbonne. The
mystery of affairs of State, the nature of divine
things, of which those who have the most to say, say
the least, we refer them to the Council [du Roil from
where they proceed. All the rest are here, to give
free play to your imagination.""53
Renaudot carefully avoided topics that could lead to
censorship by theologians of the Sorbonne or conflict with
the crown. Hence, through public conferences Renaudot
extended communication of scientific initiatives from an
elite community to a general audience.
His popularization of scientific activities through
public conferences earned him little respect from the
scientific community, which scorned this "wretched printer
. . boastful of wares with which he degrades himself by
the price of profaning and divulging his conferences to
lowly people."54 These criticisms arose primarily from
Renaudot's inaccuracy in reporting and his inclination to
the Two Chief World Systems in 1633. MC 3: 602 n. 2;
Renaudot, 10: 57, 19: 115.
53Preface Premiere centuries, quoted in Solomon, 64-65.
54Peiresc to Brothers Dupuy, 15 Jan 1634, PL 3: 15.
divulge information that could lead to the persecution of
natural philosophers. The lack of respect shown by the
scientific community toward the gazeteer also stemmed from
Renaudot's ties with Cardinal Richelieu, who resented the
power and prestige of private academies.55
The published proceedings of these conferences were
presented in the form of anonymous dialogues. The absence
of the speaker's name enabled the reader to evaluate the
material on the basis of content rather than the social
status of the author--so Renaudot said.
Patronage and Science
Patrons of private academies not only provided funding
and protection for scientific investigations, but rewarded
productive clients with social status and prestige.
Furthermore, patrons could legitimize scientific activity
as their own authority was rooted in institutions of the
church and crown. For a private academy to succeed, it
needed a patron with a sense of responsibility and the
ability to manipulate and persuade friends, a well-defined
55Some of the antagonism between members of the
private academies and the cardinal could be attributed to
the corruption in the entourage of Richelieu and Marie de
Medici (1573-1642), mother of Louis XIII. Jules-Marie
Priou, "Magistrat et citoyen frangais," Les fioretti du
quadricentenaire de Fabri de Peiresc, ed. Jacques Ferrier
(Avignon: Acad6mie du Var, 1988), 90.
research program, and funding.56 An academy also needed a
communication system through which to distribute
recognition and disseminate results.57
Peiresc's ties with influential circles, his
erudition, and his family wealth contributed to the
successful establishment of an academy in Aix-en-Provence,
which became known as the Provencal School. Peiresc used
patronage to solicit scientific information from
correspondents and organize telescopic observations. He
used personal, political, and clerical ties to secure
cooperation for telescopic observations at the time of
Patronage was not free but imposed obligations such as
the need to respect protocol and to reciprocate.
Correspondents responded to Peiresc's requests for
information or risked the loss of patronage. To understand
how scientific activity developed in the private
gatherings, this section provides an examination of
Peiresc's academy in terms of the following aspects: the
use of patronage to develop and legitimize scientific
activity, the popularization of scientific activity through
56Harcourt Brown, "L'Acad6mie de physique de Caen
(1666-1675)," Extrait des m6moires de l'Academie des
sciences, arts et belles-lettres de Caen 10 (1938): 80-84.
57Barry Barnes and David Edge, eds., "The Organization
of Academic Science: Communication and Control," Science in
Context: Readings in the Sociology of Science (Cambridge,
MA: The MIT Press, 1982), 15.
a cabinet of curiosities, the establishment of a protocol
of communication and cooperation, and the development of a
research program at the Provengal School.
Peiresc's Use of Patronage
Known as a patron of scholars, Peiresc offered lodging
and the use of his libraries; he financed publications and
arranged patronage positions for clients. Peiresc not only
provided protection and financial support, but legitimized
scientific activity and conferred social status on
individuals.58 Peiresc informed one priest that telescopic
observations would "not be injurious to your pious and
charitable conquest of souls. On the contrary, this could
one day serve as bait to attract others gradually to follow
your example."59 The treasurer of France, Francois
Luillier, wrote that Peiresc "facilitated observations, and
all those who love sciences are immeasurably obligated [to
him]."6o Often missionary priests stopped in Aix for
instructions in telescopic observations before traveling to
the Levant. On his return from Egypt, the priest Th6ophile
Minuiti brought two mummies, one of which contained an
ancient papyrus book inscribed with hieroglyphics that
58Mario Biagioli, "Galileo's System of Patronage,"
History of Science 28 (1990): 4-5.
59Peiresc to Colombin de Nantes, 1 Aug 1634, PV 82.
6oLuillier to Peiresc, 1 June 1634, PC 2: 276.
Peiresc estimated to be 2000 years old.61 Cardinal
Francisco Barberini and his entourage visited Peiresc in
October 1625.62 Although Peiresc was making funeral
arrangements for his deceased father at that time, he
invited the cardinal to visit his cabinet and offered him a
treasured book as a gift--a book Peiresc had just received
from the Brothers Dupuy. As Peiresc explained, the
cardinal's "unexpected visit did not leave us the means of
presenting him with something else. I am sure you will not
take this badly."63
Peiresc financed the first scientific expedition for
telescopic observations in 1611 and made plans for a second
in 1636. He supported Gassendi's scholarship in atomism
and Mersenne's work in musical harmony.64 He offered to
help Thomas Arcos during his imprisonment in Tunisia.65
The successful arrangement of patronage positions in
elite circles attested to Peiresc's personal influence and
prestige. Naud6 sought improved status and asked Peiresc
61Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 8 Aug 1632, PL 2:
62Peiresc to Valavez [Palamede], 29 Oct 1625, PL 6:
63Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 20 April 1625, PL 1:
64Mersenne to Peiresc, 20 March 1634, PC 2: 502.
Peiresc to Mersenne, 8 July 1634, MC 4: 236.
e5Peiresc to Arcos, 13 July 1630, PL 7: 85.
for a letter of recommendation, similar to that which
"succeeded for Monsieur Bouchard, who now has a place in
the [Vatican] palace."66 Naud6 wrote Peiresc:
It seems to me that you can legitimately demonstrate to
His Holiness [Cardinal Bagni] that for nearly four
years I have been in Rome and have put my hopes in his
kindness and generosity . [and have not obtained a
position which] could ease my great expenses to
maintain myself outside my own country and that if he
does not choose to reward me with something, it is
almost impossible to remain in Rome serving the
As a powerful patron, Peiresc could offer gifts or social
status as inducement to work harder. After his bookbinder,
Simon Corberan, showed skill in astronomical observations,
Peiresc sent him to observe the lunar eclipse of August
1635 from nearby Mount St. Victoire. The successful
accomplishment of this task could have enabled Corberan to
achieve prestige among elite astronomers of the Provencal
gatherings. But Corberan failed to carry out the
observations--he fell asleep--and hence, lost prestige and
the possibility for advancement.
Maintaining patronage relationships required a
continual exchange of services. At times, Peiresc
overwhelmed clients with requests for information--copying
inscriptions in churches, delivering Angora cats and orange
flower water, or visiting cabinets of collectors. Peiresc
66Naud6 to Peiresc, 20 July 1631, NP 143.
67Naud6 to Peiresc, 20 July 1634, PC 2: 37.
also sought to control behavior through praise and
rebuke.68 Manners and civility were signs of honn6tet6--
"refined, proper social behavior"69--and reflected on the
prestige and image of the patron. He criticized Prior
Denis Guillemin's affectations of speech. "[U]nderstand
that plain speech is worth thirty times more than a flowery
style," he advised.70 The need for concise writing
reflected the concern for "functional" reporting of
scientific activities, more highly valued than the
elaborate style which could enhance personal prestige.71
In his own letters, Peiresc has been described as using "no
phrases which were luxuriant or undigested. For he always
expressed what he intended with common words yet not
without elegance and civility."72
He scolded Mersenne for neglecting protocol--omitting
titles in letters and forgetting the names of superiors in
his correspondence, and confusing dates.73 Peiresc
68Peiresc to Guillemin, 17 Dec 1624, PL 5: 40.
69Jacques Revel, "The Uses of Civility," ed. Roger
Chartier A History of Private Life (Cambridge: The Belknap
Press, 1989), 3: 90.
70Peiresc to Guillemin, 6 Sept 1624, PL 5: 30.
71Steven Shapin, "Pump and Circumstance: Robert
Boyle's Literary Technology," Social Studies of Science 14
72Gassendi, Book 1: 14.
73Peiresc to Mersenne, 20 Aug 1635, MC 5: 354-356.
believed that this disregard for protocol reflected
adversely on the patron. "If you would take the trouble to
reread your letters before sealing them . you would not
have made that error in the date of 15 August when it could
have only been the tenth."74 On another occasion, he
pointed to inaccuracies in Mersenne's dedication, "[Y]ou
made me a councilor of Dijon which is in Burgundy. One
would not pardon such a great mathematician and hence, a
geographer, for not knowing if the Parlement of Dijon is in
Provence or Burgundy."75 Mersenne made an attempt to
appease Peiresc in his letters. "I did, in fact, forget
the name of M. Dormalius, . for Dijon, I have already
told you that the error of my pen astounded me."76 These
efforts to justify errors, omissions, or a slip of the pen
might suggest that Mersenne was more concerned with
maintaining Peiresc's patronage than with inaccuracies in
A breach of protocol could result in loss of honor or
prestige. When the Dupuys' nephew did not visit Peiresc,
he wrote, "I am so outraged and mortified . because at
74Peiresc to Mersenne, 20 Aug 1635, MC 5: 356.
75Peiresc to Mersenne, 17 July 1635, MC 5: 323.
76Mersenne to Peiresc, around 1 Sept 1635, MC 5: 372.
one time he gave me his word, which was a type of binding
contract for a lord of his status.""77
The Cabinet of Peiresc
Peiresc's residences at Aix and Belgentier contained
extensive libraries, gardens, and his collections of
curiosities. The library held more than 5000 books and 200
manuscripts,78 which included works by Galileo, Giulio-
Cesare Vanini, who was burned at the stake, and Tommaso
Campanella, imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition, as well
as ephemerides, treatises from antiquity, ecclesiastical
doctrines, and Arabic texts.79 Not only did Peiresc
collect and lend books, but he had them bound with morocco
leather and stamped with a motif in gilt.o8
His gardens at Belgentier were said to be among the
more famous in France. Several varieties of jasmine and
orange trees bloomed.81 There were papyrus and coconut
plants, ginger from India, and vineyards from the Levant.82
77Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 15 Dec 1629, PL 2:
78H. Omont, "Les manuscrits et les livres annotes de
Fabri de Peiresc," Annales du midi 1 (1889): 317.
79Cecilia Rizzi, Peiresc e l'italia (Turin:
Giappochelli, 1965), 297-316.
80Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 3 Feb 1629, PL 2: 9.
e8Humbert, Amateur, 167-168.
82Gassendi, Book 4, 43-44.
He shared unusual species of plants with the gardeners of
the king and pope83 and wrote of sending the eau de naffe
(orange flower water) to friends.84 Not only did he seek
to procure unusual plants, but he experimented with
Naud6 compared Peiresc's cabinet to a "'very
frequented marketplace, containing the most precious
merchandise . no ships enter the ports of France
without bringing Peiresc marble statues, manuscripts . .
and antiquities.'"86 Before the theft of his ancient
medals, Peiresc estimated his collection to contain 18,000
pieces.87 His more precious artifacts were a tripod from
Fr6jus and a book of hieroglyphics. He kept his scientific
instruments--including five telescopes--in Aix. Shelves
were lined with books, packets of letters from
correspondents,88 journals of observations,89 two large
83Gassendi, Book 4, 42.
84Humbert, Amateur, 164-165.
85Gassendi, Book 4: 45.
86Gabriel Naud6, quoted in Uri, 41.
87Humbert estimated that at Peiresc's death, there
were 18,000 medals which did not include 1,300 lost in a
theft of 1623. Humbert, Amateur, 144-145.
88Gassendi, Book 6: 197.
89Jean Bernhardt, "L'inventaire posthume de la
bibliotheque," Peiresc ou la passion de connaitre, ed. Anne
Reinbold (Paris: J. Vrin, 1990), 14-19.
teeth said to belong to a giant,90 shells, fossils, and
lodestones. From correspondents, Peiresc solicited
specific information, which concerned the location of
marine fossils in the mountains, the direction of currents
and tides off the coast of North Africa,91 the customs
among cannibals,92 and the eruption of Vesuvius.93 Of
other correspondents, he asked for eye-witness reports on
the serpents said to lick the wounds of lepers94 and on the
plum tree reportedly growing in the stomach of a
Spaniard.95 Peiresc meticulously recorded the responses in
his journals of observations and communicated information
to correspondents. He requested plaster imprints of vases,
has reliefs, and figurines, instructing his correspondents
on the procedure of making molds.96 Possession of rare and
unique objects provided a means of improving personal
9OArcos to Aycard, 24 June 1630, quoted in Alexandre-
Jules-Antoine Fauris de Saint-Vincens, ed., "Suite des
lettres indites de Peiresc communiques A M. Million "
Magasin encyclopedique 5 (1806): 116, 121.
91Peiresc to Arcos, 17 Oct 1634, PL 7: 142.
92Peiresc to Colombin de Nantes, 1 Aug 1634, PV 81.
93Peiresc to Bouchard, 14 July 1632, PL 4: 77.
94Peiresc to Menestrier, 4 Oct 1635, PL 5: 788.
95Peiresc to Naud6, 3 Jan 1636, PN 70; in another
letter Peiresc described it as a thorn that had grown
roots. Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 18 March 1636, PL 3:
96Peiresc to Menestrier, 20 Oct 1633, PL 5: 658.
prestige in the eyes of visitors. Curiosities also served
as the currency of exchange in sustaining or initiating
The walls of the cabinet of Peiresc were hung with
portraits of influential friends and representatives of the
elite European intellectual circles--individuals Peiresc
described as "the most famous men I have known who have
given me the honor of their respect . who have allowed
me to serve as their humble servant."97 Some of these
paintings were acquired as gifts; others were commissioned
by Peiresc.98 These paintings, often measuring two feet by
two and a half feet,99 were displayed in the cabinet. They
served to impress friends or visitors by forging an
association between influential individuals and this
There was a portrait of the German patron Mare Welser,
who published Christopher Scheiner's letters on sunspots
and who exchanged news with Galileo. A painting of the
Italian savant Pinelli demonstrated ties with European
humanists, while those of Cardinal Barberini and his uncle,
Pope Urban VIII, implied connections to Rome. The Brothers
Dupuy and Francois Malherbe represented ties with Parisian
97Humbert, Amateur, 135-136.
98See Peiresc to Chalette, 8 May 1627, PL 7: 877;
Peiresc to Naud6, 3 Jan 1635, PN 33-34.
99Peiresc to Chalette, 8 May 1627, PL 7: 877-878.
academies and the royal court. Peiresc also had paintings
by well-known artists, including a portrait of Peter Paul
Rubens by Anthony Van Dyck.100 Amidst these portraits was
one of Peiresc by a Flemish painter, Louis Finson. The
cabinet also contained portraits of ancient figures--the
Greek navigator Pytheas by Rubenslol and two Emperors of
the Holy Roman Empire, Charlemagne and Frederick I.o10
In his cabinet were a variety of living plants and
animals, such as the Rose of China from Barberini, said to
change colors three times daily.10o The gazelle named
Alzaron, who preferred roaming about the furnished rooms,
might have been here.1o0 There were cages of chameleons--
some of which Peiresc claimed slept with his valet.10o His
letters carried detailed descriptions of their behavior--
their ability to change color, which he said the "ancients
100Humbert, Amateur, 134-136.
101Peiresc used Pytheas's measurements of the latitude
of Marseilles as the basis for his comparison in 1636.
102Humbert, Amateur, 136.
103Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 26 Dec 1631, PL 2:
104Peiresc to Arcos, 3 Aug 1634, PL 7: 132.
105Humbert, Amateur, 260.
attributed to their timidity,"106 as well as observations
of their sleeping habits and food preferences.107
Peiresc was thorough in his investigations and
attentive to detail.108 It may have been from pragmatism
or scientific interest, but Peiresc never lost an occasion
to learn. He participated in the autopsy of a friend who
had a kidney stone said to rotate with the moon. Peiresc
likely kept a jar containing the kidney stone in his
cabinet. He dissected his chameleons when they died,
sending information on the anatomy of the eyes, tongue, and
reproductive organs to interested correspondents.109 He
arranged for a prisoner to eat a hearty meal before
execution in order to more effectively study the digestive
process with Gassendi.11o He performed an autopsy on his
pet dog, Sultana, to determine the cause of death.111
106Peiresc to Aycard, 4 Nov 1633, PL 7: 316.
107Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 24 Oct 1633, PL 2:
o10Gassendi to Diodati, 29 Aug 1634, MC 4: 340.
109Peiresc to Arcos, 30 May 1636, PL 7: 169; Peiresc
to the Brothers Dupuy, 24 Oct 1633, PL 2: 629; Peiresc to
Aycard, 4 Nov 1633, PL 7: 316.
11oGassendi to Diodati, 29 Aug 1634, MC 4: 340.
111Gassendi, Book 2: 148.
Protocol of Patronage
Private academies were founded on a protocol for
scientific investigations. Peiresc established a procedure
for acceptable observations and distributed reward for
compliance. Patronage and gift-giving were important
components in the development and dissemination of
After Peiresc visited a cabinet in Marseilles and
received "small curiosities," he reciprocated with gifts of
books and offers of service.112 But not all members of the
scientific community were willing to cooperate or share.
When the Jesuit Jacques Sirmond would not lend a book,
Peiresc planned to complain to Cardinal Barberini "as
sometimes these little methods are required" for
compliance.113 The collector Jean Hall never returned one
of Peiresc's rare books;114 the Baron de Flayosc's widow
did not allow Gassendi to retrieve Peiresc's books. "I do
not know the reason for her jealousy," wrote Gassendi,
"[unless] she is afraid that I will discover the book on
martyrdom . that she denied having."115
112Peiresc to Valavez, 24 May 1625, PL 6: 182-183.
113Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 23 July 1633, PL 2:
114Peiresc to Brothers Dupuy, 24 Feb 1627, PL 1: 150.
115Gassendi to Peiresc, 3 Sept 1635, PL 4: 541.
Although the community was founded on the ideal of
cooperation, there were rivalries. Within Peiresc's own
circle, Gaultier refused to recognize Gassendi's
observations of the transit of Mercury and was angered when
Gassendi deferred to other astronomers.116 There were
disputes over authorship,117 which Peiresc compared to
lovers' quarrels.118 Some confrontations arose as
individuals competed for prestige and recognition. Galileo
sought to sustain his position in the court of a prince by
continued publications and favors. Naud6 wrote of one
individual who wanted "to prevent his friend from
publishing or using certain manuscripts that come into his
hands."119 Mersenne intentionally fostered conflict,120
forcing contenders to define their positions.121 Peiresc,
116Peiresc to Gassendi, 18 Jan 1634, PL 4: 422-425;
Peiresc to Gassendi, 17 June 1635, PL 4: 514-515.
117Peiresc to Naud6, 31 Jan 1636, PN 75.
118Peiresc to Menestrier, 20 Oct 1633, PL 5: 659.
119Naud6 to Peiresc, 29 March 1636, NP 350.
120Robert Mandrou, From Humanism to Science, 1480-
1700, trans. Brian Pearce (Middlesex, UK: Penguin, 1978),
121See Charles Bazerman, Shaping Written Knowledge:
The Genre and Activity of the Experimental Article in
Science (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988),
130; Rupert Hall and Marie Boas Hall, "Anglo-French
Scientific Communication in the mid-Seventeenth Century,"
Science et soci6t6s: Relations-influences-6coles, xii
congres international d'histoire des sciences (Paris:
Albert Blanchard, 1971), 66.
who subsidized many of Mersenne's works, demanded that he
"abstain from berating the ignorance of people [and] . .
faulting them heavily without a pressing reason."122 Still
other individuals were easily offended by what they
considered a disregard for protocol. The Italian
astronomer Camille Glorioso complained about the omission
of his titles from Gassendi's account of the observation of
an eclipse. Peiresc commented that Gassendi was "hardly
accustomed to these superlative titles." In the future,
Peiresc continued, Gassendi would include Glorioso's titles
of "Italian professor, monseigneur, his excellence, and
with all the praise."123
While many natural philosophers sought to enhance
personal prestige through publications and dedications,
Peiresc preferred sharing "thoughts and fantasies among
several friends."124 But Peiresc could not resist alluding
to his role in organizing celestial observations in the
Levant--observations that he stressed were made at his
122peiresc to Mersenne, 18 June 1634, MC 4: 181;
Peiresc to Mersenne, 3 July 1635, MC 5: 277-278.
123peiresc to Naud6, 31 July 1636, PN 94.
124Peiresc to P. Dupuy, 9 May 1634, MC 4: 115.
125Peiresc to Agathange de Vend6me, 5 Sept 1635, PV
While private gatherings provided a forum for the
exchange of ideas, correspondence offered a means of
extending exchanges throughout Europe and the Levant. The
literary republic of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries
developed into a scientific network through which
observations of natural phenomena were shared.126 Letters
and small booklets offered a means of sending scientific
news at a time when the press and book trade were
controlled by censors and when scientific publications were
limited to texts of Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen.127
With ties in influential circles and contacts with hundreds
of correspondents, Peiresc gained recognition as one of the
main gatekeepers of the Republic of Letters,128 an
international community of scholars who exchanged
information through correspondence networks.
Personal letters provided the most efficient method of
rapidly communicating ideas. The following section
examined the method of exchange and the role of the
gatekeeper in communication networks.
128Mandrou, Humanism, 195-196.
127Henri-Jean Martin, Livre. pouvoirs et soci6et6
Paris au xviie siecle (1598-1701), 2 vols. (Geneva:
Librairie Droz, 1969), 1: 220.
128Brown, Scientific Organizations, 5.
Methods of Exchange
Letters provided a means of transmitting information
across geographical and political boundaries. They were
carried by scholars or were sent through intermediaries,
patrons, or the diplomatic pouch. An exchange of
15 February 1637 between Mersenne (Paris) and Descartes
(Leiden) was carried by diplomats to avoid censors.
Mersenne wrote, "Never have we been more exacting than at
present for the inspection of books, as Monsieur the
Chancellor [Pierre S6guier] has qualified agents to
determine what is theological [or] political."129 This
caution was reflected during Galileo's questioning (1633),
when Peiresc warned Gassendi "not to divulge [Galileo's
sentence] . as it has been kept so secret in Rome."130
News and mail were the subject of much discussion in
personal correspondence. Peiresc regretted that the boat
of Captain Chaillon brought him no mail from Alexandria.
He wrote of the letters and books that were ruined by the
"negligence" of a child who dropped the parcel of mail in
the mud;131 he inquired about a basket of Renette apples
that never arrived.132 His contacts in Paris provided news
129Mersenne to Descartes, 15 Feb 1637, MC 6: 186-187.
i3sPeiresc to Gassendi, 12 Aug 1633, PL 4: 342.
i31Peiresc to Agathange de Vend6me, 18 July 1636, PV
132Peiresc to Guillemin, 17 Dec 1624, PL 5: 39.
of the royal court, of foreign events, and of scientific
innovation. "Your [arriving] letters carry us in a moment
to the midst of your academy," wrote Peiresc who, at the
time of writing this letter, had not returned to the
Cabinet Dupuy for seven years.133 From the south of
France, Gassendi told a friend in Paris:
I no longer tell you of my extreme joy in receiving and
reading your letters, or in thanking you for your care
in sending me all the Gazettes and other, more specific
news. I beg you to continue not only for my personal
pleasure but for more occasions to serve [or become
indispensable to] well-bred people of this city. We
are very far from trade and only receive some rumors
Gassendi wrote in July 1630 that he had just received
five of Peiresc's letters along with several packages.
Although these letters contained news six months old,
Gassendi "rejoic[ed] infinitely given the hunger I had for
your news and for the wonderful and agreeable things they
contain."135 Letters were often read aloud in meetings and
recopied before being sent on to their destination. Each
correspondent had the obligation to maintain and extend the
communication networks, and to respond quickly to requests
133Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 17 Jan 1630, PL 2:
134Gassendi to Luillier, 29 Dec 1632, GL 44.
135Gassendi to Peiresc, 21 July 1630, PL 4: 241.
for information and for loans of manuscripts or
Peiresc was plagued with many infirmities which slowed
his scientific investigations and limited his ability to
travel in later life. Through correspondence, he requested
friends to visit cabinets and make observations in his
place. In fact, he entrusted his brother with contacting
approximately 200 individuals in four countries in 1608.137
He requested information and a plaster mold of an antique
lamp in the shape of a satyr in Lyons,138 detailed
descriptions of nature, and the location of "some worthy
painter who would undertake to draw [an elephant] . .
and a great naturalist who would observe."139
Illustrations, drawings, and accounts by eye-witnesses--all
representations of objects--provided acceptable
"substitutes."14o Objects were placed in cabinets and
information was recorded in journals. These acquisitions
were also used as a type of currency to procure services
from other correspondents.
13sPaul Dibon, "Communication in the Respublica
Literaria of the 17th Century," Res public litterarum:
Studies in the Classical Tradition 2 (1978): 46.
137PL 6: 668-669.
138Peiresc to Menestrier, 21 Nov 1632, PL 5: 610.
139Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 4 Jan 1627, PL 1:
Peiresc's quest for information led him to seek out
correspondents specializing in subjects ranging from
natural history and witchcraft to anatomy and astronomy.
He specified observations to be made and testimony to be
acquired. Names of witnesses or observers of high social
status lent credibility to scientific reports.141 In cases
of demonic possession, he stressed the importance of
testimonies by physicians or persons of honor.142 By
including the names of witnesses who participated or
observed, Peiresc gained authority for his claims among his
Letters conveyed a diversity of information. Not only
did correspondence reveal the nature and extent of
scientific investigations, but it provided a mapping of
correspondents by interest and geographical location.
Peiresc wrote the notary Boniface Borrilly in Aix about
antiquities and melon seeds;143 Arcos about the habits of
chameleons and rituals of African tribes;144 or Naud6
regarding the unreliability of Italians.145 The exchanges
141Peiresc to Mersenne, 20 Aug 1635, MC 5: 359; and
Yvette Conry, "Peiresc et l'ordre des 'portraits' dans les
investigations du xviie siecle," Peiresc ou la passion de
connaitre, ed. Anne Reinbold (Paris: J. Vrin, 1990), 127.
143Peiresc to Borrilly, 20 April 1632, PL 4: 45.
144Peiresc to Arcos, 25 Jan 1634, PL 7: 123.
145Peiresc to Naud6, 5 Nov 1635, PN 63.
with Gassendi included a range of information: news of
family, health problems, interpretations of ancient
inscriptions, and data on celestial observations. The
Dupuys provided contacts with European circles and the
crown. Despite an interest in the activities of the king,
Peiresc asked the Dupuys to "remind Diodati of his promise
to give you an ample account of the general ideas that
Galileo has in his head, which should be conveyed sooner
than the ceremonies and other public occurrences."146
Correspondence also provided the medium through which
gifts were sent and curiosities acquired. Peiresc
responded to Malherbe's request for a special cloth and the
essence of orange flower for the ladies of the court in
Paris in exchange for small gifts, poetry, and news. Arcos
shipped chameleons, manuscripts, and bones from Tunisia.
The clerics Pierre and Nicolas Antelme sent Roman artifacts
from the ruins at nearby Frejus. But not all attempts to
acquire unique objects were successful. Four rare books
were lost when a ship sank on the Nile.147 Peiresc was
swindled when he attempted to acquire the marbles of
Paros.148 On other occasions Peiresc complained that of
146Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 8 April 1627, PL 1:
147Peiresc to Cassien de Nantes, 22 July 1636, PV 242.
148Humbert, Amateur, 133.
his "two crates of Greek manuscripts from the Levant, one
arrived wet and several volumes partially rotted."149
Peiresc's status as a gatekeeper in the correspondence
networks did not guarantee unlimited access to exchanges.
Gassendi's letters to Peiresc were brimming with
admiration, yet a few of his exchanges with Luillier
portrayed Peiresc as domineering and jealous.15o Some
information was retained.151 Naud6 shared his impressions
of Roman affairs with Peiresc, which he asked not to be
conveyed to Barberini.152 When the astronomer Ismael
Boulliau portrayed the members of the Cardinal Richelieu's
Acad6mie Francaise, as "Mustachios . [who] will stifle
the knowledge of languages and letters," he asked the
Dupuys not to show the letter to his friends who were among
Maintaining epistolary contact with large circles of
correspondents was time-consuming. Letters ranged in
length from the brief note accompanying a package of books
to the lengthy essay. Postscripts, hurriedly added to meet
the departure of the mail, were often several pages long.
149peiresc to Holstenius, 16 June 1633, PL 5: 408.
15IGassendi to Luillier, 4 Dec 1632, GL 19.
151Peiresc to Naud6, 31 Jan 1636, PN 75.
152Naud6 to Peiresc, 30 June 1636, PC 2: 92.
153Boulliau to the Brothers Dupuy, 1645, quoted in
Brown, Scientific Organizations, 64-65.
Gassendi told of "having written all morning (in fact I
sent 10 letters to Paris, one of which is in Latin)"154
and complained that correspondents often "expected to
acquire rapidly more information about what was going on in
the world by our communication than by another route."155
Renaudot acknowledged Peiresc's extensive correspondence
networks, asking him to share the news with the Gazette.156
As a gatekeeper, Peiresc processed and distributed news
quickly. Later in his life, Peiresc wrote that he was
"overwhelmed" with letters and "too insignificant to have
secretaries required to satisfy everyone, and too infirm to
do it alone."157 Often delays in response arose from
problems in the mail service caused by the plague or bad
weather. On other occasions, letters might be delayed by
more immediate concerns, such as the impending death of a
correspondent. Naud6 in Rome wrote "the sieur Pietro la
Seina was in bed with a fever . I did not consider it
appropriate to send your letter and that of Mr. Gassendi to
the Sieur Camillo out of fear that they would be misplaced
154Gassendi to Peiresc, 30 Jan 1634, PL 4: 440.
155Gassendi to Luillier, 4 Dec 1632, GL 19.
156Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 18 April 1633, PL 2:
157Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 15 Oct 1635, PL 3:
during this illness or that they would be lost if the end
As a seventeenth-century gatekeeper, Peiresc initiated
exchanges among correspondents or transmitted and read
letters addressed to friends "according to the freedom"
which he was granted.159 Peiresc disseminated Galileo's
observations throughout Europe and introduced the telescope
in Provence.160 He used correspondence to organize
telescopic observation stations. His authority as a
gatekeeper was derived from his social status and official
Peiresc's Public and Private Roles
Peiresc's position in Parlement and in the church
offered him a means of legitimizing scholarly endeavors in
the scientific community. Family wealth, intellectual
ability, and connections with European elite circles
enabled Peiresc to cross geographical and social boundaries
and to seek exchanges with scholars in numerous disciplines
(antiquities, philology, archaeology, astronomy, anatomy).
158Naud6 to Peiresc, 20 Sept 1636, PC 2: 94.
159Peiresc to Luiller, 22 June 1634, PC 2: 277.
sleoierre Humbert, "Les astronomers francais de 1610 A
1667," M6moires de la Soci6t6 d'6tudes scientifigues de
Draguignan 63 (1942): 7.
He was a Catholic and a Copernican. He upheld church dogma
and received libertines. He corresponded with priests,
natural philosophers, cardinals, Protestants, and a Moslem
convert. He had contacts throughout Europe and the Levant:
Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, and what is now Turkey. As a
magistrate, he presided at witchcraft trials and had the
power to hand down the death sentence. In the privacy of
his study, he investigated the mysteries of nature: rains
of blood, demonic possession, magnets and lodestones.
Peiresc attended the trial of the priest Louis Gaufridy,
who was burned at the stake for witchcraft in 1611.
Writing from the royal court, Malherbe said that Peiresc's
accounts of the trial pleased the queen and ladies of the
court--particularly the part about the priest's breath
enamoring women. "I beg you, Monsieur," wrote Malherbe,
"that whoever sets to writing this does it precisely and
diligently and omits nothing which can satisfy the
curious."161 Hence, while publicly recognizing the
authority of the Parlement, Peiresc privately questioned
161Malherbe to Peiresc, 13 May 1611, Oeuvres de
Malherbe, ed. Antoine Adam (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), 511.
Private academies and correspondence networks
provided forums for the exchange of ideas as well as a
means of legitimizing scientific activity when radical
views threatened the traditional world-view. Members of
these academies and correspondents were obligated to
cooperate in the advance of knowledge by responding quickly
to requests for information and by sharing books and
artifacts. What originated in the sixteenth century as
literary republic for the exchange of philological
information, developed into scientific exchanges.
Positions in the church and Parlement afforded Peiresc
a salary and social status, which enabled him to promote
and legitimize scientific initiatives. Personal
correspondence provided the channel through which Peiresc
solicited information on natural phenomena, such as the
observations of a lunar eclipse for his work on a method of
determining terrestrial longitude. He also used letters to
secure recognition of his scientific claims by members of
the scientific community. Peiresc included detailed
descriptions of observations as well as the identification
of witnesses by social position, a means of ensuring
For centuries, the church served as a liaison with
God, offering a means of attaining salvation.
The Protestant Reformation and ensuing religious wars
(1562-1598) undermined the authority of the Roman Catholic
church in Europe. The Concordat of Bologna, signed in 1516
by Francois I and Pope Leo X, recognized the right of the
French kings to appoint their own bishops and members of
the high clergy.1 Furthermore papal decrees became
official in France only when ratified by the Sorbonne and
when promulgated locally.2 When Galileo's Dialogue
Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was condemned in
Italy and Paris of Belgium in 1633,3 the papal nuncio in
Paris, Alexandre Bichi, should have transmitted the
sentence to the Sorbonne, the institution responsible for
its promulgation. Bichi withheld it from the Sorbonne.4
1Robert Mandrou, Introduction to Modern France, 1500-
1640, trans. R.E. Hallmark (New York: Holmes and Meier,
2David T. Pottinger, The French Book Trade in the
Ancien Regime: 1500-1791 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1958), 60.
3MC 3: 465.
4Armand Beaulieu, "Les reactions des savants franCais
au d6but du xviie siecle devant I'h6liocentrisme de
Galil6e," Convengo internazionale di studi galileiani, ed.
P. Galluzzi (Florence: Giunti Barbara, 1984), 375.
The decree had no official status in France and could not
be enforced. Due to the confusion over the status of the
decree, natural philosophers, many of whom were clerics,
remained cautious in expressing their views.
The Waning Authority of the Catholic Church
New methods of communication brought esoteric
knowledge--the "secrets tradition" and the Bible--into the
hands of a general reading public. Intellectual gatherings
outside the traditional university context provided a place
in which discussions could take place beyond church
control. The availability of information and the
questioning of traditional views threatened the authority
of the church in society. The following sections provide
an examination of the church's attempts to restore its
authority through laws, social control, and the
Inquisition. But rivalries among censoring agents
prevented the effective control of communication channels.
Role of the Press
Movable type provided a means of increasing the sale
of indulgences, promulgating papal bulls, and standardizing
liturgy while simultaneously complicating the task of
censors.5 Scholars such as Gassendi compared works of
SElizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an
Agent of Change: Communication and Cultural Transformations
in Early-Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1979), 303-304.
ancient philosophers and located discrepancies in
commentaries and translations. Peiresc used astronomical
tables to date ancient manuscripts6 and the battle at
Arbela, which took place during a solar eclipse. Mersenne
and musical humanists studied mathematics to understand the
structure of the world.7 Their published dialogues
revealed their concern with proof and certainty of
knowledge as well as their exposure to the Copernican
propositions.8 Furthermore, the public now had access to
the Bible in the vernacular; many individuals questioned
Biblical literalism. Astronomers, freed from the onerous
task of copying the ephemerides, devoted time to collation
and correction of tables of planetary movements. In his
Admonito, Kepler informed astronomers of the anticipated
date of the transit of Mercury across the sun. Gassendi
published his observations of this transit and circulated
them throughout Europe.9 Galileo used the press to secure
recognition for his observations of the moons of Jupiter
6Anthony Grafton, Defenders of the Text, The Tradition
of Scholarship in an Age of Science, 1450-1800 (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 186.
7Frances A. Yates, The French Academies of the
Sixteenth Century (1947, repr., London: Routledge, 1988),
9Albert Van Helden, "The Importance of the Transit of
Mercury of 1631," Journal of the History of Astronomy 7
(1976): 1-10 passim.
described in The Sidereal Messenger. Printers popularized
guild secrets through practical handbooks on astrology and
alchemy.10 Publishing, once limited to breviaries or
translations of classical philosophies, now included
almanacs, layman's guides to metallurgy, and books
expounding the secrets tradition of formulas, and recipes
used by alchemists and craftsmen.11
The advent of the press, the rediscovery of ancient
texts, and Biblical exegesis gave rise to questions
concerning the criterion of truth in traditional terms--
reason or revelation. Some scholars suspended judgment on
issues of religion; others maintained that certainty could
only be achieved through faith; still others believed that
a knowledge of appearances rather than a knowledge of
reality was possible and sufficient.12
iOWilliam Eamon, "Arcana Disclosed: The Advent of
Printing, The Books of Secrets Tradition and the
Development of Experimental Science in the Sixteenth
Century," History of Science 22 (1984): 113, 119-121.
11Eamon, "Arcana," 111-114.
12Richard Popkin, The History of Scepticism: From
Erasmus to Spinoza (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1979), 53-54, 129-131.
Insidious forms of social control provided one means
of protecting the traditional world-view and authority of
the Holy Scriptures. Church superiors warned that
curiosity diverted theologians from their studies and that
examinations of hidden causes and higher things (e.g., God)
could lead to heresy.13 The discovery of reportedly new
forms of life, such as marine fossils, contradicted the
order of creation in Genesis and was subject to
Following the reforms of the Council of Trent in the
mid-sixteenth century, the church attempted to standardize
dogma and practice by eliminating local miracles and
certain feast days. Yet it seemed "superstition" remained.
Many clerics pursued heretics and witches.15 Witchcraft
trials and staged rituals of exorcism united the church and
the common people in their fight to eliminate evil from
society.16 Some clerics portrayed nature as capable of
13Carlo Ginzburg, "High and Low: The Theme of
Forbidden Knowledge in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries," Past and Present 73 (1976): 32.
14Keith Hutchison, "What Happened to Occult Qualities
in the Scientific Revolution," Isis 73 (1982): 236-237.
15Steven Shapin and Barry Barnes, "Science, Nature and
Control: Interpreting Mechanics' Institutes," Social
Studies of Science 7 (1977): 31-74.
6sStephen Greenblatt, "Loudun and London," Critical
Inquiry 12 (1986): 330-334.
reward and punishment. Poor crops, earthquakes, and rains
of blood were signs of God's vindication.17 Peiresc wrote
that many workers left the fields during the rains of blood
out of "great fear that they would be bloodied." Some
believed that these rains were caused by "exhalations" of
the earth while others insisted it was the work of "demonic
spirits."is Astrologers warned that the comet of 1618
would bring destruction to the French army in Persia and
the death of great men.19
As the study of nature gradually gained acceptance as
a means of learning about God, natural phenomena were no
longer viewed as presages, but as valid subjects of
scientific inquiry.20 After observing numerous butterflies
in the region during the so-called rains of blood, Peiresc
determined that what was commonly recognized as a presage
was actually caused by a secretion from insects. An
excerpt from one of Gassendi's letters on presages
represented this new approach to investigations of nature,
17Katharine Park and Lorraine J. Daston, "Unnatural
Conceptions: The Study of Monsters in Sixteenth- and
Seventeenth-Century France and England," Past and Present
92 (1981): 25-26.
18Peiresc to Malherbe, 15 July 1608, PM 26-27.
19Mercure francais (1618) 5: 279.
20The authors considered this change in approach as
accompanied by a separation between the educated and
general public. Park and Daston, 36-41.
I put this phenomenon [presage] in the rank of
things purely natural and believe that if it is a sign
of something, it is only of some natural effect. I do
not mean to say that God cannot use it to indicate
something extraordinary to us, but we have no proof
whatever, and believe that God does not play in this
way with men as when you propose things to dream and
guess to small children. When He wants a rainbow to be
a sign of something supernatural, He will warn men
. it is pitiful to see that most scholarly men are
carried away by popular opinion and that these
phenomena, which occur rarely, blind them to the true
causes in nature.21
Faced with the Protestant Reformation, the rapid
dissemination of information, and a new experimental
science, the church implemented the following reforms
developed by the Council of Trent (1547-1563):
standardization of dogma, guidelines for translations of
the Bible, and revival of the Inquisition. The church
regulated the book trade. A council of inquisitors
composed of members of Parlement and theologians of the
Sorbonne examined and censored all religious works prior to
publication. If the content was acceptable, the Sorbonne
granted a permit to print.22 By the mid-sixteenth century,
21Gassendi to Peiresc, 15 June 1629, PL 4: 195 text in
22Pottinger, 211. By 1543, the Sorbonne published a
list of 65 prohibited books, all religious in content;
the French government inspected presses23 and importations
from Protestant countries.24 By 1563, authors, editors,
and publishers of newspapers needed a privilege or
copyright as well as a permit from the censors. While the
permit provided an approval for content, the privilege
granted a limited copyright to a publisher. The privilege
or letters patent carried the Great Seal of State and was
awarded by the chancellor, head of the Council of
Ministers.25 As an example, the privilege in a book by
Mersenne granted the right to print "several treatises on
philosophy, theology, and mathematics" with the approbation
of the theologians of the Sorbonne and that of the Order of
23See Henri-Jean Martin, Livre, pouvoirs et society a
Paris au xvii siecle (1598-1701), 2 vols. (Geneva:
Librairie Droz, 1969), 1: 56; Isambert, Jourdan, Decrusy,
eds., Recueil g6n6ral des anciennes lois franchises, 29
vols. repr. in 4 vols. (Paris, n.p., 1821-1833; repr.,
Ridgewood, NJ: Gregg, 1964-1966), 2 (13): 196.
24Edict of Chateaubriand, 1551. The Edict of
Romorantin (May, 1560) defined sedition in terms of those
slanderous writings that disturb the public peace.
Isambert, 2 (13): 203-204.
25The Ordinance of Moulins (1566) held that all
printed works must carry the privilege and seal and the
name and address of the printer. Isambert, 2 (14): 210.
26The approbations were dated 20 June 1634 and the
privilege of the king in August 1634. MC 4: 203.
Newspapers also carried the letters patent, a royal
copyright or monopoly, for a specified number of years.27
Th6ophraste Renaudot's letters patent for his Gazette
enabled him to quash competition during the lifetime of his
patron, Cardinal Richelieu. With editorial policy guided
by the cardinal, Renaudot's paper served as an organ of
royal propaganda. Articles enhanced the image of the king
and state. Military victories were emphasized while news
of territorial losses was suppressed.28 Peiresc often
questioned the veracity of Renaudot's news, which he
unfavorably compared to the more "faithful" reporting of
Practices in Europe
The extent of censorship varied throughout Europe.
The exchange of information was often greater in the
politically-fragmented countries, such as in the German
states, where there was no central control of
27Books carried the names of theologians granting the
permit. One example of a permit for Mersenne read with
"the approval of the Sorbonne, signed by the doctors H.
Bachelier et I. Badel," dated in Paris, 14 February 1622;
the privilege of the King, signed by Renouard, is dated in
Paris, 17 February 1622, and the printed edition was
completed 1 February 1623. MC 1: 124.
28Howard Solomon, Public Welfare, Science, and
Propaganda in Seventeenth-Century France: The Innovations
of Th6ophraste Renaudot (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1972), 127-128, 134, 149.
29Peiresc to the Brothers Dupuy, 10 Oct 1633, PL 2:
communication. In certain parts of Italy, church officials
inspected publications. In Florence, however, many editors
were protected by scholarly princes, while Padua, located
in the anti-papist state of Venice, became an intellectual
center of Europe.30 Holland and England provided a
relative haven for writers and publishers.31 Many
Huguenots settling in Holland arranged for the publication
of scientific works; but even here, academic freedom was
not complete. The Dutch condemned the works of Catholics
and rival Protestant sects;32 the Estates-General of
Holland prohibited the practice of Catholicism.33 In
Calvinist Geneva permits were needed to publish, and
Catholic books were burned and altars were demolished.34
In France, the book trade was regulated by printers,
booksellers, and laws. Two printers and two sworn
booksellers were elected to serve two-year terms, during
which time they registered books and reported heretical
30John Herman Randall, Jr., "The Development of
Scientific Method in the School of Padua," Journal of the
History of Ideas 1 (1940): 184.
31Mandrou, Humanism, 213-227.
32Paul F. Grendler, "Printing and Censorship," The
Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, ed. Charles B.
Schmitt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 48-
33MC 2: 488.
34George Haven Putnam, The Censorship of the Church of
Rome, 2 vols. (1906, repr., New York: Benjamin Blom, 1967),
works.35 The Syndical and Royal Chamber of Booksellers,
Printers, and Binders of Paris (i.e., Book Guild, ca. 1618)
regulated the quality of materials used, the number of
presses per shop, and membership in the guild.36
In addition to the required permits and privileges,
other laws governed the procedure for submission of works.
According to the Code Michaux (1629), two copies of each
book were to be given the chancellor, who appointed censors
according to their expertise.37 The censor signed each
page and initialed each correction, certifying, "I have
read, by the order of the Chancellor, a manuscript entitled
__ I have found nothing in it to prevent the printing
of it."38 The chancellor would issue or withhold a permit
on the basis of the censor's decision.39 If content was
unacceptable, the censors expurgated portions of text or
withheld the permit pending revisions. Some works were
condemned as heretical and placed on the Index of
37Martin, 1: 442.
Rivalries for Control
Although publications were controlled by the church
and state, rivalries between the Parlement and Sorbonne led
to erratic enforcement of laws governing the book trade and
inconsistent procedure in granting permits and
privileges.40 At times, books carried the names of
fictitious authors and publishers or forged permits and
privileges. Censored texts were circulated by police and
colporteurs. Some texts and French language newspapers
were printed by Huguenots in Holland and shipped across
borders.41 Furthermore, censorship actually piqued the
readers' curiosity. Protestant publishers established
lucrative businesses by printing texts which were condemned
in Catholic countries.42
With a surge in publications in part brought on by the
advent of movable type, censors at the Sorbonne were forced
to limit their inspection to texts that could "most harm"
readers.43 Printers complained about the lengthy delays in
40In France, the main censoring agents included the
Sorbonne, (the theological faculty of the University of
Paris), Faculty of Medicine, Parlement, the chancellor, and
Provost of Paris (over the police). L6on Sabatie, La
censure (Paris: Pedone, 1908), 52-67.
42Eisenstein, 645-646, 655-656, 676.
receiving a permit. By law, they were forced to await the
decision of the Sorbonne before applying to the chancellor
for a privilege.
Censorship was used to protect religious dogma and to
preserve traditional methods of medical practice. Steeped
in the traditions of Hippocrates and Galen, the Faculty of
Medicine of the University of Paris condemned books on
chemical remedies in order to maintain the practice of
purges and bleeding.44 All books on chemical treatments
were examined by two members of the medical faculty, as
well as by the heads of the university faculties and the
rector.45 This faculty maintained a distinction between
physicians and barber surgeons who could perform surgery
and used censorship liberally to bar Protestants from
medical practice.46 Renaudot, who worked as a journalist
and physician, converted to Catholicism upon coming to
Paris. He promoted chemical treatments of disease only
during the lifetime of his patron, Richelieu.
Role of the Inquisition
The church and state sought to restore social order
through censorship laws and the Inquisition. Under the
Ordinance of Villers-Cotterets (1539), the procedure used