A review article by Orest Ranum, which discusses the writings of Margolin, Defaux, Horowitz, Blair, Kaufmann and others
I lent my copy (inscribed to me in a most friendly way) of Jean-Claude Margolin's "L'Idée de Nature dans la Pensée d'Érasme" (Vortrage der Aneas-Silvius-Stiftung an der Universität Basel, VII, 1967) to Gérard Defaux, and he returned it with a note of thanks on a J.H.U. French Department Memo pad with the following "to Orest; From Gérard, Date Unknown, Subject Erasmus," with the following phrase below the address: "Amici, mihi crede, nascunter atque finguntur." This friendly, almost intimate message may serve not only to testify to the engagement in still Humanistically framed ethical problems of a friend and colleague, but also as a brief, but profound taking of a position on human nature. It also serves as a testimonial to the learning and pedagogy of our mutual friend, Jean-Claude Margolin.
In the De Pueris Erasmus says: "Homines, mihi crede, non nascunter, sed finguntur" (Margolin, p. 55), an over-arching principle, a testimonial, Margolin notes how ‘to become does not capture the full sense of finguntur — "l'idée d'un effort, d'un modelage ou d'un façonnement de l'être qui se fera homme." (p. 19) In a contemporary way, it is possible to say that Erasmus is entirely on the side of nurture, which is not to say that he ignores the importance of nature. His beliefs as a Christian pedagogue make him an optimist in regard to humanization of all but the most brutish of the species. He recognizes that there are some of the latter, but it is the overwhelming number that are capable of being educated into humanity that is his tour.
Were Margolin here in Panat, I would ask him immediately about Erasmus's thought on the role of baptism in this process of humanization. To be sure, for Erasmus the body is a temple of God, but I seem to recall that Erasmus does not stress the sacraments as an element in humanization. It is doubtful that Gérard Defaux neglected to think of baptism as that first great step in the humanization of the animal, so something else is going on here. Just how much of the "old Adam" is washed away? For Erasmus there is so much teaching-humanizing to do — where the teacher and the teaching are in such synthesis with the pupil that the pupil can scarcely learn one without the other. Margolin does not say it, but there is almost the implication that for Erasmus the teacher is the subject taught — not quite — obviously, but still human nature requires another's humanity to learn. (Parenthetically, it would be interesting to put together all that is said about the pedagogue in the mirrors of princes — that mirror which refracts the ‘author' often so intensely filled with ambition.)
Margolin on Erasmus on nature clearly establishes just how language is our only access to nature, and the physical world. Aristotelian and Thomistic uses of vocabulary are elucidated — essentially on the multiple meanings of the word nature — what is the nature? what are the properties of...? the questions, the methods of inquiry developed by Scholastics and by no means abandoned by Humanists. Erasmus remained almost totally absorbed in answering the first question — we shall see later that Bodin eliminates one of the four great questions altogether. Margolin notes that Erasmus notes the character, beauty, of whatever, of things, places, and conditions; he expresses curiosity before different objects and situations — in other words the ‘real world' is part of his thought, and he is not just turning over examples from Pliny. His knowledge of math and astronomy seems to have remained quite conventional — in his advice for teaching boys neither is particularly privileged. More important for Erasmus is the Reason in all things — universal — and powerful. (p. 15) Senecan and easily conforming to Christianity through the divine laws that govern nature, the Nature which is God's creation — His hand maiden — and this includes man, of course — through it all it is possible perceive the divine, if humans are educated to do so.
When Erasmus translates the first phrase of the Book of John "In the beginning was the Word" sermo instead of verbum is used, thus avoiding a transcending — dare one say Neo-Platonic notion of God, and of Christ. As Margolin remarks, following Augustine: "identifier le Christ avec l'image formée dans l'intellect divin, tout comme celle qui, dans l'intellect humain, précède de l'oral." (p. 35) Sermo rather than Verbo; Discourse or Speech, rather than the Word, contained almost in a word the divine project of Erasmus. He by no means sought to make the divine less divine by making divinity more human in symbiotic ways — nor would this seem to be mere anthropomorphism.
Is Defaux, in wanting humans to be not only what is modeled or shaped by teaching, but also born to be, picking an argument with Erasmus? Yes. Is he grounding his argument on the body as ‘temple of God' argument, or perhaps, the presence of the divine in Christ's human body, and therefore making His birth as a man, and the two elements of the Eucharist grounds for understanding man as being born as something different from other animals? It would not be fair to Defaux or to Margolin to pursue these questions — what they say is on a complex issue that is not easily reduced to formulaic statements.
For the study of nature, the point is moot; humans in the sixteenth century were part of it, and responded to laws governing nature, perhaps more than their efforts to perceive the divine through the study of nature would suggest. In the late 20th century so much study of the body, human and political, is only the play with selected metaphors, or representations. For Erasmus, and indeed, the still vigorous Aristotelians of the 16th century, the words and signs used to signify the natural world and were not metaphor in the same sense that word often has today. They certainly knew what figures and metaphors were, but in our day so many scholars think they have said so much when they discern something as metaphorical. I shall not go into bibliography here. In what comes out as a dialogue with Michel Foucault at the end of his essay Margolin quotes Foucault: "La nature est un tissu interrompu de mots et de marques, de récits et de caractères, de discours et de formes...connaître une bête, ou une plante, ou une chose quelconque de la terre, c'est receuillir toute l'épaisse couche des signes qui ont pu être déposés en elles ou sur elles" (p. 42).
True, there may be a margin of error in a name, but usually the name says something about its nature. What follows here will be an uneven and halting comment on a number of books on ideas about nature in the 16th century that have been published recently, notably by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, Anne Blair, Thomas Kaufman, and Simon Schama. I may lose my bearings as I go along, and have to turn to old anchors such as R.G. Collingwood's Idea of Nature (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1945) and Keith Thomas's Man in the Natural World ( London, Allen Lane, 1983; Oxford, OUP pb, 1996). My overall aim will be to get my bearings for more precise readings as a prelude to writing a chapter on circles of creativity for a revised and expanded edition of my Paris in the Age of Absolutism. I feel fairly competent on the artistic side of this issue, but not on the 'scientific' one. I have many limitations in undertaking this little project. "Dare to risk incomprehension, dare to be in error," that is my motto at this point.
The dust jacket on Maryanne Cline Horowitz's Seeds of Virtue and Knowledge (Princeton, 1998) is deep green, with an etching from John Parkinson's Paradisi in Sole overlaying it. The binding of the book is a lush more intense yellow green cloth, suggesting with the jacket the colors of nature in all their vitality and freshness. Color, text, descriptions of illustrative art, and illustrative art contribute to a deeply learned and highly personal, yet monumental synthesis. M C H has written a most remarkable book on a central theme that touches on almost every other theme in human history. In a superficial way M C H's model is Lovejoy's classic on the great chain of being, only her theme is the seeds of virtue and sparks of knowledge that in Antique and later thought signified the particularity of humanness, the agency for learning and for fundamental goodness on which parents, teachers, and oneself (Cicero, Seneca, Montaigne, and Charron) might nurture the distinct nature of humans.
The last three chapters of the book are really 3 little books, with each devoted to a single figure — Bodin, Montaigne, and Charron. M C H has put precise attention to understanding the works of these three, and it becomes rightly evident that she has discerned a way of understanding their thought as never before as a result of taking the seeds of virtue and common notions theme as a key that unlocks their general thought. I am no expert, but I think she is right, and in a fundamental, obvious way. M C H continues with her very personal readings, moving along on main themes, but not hesitating to include the important, very revealing aside. What has been the general knowledge in the golden age of Renaissance studies in the U.S. — Baron, Kristeller, Trinkhaus, Bouwsma, and Rice might just become unknown general learning, unless books such as this are written with a view to re-articulating that ensemble of learning, while contributing to it on a specific theme.
Her cultural context for that 16th century flowering is the longue durée of the Stoic notion that sparks of Divinity and seeds of virtue and knowledge grow in human nature. In a magisterial 2000 year history, she shows the cumulative impact and merger of the Stoic image of seeds within humanity growing to trees of wisdom and the Hebraic image of the righteous person as a "a tree planted by the streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season" (Psalm 1). The ancient Stoics have seeds and sparks as foundations for their epistemologies. The "common notions" of the Stoics, like the seeds and sparks, would be resorted to by thinkers, as their first move in their writings. Aristotle is really the odd philosopher out here, with his emphasis on observation and sensory powers putting him almost out of the purview of this work. He does come in, of course, in Thomas's thought, to permit a view different from Augustine's about human nature, and its relation to the divine. Thomas's and other theologians' usage of "semina virtutum" and "semina scientarum" M C H applies to confirming when they are talking about the natural light of the intellect, rather than the divine light received in illumination. Whether emanationist in time, or in constant force during life; whether in the senses, the soul, partly the body, the seeds and sparks became a point of departure — with the options come enormous consequences for the thought, or image that followed. It would be presumptuous for me to try to summarize just which option which writer took; what I hope to do is to encourage everyone to read this book.
This work is intellectual history at its best; "strands" are discerned, nuances are pointed out, and contexts are always kept right before the reader. There are also points where M C H says she does not understand; others where she says author X misinterpreted author W, still others where she says author A clearly understood author F — a refreshing approach. Formal thought and less learned thought are explored without condescension for the latter. In examining the graphics of trees among Kabbalists and in Raymond Lull, M C H considers whether visual imagery, for example of rising like a palm tree to the Divine, might have suggested more human potency than the texts claimed. She thus raises theoretical and historical issues concerning linguistic and visual metaphors. The presentation of attempts to illustrate complex thought over the centuries is also systematically laid out here; sometimes the intellectual frames were deeply understood by scholars, as in the case of Botticelli, perhaps less so in the relatively neglected forest fresco of the Palace of the Popes, (Avignon) but the results in both cases are deeply suggestive of just how deeply and coherently life in accord with ideas about nature was pursued across the centuries.
M C H uses etymology sparingly, but appropriately to suggest how all pervasive thought about life in conformity with nature was, a tradition, as it were, something delivered to us, and certainly not dead. She recognizes that her study is largely about figures, or metaphors, but she does not let the reader ever infer that some other type of thought, or philosophical language would be truer, or more revealing about human nature, or more powerful. Quite to the contrary. There is an implicit critique of historiographies grounded on the particularities of metaphor, or even representations, in this work. The reason, I suspect, is that M C H has never had to climb out of some functionalist historiography. Indeed the figures about nature become so pervasive that the word mentality comes to mind for M C H , and rightly so, and for all European languages, and down to the present. Parenthetically, I have often taken 17th century prints of the "Ages of Man" genre (I know none of women) and noted with students that the parallels with animals still have resonances in our language; e.g. old goat, fox, rat, horny ( for the stag), etc. Indeed, when one comes away from this book one has a sense of the still quite small impact ‘modern' science has on everyday language. To be sure, we immediately think of words such as thrust, and for Early Modern science, force, but often these new words seem less social than the older vocabularies in which nature seemed to offer a common understanding of the observable world. And one has only to think of the influence of "upon this rock..." or Washington's remark about not cutting down cherry trees, to recognize just how M C H's book also is an answer by its learned historical and linguistic contexts to the culture of shock dimensions of deconstruction.
So with the human locked up in seeds, and divine action often but not always in sparks, and humans producers of seeds (remember Onan's unnatural act?) the issues go quickly beyond the epistemological to one of just how much mental and moral capacity humans actually have. For the ancient stoics the seeds were a starting point, and there were nuances on this very starting point among ancient stoics, and others, while all the while major thinkers including Cicero and Philo, whose thought would pull like magnets their later Christian readers to fundamental positions about human mental and moral capacity. This pulling back to generally clearly stated positions is such an interesting phenomenon. Cultures evolve, and change in major ways, but there is this tendency to reach back to some fundamentally stated views, and the "seeds of virtue" argument is one of these. Augustine would make the seeds divine, as it were, in essence; Thomas would accept the human to be made in God's image, but not really sharing in divinity in the way the Neoplatonists who inspired Augustine. Seeds of virtue could still also be "just nature" that is something created by God, and responding to His laws, but not necessarily divine. One would think that the differences on these matters would be clearly refracted in the differences in doctrine of the various 16th-century reformers; she exposes "seeds" at the heart of the debates of Erasmus and Luther, Sadoleto and Calvin, and she contrasts Melancthon to Luther and Locke to Calvin in the restoration of some confidence in the human garden. Her Epilogue suggests further research to explore on the Enlightenment analogy of educational approaches and horticultural techniques.
When presenting the thought of all the major figures of the Renaissance and Reformation on thought about nature, and human nature, M C H dares on occasion to say so and so's understanding of, say Philo or Seneca, is correct. These extremely helpful evaluations help the reader to map the whole world of thought about nature, but there is neither a heavy or a determinist or reductionist hand at any point. Not getting something right does not make the thought less interesting or less influential. It would be presumptuous for me to try to present what M C H says about such important figures as Petrarch, Pico, and Ficino, or Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin — the point is that all face the triad of human, divine, and the seeds of virtue argument. For M C H the enhancement of the dignity of humanity occurs, almost always in a Christian frame in the 16th century, but would all of this happened without the sparks? In this case the sparks are an understanding of ancient Stoic, and Neostoic Platonic authors. It's interesting to note how so often all this becomes a matter of degree or measurement — of just how much virtue humans have by their seeds.
Throughout the work there is attention to where women and gender are in all this. Few authors denied them the seeds of virtue, but differences by nature could still prove to something to argue about. The seeds of virtue and knowledge played a part in Stoic (note Epictetus) refutations of Aristotle on a slave's capacities and in Italian women humanists' refutation of Aristotle on a woman's capacities; it seems not to have been used to ground the rudimentary scientific racism of the 18th century. The false assumption that plants propagate asexually was a bulwark for the appeal in Christian Europe of the imagery of virtue growing like a plant, as in Daphne's arborescence in fleeing Apollo. M C H suggests that concomitantly with the scientific investigation in botanical gardens of plant propagation, the paradigm of the mind as a plant gave way to the paradigm of the mind as a machine. Yet the plant metaphors endure in our cultivation of each new crop of graduate students.
I encourage the reader to go over carefully what M C H has to say about Botticelli's Flora, and to compare it with what Charles Dempsey says on the same subject — very interesting. There are also significant asides from the history-of-reading field , and important contexts for understanding how categories of knowledge, gardens, florilegia, commonplace books, maxims, and theaters of nature are all natural forms of knowledge about nature: as seeds of virtue they contain wisdom, sacred or profane.
Regarding Erasmus on the seeds of virtue, I think M C H would put more on the nature side of the equation than does Margolin's interpretation, given above. I suspect that Erasmus drew on this important argument in epistemological thought in some contexts, but not in all. Where he finally stood would be something that only M C H and Margolin (and Jim Tracy) could evaluate on the topic in each specific context, throughout his oeuvre.
The chapter on Northern Humanism is fundamentally about the French, and the frame is not only the ancient and Italian, but Erasmian thought. It is also an account of the reception of Stoic thought. The exploration of nature and culture, whether in Alciati's emblems, or in the botanical garden of Montpellier confirms the general thesis that discourses about nature were at the very heart of 16th century ethical thought. There are brilliant aperçus — e.g. Rabelais on a fantastic plant that will not burn; he's heard enough about exotic plants brought from around the globe to Europe. The historical understanding of the antique sources becomes so firm for not only Lipsius, but Du Vair, Montaigne, and Charron, that the Neostoicism becomes a present past. Seneca, Cicero, and Philo, to mention only three crucial sources, are really deeply grasped, understood, and lived. Each reads on, and preud'hommie (for Charron, independence from the conventional attitudes prevalent in one's own time) becomes an ideal, or aim in discerning wisdom, sacred and profane, in studying nature. Bodin belongs here too; I simply overlooked him because I want to read Ann Blair before really trying to say anything about Bodin on nature, though M C H's treatment of same seems to me to be highly convincing, to the point that he too belongs in the general roster of recovered stoic thinkers. There are, to be sure, nuances and differences in this school — one may write about reason much more frequently than another, or one may see positive law, including Roman law as infused by natural law, and others not. The theme of human dignity and capacity, even potential for an active life in pursuit of understanding and living according to nature is so strong among these thinkers that the late 16th century should rightly be called a Neostoic moment.
There is also a drum beating out the measures of change. In the end M C H's Bodin seems engaged in various ordering projects, a great thinker on the older side of the temporal divide from Montaigne. But then, ideas about sovereignty are not the subject here, nor are ideas about nature central to the brilliant formulation of them. Bodin found patriarchy in the divine law of the Old Testament, not on some natural order of the family sort of argument. Sometimes one thinks that Bodin was really writing for himself, but I must not venture into these channels until after reading Ann Blair. Neoplatonic resonances in Du Vair's thought (see also Menager on this subject in the CMR 17 colloque in Bari), the images of the garden as the soul, of the tree, the seeds...there is a respect for authority but a remarkable distance seems to have developed between these writers and the institution of the Church. And in Bodin, in particular, there is a questioning of the whole notion of original sin; the human soul is still submitted to a duel between the angel and the devil, but with the latter being only instruments for divine, not manichean action. In all, Bodin seems to me to have genuinely feared disorder more than Montaigne, though both combat disorder with the tools of the Stoics.
Montaigne is more deeply smitten by the revival of learned skepticism, but this did not impede him from turning to nature, and the seeds of virtue as a foundation for natural human goodness. His figure for describing the human thought process as it pursues wisdom is the sieve; we humans even sift knowledge about God, rejecting this or that "proof" for His action in nature. And above all the ironic twists and deconstructions of literal meanings from stories and common places, he sifts himself. The interpretations of Physiognomy and the coaches come along very nicely to confirm M C H's argument regarding Montaigne's fundamental belief in human potential. The relation between notions of a golden age, and knowledge of the behavior of Amerindians is brilliantly held in tandem by M C H — leaving the reader to sift through the assertions about just how difficult it is to see behind the masks that Montaigne puts before his readers.
Certainly Montaigne enriched the "tradition" in which he was writing, more so, I think, than did Bodin, and opposition to cruelty, including cruelty to animals would seem until one thinks about it, just a quirk, but no, as MCH suggests, it is a remarkable inference from the thought as a whole. His travel journal is filled with remarks about how his own body works, especially in relation to different waters; his skepticism about the capacity of humans to reason and discern truth squares with his sense of the soul, the self, being all over in the body, by nature. Jotham Parsons's chapter on Montaigne in his thesis on Gallican thought clearly elucidates how custom may in fact bear more just and natural law than other positive laws, grounded on rational principles. What grows naturally out of society — without professional reason — may in fact carry within it nature's laws for human kind. Throughout M C H's discussion of Montaigne there is a tentativeness that yields greater authority than the typical declarative authoritative statement might. She has lived with Montaigne for decades.
The third and final major general interpretation after a chapter on Bodin and another on Montaigne, is on Charron. Noting that he was more read in 17th century than Montaigne, M C H moves to the heart of what was the truly fundamental problem facing thinkers in France after a couple of decades of killing and raping in the name of religious beliefs. Founding ethics on an unshakable first premise that was autonomous from religion became essential, and that was what Charron did. If Bodin's answers to this situation was the idea of absolute sovereignty, and a kind of naturalist universalism along with patriarchy, Montaigne's was self understanding and custom. Charron would, of course, ground his ethics on a seeds of virtue first principle, with following that the human nature being to pursue preud'hommie (honnestas in Bodin) by distancing oneself from the conventional thinking around one, including the religious. This is as about as anti-Aristotelian as anyone could be, in regard as to how humans should act in society. For Charron humans have potential; conventional thinking in society is not to be conformed to. The links to the devotionalism of the "interior" seems evident, for it is what emanates from the self, self-thought — secreting, secreted thought, that humans must rely on — again anti-Aristotelian because the senses are not relied on for learning.
Skepticism, to be sure, but not as an instrument to be used in public discourse in the way Popkin describes the influence of Sextus on the period, since it is an instrument to be used by the self, for the self. Charron's really quite lofty view of human capacity for self knowledge leads him to create a deeply individualist ethic. The seeds of virtue are so numerous that Grace is not even called upon to play much of a role in becoming a preud'homme. The reader of Montaigne is all over Charron, but there is a major, personal dimension in Charron's thought that is anything but derivative. He seems caught up in Seneca on benefits when he criticizes the human effort to assure his own salvation. Like giving with the thought in mind of what might be received in return, Grace is that divine totally free gift ending for some in salvation. Human love for God must be disinterested.
M C H hesitates and moves with caution in interpreting Charron, and well she might. Did he hold contradictory positions? Did he know what he was writing? Was he confused, or was he moving along fine lines on matters of doctrine that we no longer discern? There is certainly also a danger in making matters clearer than Charron; one comes away with the sense that he was not fearful of souls being lost as a result of reading his book! Just think of a seminar of readings from Gene Rice, Hans Baron's review of Rice, now M C H, and Charron himself. An alternative would be to read between the lines, a tendency, gratefully which M C H does not have.
Coming away from all this there is wonder before the word religion in all three of these thinkers, but especially Charron, and how religion relates to the church. The seeds of virtue argument for him meant that no matter how deeply to the interior of humanness one went, there was no danger, the divine was simply discerned more deeply and fully.
Charron's placing of ethics within human nature, and in effect making religion depend on virtue rather than the other way around, set a philosophical agenda for the rest of the 17th century, and indeed, some of the 18th century as well. References to Rousseau in this book remain more linked to Montaigne and egalitarianism, but the notions of the seeds of virtue, and the goodness of natural humankind are not to be dismissed.
A chef d'oeuvre in the modern sense — a completely accomplished work by a mature scholar who has worked long and hard on all these issues. I feel immensely pleased by the accomplishments of late 20th century historiography. Who can forget the writers who in the 70's and 80's said that the "history of ideas" was finished? In M C H there is also so much more than erudition, there is her presence in sharing the joy of learning.
Ann Blair's The Theatre of Nature: Jean Bodin and Renaissance Science (Princeton, PUP, 1997) is a work of Humanistic historical culture in ways somewhat different from M.C. Horowitz's Seeds of Virtue... Instead of working within one, vast intellectual current—written and pictorial—AB aims to write a "histoire totale" of one book, a project Humanistic not unlike the numerous attempts made by Renaissance and Renaissance inspired thinkers to discern the microcosm's perfection (the latter word in the 16th century sense), or in the macrocosm. Indeed, the overlaying of Bodin's aims, and AB make this a striking book in a Humanistic genre. Seeking to have his theatre of nature include what humans can know about nature, Bodin expressed supreme faith in the divine design in and behind nature, and human intelligence sufficient to 'see it.'
If what humans can do is to study and to categorize all the signs of the natural recalling what Margolin says about Erasmus and Foucault, the macrocosm of nature ought to be capturable in one book of those signs; Montaigne's project of writing himself entirely in to his book (Defaux,) is also a project not unlike Bodin's, with the human being as the microcosm of creation. We in the 20th century might think that getting the physical into a book might be more difficult than the spiritual or ontological, but AB on Bodin's Theatre... offers an understanding, indeed, a demonstration, of how such a project could be scientifically imagined. The Essais may also be considered a theatre of nature, perhaps, albeit quite free of the modified scholastic method of 'doing physics' that is the methodological character of Bodin's project.
For writing the histoire totale of such a rich and complex book—the final 'flower'(pace Horowitz!) in an antique genre of natural philosophy (Pliny)—AB mastered three quite distinct problematics—the history of ideas, the history of the book, and the history of science. The word awesome immediately comes to mind, and erudite as well, but also sympathetic in the Dilthey sense, and not pedantic. AB does not offer an apologia for the work, but she is deeply sympathetic to Bodin's larger aim of a search for and creation of order in a universe of apparently discrete things, religious beliefs, and civil and international wars. For Bodin the scientific study of nature would enable humans to know more about the divine, apparently the only theme which Bodin considered sufficiently worthy to employ the "language of wonder."
Between the Method for the Easy Comprehension of History (1572), and The Theatre of Nature (1596) there appeared the Demonology (1587) and the Six Books of the Republic (1593), as well as other learned and civic activist works. AB is right not to impose some sort of grid, or program on Bodin's writings (after all, it is not her project), but if we take her main point that as a philosopher Bodin's search for and creation of order in and through his own reflection, reading, and writing, there would seem to be a trend in his work toward less and less the study of human behavior and human nature, particularly in society, and more and more toward the study of nature beyond the human, for discerning order and nature's laws. The woodcut on the title page of the first edition of the Prolemata Bodini shows the philosopher alone, so alone, measuring a globe. In the end, learning about nature, and the divine seems to be a lone, if not lonely activity. There isn't even a lion to keep him company! The Demonology is already a shift toward studying God's agents and soldiers for helping and punishing humans; the Republic is many things, but the trajectory in the works suggests that it too may in fact occupy a space in the universe that is good, superior, and there more natural and divine, than some of the other bodies that float around is space. The unnatural, the monstrous, the criminal, violent, are not included in the chose publique as normative elements in the divine program.
The Theatre of Nature is about those aspects of the universe that man can glimpse, but over which he has really no powers. The open window in the woodcut mentioned above reveals nature that has not already been signified on to a globe, but like the natural philosophers who were his predecessors and successors Bodin concentrates on a "canon" of questions and observations that had changed little since Pliny. As AB observes him sympathetically going through these "facts", and thus doing physics, it becomes possible to discern his grander scientific and religious project. This book makes one feel close to Bodin's mental operations, and in particular his emphasis on seeing over hearing. And he's like Rabelais and Montaigne (Horowitz) in that he is not at all swept up by the amazing new facts that are coming from the new world, no indeed (pace my dear friend, Sir John Elliott).
Just why he is so hostile to Aristotle, and which Aristotle is, however, not so clear. There are disagreements, to be sure, but additionally there seems to be a welling up to the ad hominem attack against the Philosopher—to the point that this reviewer wonders whether or not this critique is not Bodin's more important, though apparently veiled aim in writing the book. In saying this I do not wish to underestimate his stated intentions, or accomplishments, but to attack Aristotle as "obscure and arrogant"(p. 92) could either seem gratuitous, immature, or the point of the project, and perhaps certainly consistent with his pious quest.
Though there are no sources to confirm it, Bodin very probably worked from common place books that he had developed over the years (F. Goyet, A. Moss). The "Seeds of Virtue" argument is there, p.89) and along with some 80 references to the Bible, mostly the Old Testament. Bodin seems not to confront the Biblical text with a source that contradicts it; it seems too early for that, but more important, throughout the work it seems that he had a need for the divinity as an immensely powerful and sovereign presence in the universe, not like Erasmus on this point. This is not a matter of doctrine, but of tone, or undertone, below the argument, as it were. Augustinian in characterizing evil as the absence of good, and divine programming to bring good out of evil, Bodin moves forward his quest for order without, it seems, ever commenting on what humans cannot know. Are mysteries a part of his thought? The writings on the soul and intermediary bodies attest to his faith in God, and in the powers of human reason.
This too brief characterization of Bodin as captured by AB on the theatre of nature does not do the work justice. I really do not know how to present the questions and reasoning that Bodin does in any other way than AB, hence readers must read the book. One could ask why such old questions had so much authority (one could say the same about Fermat's theorem). There must be a lot of good research and writing on the history of questions, but since I have not read it, I must fall silent. I recall Brian Tierney's work on the role of questions in the training of canon lawyers. Was the quod libet something of a genre, or simply part of the general scholastic, and then antique way of doing sciences? One thing is evident in Bodin: the jurist may come out of the court room, but he pops up again when doing physics when he observes that demonstrations of the force of reason on the impious to acknowledge god is as strong as the application of torture (p.41). Bodin's way would not lead to conversion of the impious or the protestants; St. Francis of Sales et al rejected argumentation in favor of exemplarity. But the analogy of reason and torture reveals something of the juridical training in Bodin, or it would seem so. At one point he comes close to the type of reasoning that is at the heart of the sovereignty argument, and on the very important subject of the nature of the soul: "either none of these things is true, or not more than one of them is true, because it cannot be that more than one thing is true..." (p.90)
As we read about Bodin's work to discern order and the divine in nature it becomes possible to imagine a history of cultures as learning to live with categories that are vague, e.g. miscellany, and extravaganza (the title of part of the book catalogue in the Wolfenbutel Library), and argument about the very order of disorder, which Louis Marin made about Pascal's Pensées.
AB leaves Bodin as the culmination of a tradition, and Bacon as the departure for a newer one, more distinctly modern. The history of science question of modernity, and discerning breaks is very much at work here. I must read Dennis Deschene's book on pre-Cartesian Aristotelianism in order to understand the fault lines a bit more from the perspective of the history of philosophy. It is not that I doubt AB's conclusions, no indeed, but what is haunting is the contrast between the undoubted influential modernity of the sovereignty argument (the Republic), of the modernity of the appeal to reading all histories (The Methodus...), and more especially the history of wars written by one's enemies, in order to understand what happened, and the apparent continuities in the 'doing physics' part of Bodin's program. For the sake of symmetry, I guess, or my own search for order in Bodin, I'd like to suggest that perhaps his anti-Aristotelianism was a quite bold and modern step. To be sure, there were predecessors, but were they as free as Bodin from some other ancient philosophic template, most often neo-platonist? Did Bodin's genuine understanding of and respect for Jewish methods of reasoning play a part here?
This book is a treasure house of smaller studies, notably on the dialogue as a genre, reception history, and on such important words for the Renaissance as theatre. On the latter it might have been interesting to explore the etymologies in dictionaries, including the far-fetched ones, not only because the history of the origin of words is a major approach in philological history, but because it was so frequently practiced, notably by Humanists in the 16th century. Mais on ne peut pas tout faire dans un seul livre! Was there a jeu between theo and thea, for example, with the result being more than just seeing? Space within the theatre may have been sacred for Bodin in ways that could be teased out by close reading. Another small study within the study contributes to the history translation. Parenthetically, on the photo reproduction of the title page of Fougerolle's translation of the Theatre, the name Simon Basin (or Bazin, the two spellings were often interchangeable in that name), in a late 16th-17th century hand. While a frequently found name, the library stamp of the Jacobin community on the rue St. Honoré confirms the possibility that the copy belonged to Simon Basin, son of Simon, First Physician to Anne of Austria, a preacher, and panegyrist (mediocre) of Louis XIII and Richelieu (which is how I got to know about him). One can never be certain that owners read their books, but it is nonetheless interesting to note in whose hands a particular copy landed.
My first reading of Thomas Da Costa Kaufmann's The Mastery of Nature... (Princeton, PUP, 1993) was one of the inspirations for reading the other books in this ‘essay', as they came along. The honesty, erudition, willingness to strike out beyond beaten tracks is evident from the very beginning of this book, which is a presentation of the chapters in the book after an account of how various tendencies in the discipline of art history, and various tendencies and expertises within the Warburg intersected for TDCK to make the backdrop of this book. How to build on and extend the brilliant achievement of R.J. Evans's Rudolf II and his World. The book takes Rudolf's court as its principal focus, but here again one is tempted to think of it as the microcosm for a general cultural macrocosm. Evans used such words as Mannerist in his work, and Baroque, and that has set off bells in the minds of art historians. So much the better. In general Kaufmann rarely comes back to the problems of definition of these terms, and this is much to his credit. His meanings are clear and add to the general analysis.
TDCK has probed in manuscript collections to find in verse or treatise textual parallels with works of art, and then deepen the quest for understanding of both and the culture out of which they came. The results are deeply satisfying to this reader, with the result being that one senses how not only Humanism, but Classicism were such learned creative moments — the century of Louis XIV being not all that far from that of Rudolf in reception of Antiquity in far beyond literalist ways, indeed, in playful ways. Oh, someone will come up with Longinus, of pseudo Longinus, and Boileau, and perhaps assert that my generalization is unfair because of them. Soit!
The book begins quietly, but oh so fulfillingly by exploring the relations between marginal illustrations in private devotional works, and the rise of still life painting as a genre. Rosaries, flowers, pilgrim badges (Henry Walters was so right in buying some of these for his collection!) insects, hares, and, oh horror, skulls, are objects in nature. Indeed, these objects were seen and treasured, in a sense, as natural and capable of inspiring wonder and if not devotion, at least a reverent mood in preparation for it. From pilgrim badges and flowers stuck in prayer books to painting them in prayer books would seem to be a small, but important step toward still-life painting. Pilgrim medals, or the plaques with the names and images of loved ones attached in pilgrimage churches (Montaigne at Loreto) turns on the ‘legibility' of the object, and its place in a code that is natural and artful.
TDCK brings all this together with immense accomplishment in his exploration of the works of the painter, Georg Hoefnagel, whose painted dragon fly bodies had real dragonfly wings attached to them. Palissy used animals to cast his sculptured plates and still-life portraits of salamanders, etc. This chapter brings the actual objects and their religious location in parallel; chapter 3 gives the intellectual paradigm that accounts for why natural objects are art.
As one looks at the photo reproductions from pages from prayer books, one sees quite strong, thick lines between the texts, and the floral and other marginal illustrations. Marginal is probably not the mot juste; there is a difference here from what L. Randall finds as marginal illustrations, but I'm not sure whether it is a difference in kind or degree. Are the boundaries just a convention, or some sort of true boundary. A true boundary could need a bit of definition; it could be the limits between floral painters and letter painters, for example, but the boundary always deserves to be pondered. Cellini designed letters for the tomb of a loved one to look like branches or vines or leaves (we do not know, he just says something about looking natural). In illustrating PATIENTIA in 1569 Hoefnagel constructed letters from flower covered branches, borderless, as if nature resists borders more than letters. What is the plant? As usual, I am out of my depth here, so I should stop writing and go off to spend 6 months reading up on the subject.
Chapter 2 on perspective and shadows in paintings is a careful analysis of learned writings on the subject from Alberti down through Da Vinci, to Desargues. As TDCK puts it:"It seems theorists needed to make an intellectual breakthrough before they could demonstrate a correct rule for solar shadow projection." (p. 76) But just where was the breakthrough? In a picture, or in a series of geometrically cut stones? There had to be also a problem to be solved, and it was the design of stones for the corners of outside supporting geometrical staircases that led Desargues to work out the formula for a vanishing point. I haven't kept up, but isn't that what I learned from Blum's book on Bosse? How to cut the corner supporting treads and stones in a stairway that only had the exterior wall to support it? These stairs were objects of wonder in the 17th and 18th centuries(I particularly like the ones, huge ones, at the Invalides) as were the ceilings such as in the city hall at Arles, where angles on each stone were so carefully cut that the sheer weight of the stones holds up the whole ceiling. Just how Desargues's work became applied to painting, I cannot recall, but there were probably intermediaries before Bosse's painful, tragic collision with Le Brun and the supporter of Da Vinci's writings on the subject. This chapter resembles somewhat a history of science article; there is a telos toward the right answer or formula, with plenty of evidence about the false steps, and their makers.
With Chapter 3, the Nature of Imitation, TDCK opens up what one could almost call the mechanical theory of Humanistic culture. There are urtexts, in this case both Durer's and Horace received by Hoefnagel, all written out in a librum amicorum. After the religious undercurrents held up in books of devotion art, it is the theory of imitation as recovered from Antiquity by Durer and Hoefnagel in an essentially neostoic vein, that is at the heart of this chapter.
Hoefnagel's ways of building his writing around Horatian tags in his verse can only confirm the hypothesis that he had a really quite deep, not simply literalist understanding of the theory of imitation. Confirmation of this point is certainly the sense of movement — of direction — of ‘progress' and refinement in the human ability to depict nature, and to write about it, that is at work. This poem on Durer is a profoundly Humanist pedagogical work, beginning with praise and exemplarity for the achievement of a great artist-citizen, or should we write citizen-artist? and military figure whose works began the decoding of the Antique theory of imitation. Hoefnagel captures in two genres, writing and painting, the principal elements of this theory. All this is very important for not only his time, but for establishing a sense of 'progress' within learned culture over time. This emphasis on perfection, on progress, on movement, and refinement, is not something brought in to the work of creating people of the sixteenth century by readers of nineteenth century progressivists. It is there, and part of the recovered antique theory of imitation. Not only instrumental for commemoration, but for acquiring sagesse through the study of nature, imitation became an understanding that would underlie all classicizing cultures. And the more particular Hoefnagel became about his friends, Ortelius and Rademaker, the more almost universal in ethics and civic-mindedness —no real distinction here — he became. From the utterly magnificent painting of an iris by Durer (BN) it is possible to go to the "naturalness" of Melanchton's open shirt, or Hoefnagel's hare, a naturalist work imitated from Durer, yet not 'slavishly' as Hoefnagel dared really to progress, to be different. The very coherent force of theory and practice are articulated here, inseparable, and banal, I suspect, but so very interesting as revealing how the hand and mind are joined together in creative action.
TDCK makes a method of close reading of learned literary works that shed light on artistic pieces — usually directly — a very effective and convincing history is the result. There are large general questions, not just in art history, but in cultural history in general posed, explored, and partially answered. The point is that complete answers can never be given to these big questions; but partial answers press research energies forward. From Alberti to Leonardo, then Fonteo, Comanini, and Lomazzo the textual richness sustaining and enriching meanings in learned painting — makes the reign of Rudolf II a truly remarkable moment. One has the sense that all the theoretical work is done until the next burst forward under Watteau's and Caylus's learned (one cannot say more learned, or more historical), 'private' and modernist moment. Archimboldo's famous paintings — the seasons and elements series, along with the portrait of the emperor as Vertumnus, have found there consummate interpreter in TDCK. It is amusing to read some of the foolishness written about these works of art, as summed up by TDCK, but it would be embarrassing for their authors to present them here.
The "mastery" of nature becomes understandable in this context — the literature of praise flourishing to assure the Holy Roman Emperor's divinity, and universal powers, in nature, and in realms of humans. Arcimboldo's elements and seasons are serious play, and always in the sense that in the Horatian reception there is invention (contemporary sense) within the general program of imitation.
One would like to press a bit further on two issues; the first is the relation between the religious and the elegiac, especially as refracted in the mirror of nature. Rudolf is of a divine order, his body and soul are not of the same essence as every one else's, thanks to his election and coronation. One notes that his portrait is the only one of the oeuvre reproduced here that includes three distinct natural families, flowers and vegetables and fruits, the first for his clothes, the second for his body, and the third for his nose and hair, not unlike wunderkammers which are organized by sea, land and air strata, in that natural order. I am no doubt saying something terribly obvious here, since I do not know the literature about these paintings, but it seems to me that throughout the book there are moments when TDCK becomes so preoccupied by the text that he does not describe sufficiently the works of art. There probably is only a specialist v general reader difference here, as is so often the case. Air does not have a human face constructed of birds because humans cannot fly, non?
In the chapter on Science, Technology, Humanism, and Art, quite a bit is rightly made of the reception of Copernicus's theory, but whether or not backing away incredulous from the works of Yates, Panofsky, and Evans on the general subject, or not, TDCK seems to have trouble accepting just how closed, elitist, esoteric, and favor bound court cultures were. Does he keep a foot in the egalitarian 20th century just to bring along the uninitiated. Perhaps. The idea of service to the prince pervaded the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, making the civic expressions of Hoefnagel about Durer a distinctly different relation between creators, if not the creations themselves, than the ones prevailing at court.
Chapter 6 on Archimboldo's drawings on silk manufacture provides a perfect case study of just how invention in rhetoric and genius moved out from their moorings in that discipline to give words to visual experiences (I think back on the meaning of this word as researched by Blair) such as dreams. TDCK searches for modernity in through here, and finds it, in very interesting and important ways. He rightly frames all this in ancients v. moderns, leaving the impression that Rudolf's learned court formulated and put into practice the cultural and scientific programs that the French would repeat under Louis XIV? Did the academism make much of a difference? If so, exactly when and how? The Italians, Leonardo especially, gave a language to Europeans for expressing artistic creative action — Rudolf's court witnesses the triumph of this Italianate understanding, confirming and deepening it before it was updated by Galileo.
The chapter on kunstkammers treads water on whether or not these were public. C'est une question mal posée. The confirmation of Galileo's findings through use of a telescope sent up to Prague probably did not make as much of an end to secret knowledge locked up in courts, as printing, which in fact made a new kind of secret knowledge articulated in creative circles, communities, literary republics, but not public in the sense that Hoefnagel would have understood it, or we would understand it today. Galileo's Dialogo... is written by the philosopher and first mathematician of the most serene Grand Duke of Tuscany, and the dedication is to him as well. I cannot recall if whether or not Galileo writes as if there is a public there to read him — I just don't remember. The imperial dreams of the learned around Rudolf, Henry III, Elizabeth, and Louis XIV are often not classical republic, and they are pondered by those who knew the difference between Rome of the Republic, and Rome of the Principate. Oh, yes, the link between Nuremberg in Durer's time, and Rudolf's Prague are the iconographic programs in the arches of triumph put up and paid for by the city fathers when illustrious princely visitors deigned to make an entry into the city.
If one thinks of the Imperial kunstkammer as a collection of profane relics (Pomian) complementing the great Habsburg collections of religious relics, we are left still with the religious in both in the sense that the divine can still be discerned beneath the operations of nature in the kunstkammer. The Hermeticism that TDCK finds in Bacon, the kunstkammer as microcosm, and the universes of Brahe and Kepler and Galileo as macrocosms, all measured but still very often described in the language of wonder (TDCK does not use this phrase, and he might object to it) these territories do not seem all that different from those described by Horowitz and Blair. This is not at all to suggest that TDCK's work is redundant — no, not at all, especially since it is grounded on very different locales and personae. And neither Horowitz nor Blair had a way of reaching the theory of imitation.
Still, I think that TDCK ought to have stressed a bit more the notion of conquest of nature in his general argument regarding the importance of all this for science in the modernizing sense. When Kepler writes: "O telescope, instrument of much knowledge, more precious than any scepter! Is not he who holds thee in his hand made king and lord of the works of God" going a bit beyond the neostoic programs for discerning the divine through the study of nature? How to apply new knowledge for enhancing imperial power, that was a question, if not the question. The exhortation to and celebration of conquest gave me much to ponder years ago when I was working on Artisans of Glory. I found that it was the learned who created this language, historicized it, and wrote it up or painted it in elegiac tones. Mastery of Nature? Conquest of Nature? It would have been blasphemous to put the scepter second to knowledge of nature if that knowledge were not, in fact, about God.
Coming to the end of this book, one may sense that TDCK may need to breath a more contemporary air. OUF! Rudolf's court, like that of Louis XIV'S places a weight of professional and scholarly search for understanding on one, even becoming heavy at times. I may be wrong here. I may be just projecting how I felt at the end of Artisans... One wonders how Yates, Panofsky, Schramm, Ullmann, et al. could live so long in these imperial worlds.
My original purpose was to turn from Kaufmann to Simon Schama's book on landscape and memory, but here it is August 17th, and we must turn our thoughts to closing up the house and garden. I've read a 100 pages of Schama, and found it much more impressive than the earlier books that I have tried to but failed to be able to read. Perhaps Schama writes too much like I do, with my ego evident, happily going along sharing discoveries with others. It is highly possible that similarities of style make me uneasy with Schama, but I should dig beyond this and recognize the learning, flair, and analytical breadth that Schama has in far greater measure than I do. Soit.