1902 Encyclopedia > Justus Lipsius

Justus Lipsius
Flemish philologist and humanist
(1547-1606)




JUSTUS LIPSIUS (1547-1606), the Latinized form of Joest Lips, an eminent humanist of the 16th century, born 18th October 1547, at Overyssche, a small village in Brabant, about half way between Brussels and Ottignies. Sent early to the Jesuit college in Cologne, he was removed at seventeen to the university of Louvain by his parents, who had some reason for fearing that he might be induced to become a professed member of the Society of Jesus. But he had received at Cologne two mental tendencies from which he never emancipated himself. One of these, which was suppressed or suspended in middle life, asserted itself later in his return to the bosom of the Catholic Church before his death. The other, derived from his Jesuit train-ing, showed itself in his merely rhetorical or verbal view of classical literature, of which the one interest lay in its style.

Lipsius rushed into print at twenty with one of those volumes of miscellaneous remarks then in vogue ( Variarum Lectionum Libri Tres, 1567), the dedication of which to Cardinal Granvella procured him an appointment as Latin secretary, and a visit to Rome in the retinue of the cardinal. Here Lipsius remained two years, using his spare time in study of the Latin classics, in viewing the monuments, collecting inscriptions, and handling MSS. in the Vatican. A comparison of a second volume of miscellaneous criticism (Antiquarum Lectionum Libri Quinque, 1575), published after his return from Rome, with the Varix Lediones of eight years earlier shows that he had advanced from the notion of purely conjectural emendation to that of emending by collation, and that he had learnt to distinguish between a "good" and a "bad" MS. In Rome he also made the acquaintance of Muretus, Paullus Manutius, and the other humanists of the catholic reaction who were then in credit there. He was also noticed by Cardinal Sirleto and Fulvio Orsini; but he can hardly have even seen in the street Sigonio and Vettorio, and the introduction of these cele-brated names is perhaps only a stylistic flourish of the biographer Le Mire, to whom we owe the only original account of Lipsius's life. In 1570 he wandered over Burgundy, Germany, Austria, Bohemia, in search of learning and learned acquaintance, and was engaged for more than a year as teacher in the university of Jena, a position which implied an outward conformity to the Lutheran Church. On his way back to Louvain, he stopped some time at Cologne, where he must again have comported himself as a Catholic. Here he married, but the union was without issue, and in other respects did not conduce to happiness, as we gather from various allusions scattered through Lipsius's letters. He returned to Louvain, but was soon driven by the civil war to take refuge in Antwerp, where he received, in 1579, a call to the newly founded university of Leyden, as professor of history.





At Leyden, where he must have outwardly conformed to the Calvinistic creed and worship, Lipsius remained eleven years,—years about which his Catholic biographer Le Mire has nothing to tell, but speaks of the period as an enforced temporary sojourn among the infidels,—till the restoration of peace allowed him to return to his home in Brabant. In truth, this period of Lipsius's life was the period of his greatest productivity. It was now that he prepared his Seneca, and that he perfected, in successive editions, his Tacitus. To edit and comment on two authors of the first class, such as Tacitus and Seneca, in addition to the daily drudgery of teaching, might seem work enough for eleven years. But Lipsius's industry enabled him, over and above, to bring out, from the press of Plantin at Antwerp, a series of works of varied character and contents, some of pure scholarship, others collections from classical authors, and others again of more general interest. Of this latter class was a treatise on politics (Politicorum Libri Sex, 1589), in which he let it be seen that, though a public teacher in a country which professed toleration, he had not departed from the state maxims of Alva and Philip II. He lays it down that a Government should only suffer one religion to exist in its territory, and that dissent should be extirpated by fire and sword. This frank avowal of what were known to be his real sentiments might have easily had disagreeable consequences for the author, if he had not been sheltered from the attacks to which it exposed him by the prudence of the authorities of Leyden. Lipsius was prevailed upon to publish a declaration that his expression " tire, seca," was not intended of material fire and sword, but was only a metaphor for " vigorous treatment."

The time at last arrived when Lipsius, who had always been somewhat ill at ease in his Calvinistic disguise, was to throw it off and return into the bosom of the church. In the spring of 1591 he left Leyden under pretext of taking the waters at Spa for the relief of a liver complaint. He went to Mainz, where he was reconciled to the church by the instrumentality of the Jesuit fathers. The event was one which deeply interested the Catholic world, and invitations poured in on Lipsius from the courts and universities of Italy, Austria, and Spain. But he preferred to remain in his own country, and after two years of unsettled residence at Li6ge, Spa, &c, settled at Louvain, as professor of Latin in the Collegium Buslidianum. He was not expected to teach, and his trifling stipend was eked out by the appointments of privy councillor and historiographer to the king of Spain.

From this time till his death Lipsius continued to publish antiquarian collections and dissertations as before. But he was, in fact, lost to learning. His name and fame, and his sententious and amusing style, were placed at the disposal of the Jesuits, and used by them to restore the credit of two local images of the Virgin, whose authentic miracles were retailed by Lipsius in two tracts, Diva Virgo Hallensis, and Diva Virgo Sichemensis. Joseph Hall, afterwards bishop of Norwich, was at Spa in the suite of Sir E. Bacon at the time of the appearance of Lipsius's brochures, and was like to have got into trouble by disput-ing against them (Hall's Epistles, cent. i. ep. 5). Lipsius died at Louvain on the 23d of March 1606, at the age of fifty-eight. His Greek books and MSS. he left to the Jesuit college at Louvain ; the rest of his library, choice rather than extensive, to a nephew. His furred doctor's robe he ordered to be offered at the shrine of the Virgin at Hall.

If, according to the fancy of some biographers, Scaliger, Casaubon, and Lipsius be erected into a literary triumvirate, Lipsius repre- sents Lepidus. His knowledge of classical antiquity was extremely limited. He had but slight acquaintance with Greek; "pour sa provision " only, said Scaliger. He is fond of adorning his letters with Greek phrases, his quotations betraying that he is a stranger in that country. In Latin literature the poets and Cicero lay out- side his range ; he had no ear for metre, and no taste for poetical expression. Where he was strong was in the Latin historians and in Roman antiquities. His greatest work was his edition of Tacitus. This author he had so completely made his own that he could repeat the whole, and offered to be tested in any part of the text, with a poniard held to his breast, to be used against him if he should fail. His Tacitus first appeared in 1575, and was five times revised and corrected by the editor—the last time in 1606, shortly before his death. His Seneca is dated Antwerp, 1605. His Opera Omnia were collected in 4 vols., Antwerp, 1637, of which the Wesel edition, 1675, is a verbal reprint in the same number of volumes, but in a smaller form. The first volume contains also Le Mire's Life of Lipsius, which had appeared separately in 1607. Both editions contain ten centuries of his epistles, to which additions have been made in Epistolarum quse in Centuriis non ex ant Decades XII., &c, Harderwijk, 1621 ; Burmann's Sylloge, torn. i. ; Lettres inédites, ed. Delprat, Amst., 1858. On Lipsius's relations with Scaliger see Bernay's /. J. Scaliger, note 40. A bibliographical list of his separate publications, forty-eight in number, may be found in Niceron, Mémoires, xxiv. p. 118. (M. P.)






The above article was written by Rev. Mark Pattison.



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