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THE LORD OF Peiresc.” There are readers who may, possibly, prepare themselves to receive the “ Lord of Peiresc” as the hero of a tale of chivalry, of old romance -of a story, full of the marvels of the world in its simplicity of age, when the dreams of the fabulist were a part of the realities of life, imparting to life its characteristic tone and colour. We hasten to disappoint such, assuring them that “ Nicholas Claudius Fabricius, Lord of Peiresc,” was really and truly a denizen of this world—a man with a heart brimfull of love towards his fellows-a man who was at once a pattern of the gentleman, the nobleman, and the scholar. Nothing can be more beautiful than the details of his long, amiable, and useful life, as written with affectionate regard by his friend Petrus Gassendus; and, believing that the taste of the general reader is not yet become too vitiated by the sugared nothings of many of our present phrasemongers, to relish the fine homeliness of the early biographer, we shall, in due course, proceed to select from him two or three passages, in which, by a few artless strokes of truth, the “Lord of Peiresc” is painted to the life; in which he looks, and moves, and has his being.
We have three reasons for attempting the present paper. The first is the real interest appertaining to the subject; the second arises from a hope of winning a reverent attention to an all-but-forgotten name; the third, from a belief that the biography of Peiresc is not commonly met with, and, at a first glance, may seem to promise but meagre entertainment to the general reader. There is, we allow, some husk about the book : but it possesses a kernel sweet and toothsome to those who have fed at the simple, healthy tables of the old writers, and have drunk purity and strength from their maple cups. Sterne glances laughingly at Peireskius, and D’Israeli, in his " Curiosities," has a passage in honour of his scholarly sagacity ; but we know of no book, no essay which has, in popular form, exhibited the kindliness, the simplicity, and the utility of the sage and the philosopher, to the admiration of the general reader. And yet was Peiresc the friend and correspondent of the worthiest Englishmen-Camden, Selden, Sir Robert Cotton, Spelman, Harvey, John Barclay, and others. Throughout France, Holland and Italy, he was sought for and honoured by all the learned; the sweetness of his disposition, and the innocency of his manners, endearing him to men of every shade of faith. Peiresc, as Jimned by Gassendus, is the living picture of a scholar of the seventeenth century; of a man rising above the superstition of his time, yet with a mind slightly tinged by the romantic spirit of his age. We see in Peiresc the hearty struggle between new-born inquiry and ancient dogma : his mind boldly asserts itself in natural speculation, when not narrowed and hampered by the tyranny of early teaching. For instance, in 1608, it was reported by the husbandmen that a shower of blood had fallen, which“ divines judged was a work of the devils and witches, who had killed innocent young children.” This, however, Peiresc“ counted a mere conjecture, possibly also injurious to the goodness and providence of God," and therefore sought for a natural solution to the seeming wonder. An incredible number of butterflies had preceded this “red rain.” Peiresc shut up "a certain palmer-worm which he had found, rare for its bigness and
Oct. --VOL. LI. NO. CCII,
form.” In due time “the worm turned into a very beautiful butterfly, which presently flew away, leaving in the bottom of the box a red drop as broad as an ordinary sous.” He thus satisfactorily accounts for the shower of blood ; doubtless to the discomfiture of those who, benefiting by the ignorance of their hearers, might have turned it to a profitable account. There was, it appears, a shower of blood in the time of Childebert-in the time of king Robert ; that is, if we may take the comment of Gassendus on the discovery of Peiresc, there were in those seasons innumerable butterflies. However, the intelligence that enabled Peiresc to defeat superstition in its “showers of blood,” did not serve him to snatch “ sorcerers" from its wild and cruel hands. It was his opinion that “ though magicians have not so much commerce with the devil as is supposed, yet ought they to be punished for their bad mind.” For the signs, the stigmata by which the sorcerer was popularly known, Peiresc doubted their genuineness : “they might be natural, and belong to some peculiar of that disease which is termed elephantiasis.' Our philosopher was doubtless wrought into this opinion by the agonies of a priest of Marseilles "accused of magic, but freed by the court, having been first pricked all the body over, to find out those same insensible places stigmatised by the devil, which could nowhere be discovered.” What a melancholy, though instructive lesson is this! Peiresc, the humane, enlightened philosopher, a cold advocate for the accused sorcerer; the champion of light bearing witness for darkness! This was in 1608; some years, it is true, before the appearance of our own Sir Thomas Browne at Bury St. Edmunds; the destroyer of “ Vulgar Errors,” Error's learned son against his own exploded witches.
Nicholas Claudius Fabricius Peireskius was of noble family, coming, says Gassendus, from the Fabricii of Pisa, who settled in Provence in the time of Saint Louis. He was born in the castle of Beaugensier on the 1st of December, 1580, whither his parents had retired from Aix, in consequence of the plague then raging in that city. His father was a senator of Aix, and his mother, selected for her comeliness by Catherine Medicis to receive “the honour of a kiss," on the Queen Mother's visit to that place, was descended from nobility. Nicholas assumed the name of Peiresc “ from a town in his mother's jurisdiction.” The following circumstance displays the spirit of the times. Gassendus says, “His parents having lived together divers years without a child, his mother, for that cause, as soon as she perceived that she was great, took up a resolution that the child's godfather should be no nobleman; but such was her piety, the first poor man they should meet with!” And so it happened; the poor man giving our scholar the name of Claudius, to which was prefixed, by the special request of his uncle, who hastily arrived at the fount, that of Nicholas. An accident that befel our baby scholar, shows that wicked spirits marked him for their early victim. Form
“ It is reported, that when he was hardly two months old, an ancient woman that was a witch, entered the chamber, and threw down before his mother a hatchet which she had in her hand ; saying that she had brought it her again."
From what follows, it would appear to have been very dangerous in the year 1580, in Beaugensier, to return a borrowed hatchet; for from the moment the dame brought back the weapon
“The mother lost her speech, and the child his crying; and both their heads were so depressed upon one shoulder, and held so stiffly in that posture, that they could not bend them.” The story says further,
that when his uncle knew it, he caused the old woman to be beaten, who was found in the chimney with her neck upon one of her shoulders, who, as soon as ever she lifted up her head to signify that she had beating enough, and to desire them to hold their hands, she said, which appeared to be true, that the mother and the child were both well.”
On this, Gassendus sensibly remarks,“ doubtless, 'tis a very strange thing that an old hag bowing her own neck, should dart out spirits with so strong a nerve as to turn the head of one distant from her in like manner aside.” Perhaps, Sir Kenelm Digby would account for it by the presence of “powder of sympathy," touching the powers of which he made a wise discourse “ in a solemn assembly of nobles and learned men at Montpelier in France.” The young Peiresc, despite of all the uncomely old women of Provence, passed through his boyhood unhurt by withcraft, every day displaying new proofs of that restless curiosity which in its after-successes made him the oracle of his contemporaries. No trifle escaped his observation-no accident, however slight, but ministered to his thirst for a knowledge of the principles of things. He is eighteen, “ washing himself in the lesser stream of the river Rhodamus," when he finds the ground " which was wont to be even and soft,” grown hard, with “ little round balls or bunches, like hard boiled eggs when their shell is peeled off.” This sets him wondering, but his astonishment is increased " when, after a few days, returning to the river, he finds those little balls or lumps turned into perfect stones.” On this he begins to study " the generation of stones." In Italy-for he departs for Rome in his nineteenth year-he sees in a museum “ a sprig of coral which grew upon a dead man's skull," and he resolves
and see men fish for coral.” In his progress to Rome he was entertained by the learned, who wrote verses to him as “the genius of Provence in France.” On their own ground, in their own academies, Peiresc was enabled to solve antiquarian doubts, to discover truths, and correct errors, to the delight and astonishment of native wise men and philosophers.
“ But in what esteem he was in at Padua—(we quote Gassendus)this one thing does testify; that, whereas the print of a sapphire being sent thither from Augsburg, with an inscription, in which the word Xiphiæ did puzzle all the curious antiquarians, Pinellụs writ unto him referring unto him the examination and judgment thereof. I omit how he satisfied their doubts and gave light to that word, chiefly from Strabo, who, from Polybius, makes mention of the hunting of the Xiphia, which was a sea-monster.”
The reputation of young Peiresc reaches the Pope himself: for our scholar and his brother being desirous to see his Holiness wait upon the poor men“ whom he daily feeds," thought of this expedient: they “ bought the turns of two poor men, and putting on their clothes, they were present among the rest; and though the Pope knew who they were, yet he pleasantly dissembling his knowledge, and taking no notice of them, they saw all.”
Peiresc was in his twenty-third year when he yielded to the oft-repeated desires of his uncle, and received the degree of a doctor; which
degree " he carried with so much alacrity and vigour, that did ravish all the by-standers with admiration.” Two days after, he conferred the “doctoral ornaments” upon his younger brother, making a discourse “ which filled the minds of his hearers with sweet content;" the argument of which may not be familiar to every reader:
“ For from a certain statue of Metrodorus, with his hat, Arcadian cap and labels, with his philosopher's cloak and ring on his left hand ; also from certain statues of Hippocrates with the like cloak and an hood upon it; from a certain inscription of Eubulus Marathonius, and a statue with labels not about his neck, but his head ; from the like statues of Plato, Theophrastus, Phavorinus, and others; out of certain Gothic pieces, upon which there were mitres, not much unlike caps; in a word, out of innumerable other monuments, he showed how the use of these ornaments came from the Greeks to the Latins, and so down to us; and how, from the philosophers and ancient priests, it was by degrees introduced among the professors of several sciences in our modern universities !”
The degree of doctor is yet upon Peiresc" in its newest gloss,” when he receives the king's patent appointing him to the dignity of senator of Aix, his uncle having resigned in his favour. He, however, declines for a time the privileges of the patent, and,“ having obtained a delay, he applies his mind to more free studies, to court the sweeter and more delightful muses, to advance good arts, and to help as much as in him lay the promoters of learning." And to these high, ennobling ends he devoted all his life, waiving a profitable match in favour of his brother, and betaking himself to the sea-coaat to search out all the monuments of antiquity, and to get in travel the rarest plants, which were to be sent to the garden of Beaugensier.” Our fair readers will, we are certain, be happy to know to whom they owe their “ flowering myrtles," with the accident—so prettily told by Gassendus—that led Peiresc to its discovery.
“ About this time (1605), when Peiresc went from Marseilles to Beaugensier, he would needs take his way by Castellet to visit the parish priest called Julius, whom he already dearly affected by reason of his ingenuous curiosity. Being by him led a little without the village, they met a muleteer carrying a branch of myrtle with a broad leaf and full flower, such as Peireskius had never seen, nor knew that there was such a thing in nature. Wondering, therefore, at the plant, he would be brought into the middle of the wood where it grew, and caused the same to be taken up, that it might be manured and propagated.
This I thought good to mention, because a myrtle tree with a full flower was a thing unknown in Europe; and the thanks are due to Peireskius that it is now to be seen in the king's gardens, at Rome, in the Low Countries, and other places."
In the same year (1605), we find Peiresc at Paris, courted by Thuanus, Isaac Casaubon, and Bagarrius, " keeper of the king's jewel-house of rarities;" to the last of whom our antiquary explained the hitherto unknown inscription on an amethyst, marked with indents," which had long perplexed inquirers.” It immediately occurred to Peiresc " that these marks were nothing more than holes for small nails, which had formerly fastened little lamine, which represented as many Greek letters.” Peiresc drew lines from one hole to another, and the amethyst
revealed the name of the sculptor! In the following year, Peiresc accompanies the French king's ambassador to England. For the benefit of the thousands who cross the Channel, we quote the means adopted by our voyager to prevent extreme sea-sickness :
“ Peireskius, to prevent the same in himself, left the rest of the company, and sat by the mainmast, where he was not so sick as they were. The reason being asked, he said there was least agitation in that part of the ship; and that, therefore, he withdrew himself thither, that he might not be stomach sick as the rest were, who, being in the head or stern, were much tossed."
Peireskius is graciously received by James, who “ tenderly respected him ;” and who desired to have “ from his own mouth” the story which had preceded him--of how, drinking with a toper of great reputation, one Doctor Torie, he baffled the drinker by “craftily qualifying his own wine with water! With James a little humour went a great way, and thus, on a small stock of that much-abused commodity, Peireskius might have passed with the English Solomon as an extraordinary wag.
From England our philosopher goes to Amsterdam. Whilst staying at the Hague, “ he would not depart until he became acquainted with Hugo Grotius,” then a young man. From the Hague, he stept aside to Scheveling, where was the famous flying waggon.
“On my return from Leyden through the Hague (quoth Doctor Slop, not Gassendus), I walked as far as Scheveling, which is two long miles, on purpose to take a view of it.”
“ That's nothing,” replied my Uncle Toby,“ to what the learned Peireskius did, who walked a matter of five hundred miles, returning from Paris to Scheveling, and from Scheveling to Paris back again, in order to see it, and nothing else.”
In 1607, Peiresc assumed the senatorial dignity, when he so executed “his office, that nothing was found wanting him," and still was left to him time enough " to study good arts, and to maintain his correspondence with learned men.” At the latter end of this year, he lost his uncle Claudius, whose “most faithful dog followed the corse all along, stood wailing upon the bier, could not for many days be gotten from the tomb, and after he was brought back to the house, stood a long time still before his picture." (This last touch of affection is not unworthy of the consideration of Landseer. What a mourner would he conjure up by the exquisite magic of his art !) In 1609 Peiresc was affected with a severe fever, when he recovered, as he avers, by eating musk-melons, which in after years became his principal medicine. From this time he busies himself with the coins, weights, and measures of the ancients; and whilst engaged in these studies, has a dream, in which he meets with a
goldsmith at Nismes,” when the goldsmith offers to sell him a golden piece of Julius Cæsar's coin “ for four cardecues,” which incident actually occurred to him in his waking hours next day, but which “ he reckoned only amongst those rare cases which are wont to amaze the vulgar.”
From 1609 until 1630 we find Periesc in constant communication with the learned of various countries-now deciphering inscriptionsnow establishing a weekly post between Beaugensier and Paris--and ever intent upon the introduction of exotics, plants, and fruits into Pro
To him we owe the Chinese jessamine,“ first brought from