1902 Encyclopedia > Claudius Salmasius

Claudius Salmasius
(Claude Saumaise)
French classical scholar
(1588-1653)




CLAUDIUS SALMASIUS (1588-1653), in the vernacular SAUMAISE, the most distinguished classical scholar of his day, was born at Semur-en-Auxois in Burgundy, April 15, 1588. His father, a counsellor of the parle-ment of Dijon, gave him an excellent education, and sent him at the age of sixteen to Paris, where his promise excited the especial interest of Casaubon. After hardly overcoming his father's opposition, he proceeded in 1606 to the university of Heidelberg, nominally to be initiated into jurisprudence under Godefroy, but in fact entirely devoted to classical studies. The atmosphere of the place probably had its influence in inducing him to embrace Protestantism, the religion of his mother; and his first publication was an edition of a work by Mlus Cabasilas, archbishop of Thessalonica, against the primacy of the pope, with a similar tract by Barlaam. The Latin translation of these works, although apparently assigned to Salrnasius on the title page, is not by him. In 1609 he edited Florus, with notes compiled in ten days. In the following year he returned to France, and nominally pur-sued the study of jurisprudence to qualify himself for the succession to his father's post, which he eventually lost on account of his religion. Nothing important proceeded from his pen until 1620, when he published Casaubon's notes on the Augustan History, with copious additions of his own, equally remarkable for learning and acumen. In 1623 he married Anna Mercier, a Protestant lady of a distinguished family; and in 1629 he produced his magnum opus as a critic, his commentary on Solinus's Polyhistor, or rather on Pliny, to whom Solinus is indebted for most of his materials. Greatly as this work may have been overrated by his contemporaries, it is still a monument of stupendous learning and conscientious industry. Salmasius learned Arabic to qualify himself for the botanical part of his task, and was so unwilling to go to press without having con-sulted a rare treatise by Didymus that the third part of his commentary, De Herbis et Plantis, did not appear in his lifetime. He was now ostensibly as well as actually devoted to philology, and foreign universities vied with each other in endeavouring to secure his services. After declining overtures from Oxford, Padua, and Bologna, he closed in 1631 with a proposal from Leyden, offering an entirely honorary professorship, with a stipend of two thousand (afterwards raised to three thousand) livres a year, merely to live in Holland and refute the Annals of Baronius. This latter stipulation he never fulfilled. Shortly after his removal to Holland, he composed, at the request of Prince Frederick of Nassau, his treatise on the military system of the Bomans, which was not published until 1657. Other works followed, mostly philological, but including a denunciation of wigs and hair-powder, and a vindication of moderate and lawful interest for money, which drew down upon him many expostulations from lawyers and theologians. It prevailed, however, with the Dutch Church to admit money-lenders to the sacrament. His treatise De Primatu Papae (1645), accompanying a republication of the tract of Nilus Cabasilae, excited a warm controversy in France, but the Government declined to suppress it. Notwithstanding his Protestantism and the opposition of the papal nuncio, he had already been made a royal counsellor and a knight of St Michael, and great offers had been made to induce him to return, which, suspecting that he was to be charged with the composition of a panegyric on Richelieu, he honourably declined.





In November 1649 appeared the work by which Salrnasius is best remembered, his De/ensio Begia pro Carolo I. His advice had already been sought on English and Scotch affairs, and, inclining to Presbyterianism or a modified Episcopacy, he had written against the Independ-ents. It does not appear by whose influence he was induced to undertake the De/ensio Begia, but Charles II., low as his exchequer was, defrayed the expense of printing, and presented the author with £100. The first edition was anonymous, but the author was universally known. 4>. French translation which speedily appeared under the name of Le Gros was the work of Salrnasius himself. This celebrated work, in our day principally famous for the reply it provoked from Milton, even in its own added little to the reputation of the author. Salrnasius injured his character for consistency by defending absolute monarchy, and knew too little of English history and politics to argue his cause with effect. He deals chiefly in generalities, and most inappropriate illustrations from Biblical and classical history. Not caring sufficiently for his theme to rise to the heights of moral indignation, he is as inferior to Milton in earnestness as in eloquence and the power of invective. Milton had, no doubt, a great advantage in encountering a personality, at whose head vituperation could be launched, while Salrnasius is fighting abstractions and indicting a people. But the reply to Milton, which he left unfinished at his death, and which was published by his son in 1660, is insipid as well as abusive. Until the appearance of Milton's rejoinder in March 1651 the effect of Salmasius's work was no doubt considerable; and it probably helped to procure him the flattering invitation from Queen Christina which induced him to visit Sweden in 1650. Christina loaded him with gifts and distinctions, but upon the appearance of Milton's book was unable to conceal her conviction that he had been worsted by his antagonist. Milton, addressing Christina herself, ascribes Salmasius's withdrawal from Sweden in 1651 to mortification at this affront, but this appears to be negatived by the warmth of Christina's subsequent letters and her pressing invitation to return. The claims of the university of Leyden and dread of a second Swedish winter seem fully adequate motives. Nor is there any foundation for the belief that Milton's invectives hastened his death, which took place on September 3, 1653, from an injudicious use of the Spa waters. He was at the time engaged upon his reply to Milton; this he does not seem to have reckoned among the MSS. which, feeling that he had expressed himself with undue asperity, he directed his wife to burn after his decease. He left several sons, but his posterity did not attain the third generation.

Nothing, to modern ideas, can seem more singular than the literary dictatorship exercised by a mere classical scholar, who shone principally as a commentator, and whose independent works, though highly respectable, evince no especial powers of mind. Salrnasius was far enough from being a Grotius, a Leibnitz, or even a Casaubon. As a commentator and verbal critic, however, he is entitled to very high rank. His notes on the Augustan History and Solinus display not only massive erudition but massive good sense as well; his perception of the meaning of his author is commonly very acute, and his corrections of the text are frequently highly felicitous. His manly independence was shown in many circumstances of his life, and the general bias of his mind was liberal and sensible. He was accused of sourness and sullenness of temper ; but the charge, if it had any foundation, is extenuated by the wretched condition of his health. His biographer Clement enumerates seven classes of disorders which pursued him throughout his life, and which render his industry and productiveness the more extraordinary. Papillon catalogues eighty books published by Salrnasius himself, or from his MSS., or to which ho contributed notes ; eighteen manuscripts which he himself saw in the library of M. de la Mare ; forty-three more mentioned by others ; ninety-three works with MS. notes by Salrnasius, which should now be in the National Library of France ; and fifty-nine books projected or contemplated.

The life of Salmasius was written at great length by Philihcrt de la Mare, counsellor of the parlenient of Dijon, who inherited his MSS. from his son. Papillon says that this biography left nothing to desire, but it has the capital fault of never having been printed. It was, however, used by Papillon himself, whoso account of Salmasius in his Bibliothèque des Auteurs de Bourgogne (Dijon, 1745) is by far the best extant. There is an éloge by Clement prefixed to his edition of Salmasius's Letters (1(156), and another by Morisot, inserted in his own Letters. Clement's notice contains many interesting facts, but it is marred by an extravagant admiration for its subject, perhaps excusable, if he really believed that his hero was born in 1596, and edited Florus at thirteen. It Is remarkable, however, that Clement passes over the Defensio Regia almost without notice, whether from feeling that it was unworthy of Salrnasius, or because discussion of the subject was discouraged in Holland during the existence of the English Commonwealth. (R. Gr.)







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