1902 Encyclopedia > Estienne Family

Estienne Family
(also known as: Stephens family)
French family of scholars and printers
(fl. 15th century)




STEPHENS, the incorrect English form of the name of ESTIENNE, the distinguished French family of scholars and printers.

The founder of the race was
HENRI ESTIENNE (d. 1520), the scion of a noble family of Provence, who came to Paris in 1502, and soon afterwards set up a printing establishment at the top of the Rue St Jean de Beauvais, on the hill of Sainte-Geneviève opposite the law school. He died in 1520, and, his three sons being minors, the business was carried on by his foreman Simon de Colines, who in 1521 married his widow.

ROBERT ESTIENNE (1503-1559) was Henri's second son. After his father's death he acted as assistant to his step-father, and in this capacity superintended the printing of a Latin edition of the New Testament in 16mo (1523). Some slight alterations which he had introduced into the text brought upon him the censures of the faculty of theology. It was the first of a long series of disputes between him and that body. It appears that he had intimate relations with the new Evangelical preachers almost from the beginning of the movement, and that soon after this time he definitely joined the Reformed Church. In 1526 he entered into possession of his father's printing establishment, and adopted as his device the celebrated olive-tree (a reminiscence doubtless of his grandmother's family of Montolivet), with the motto from the epistle to the Romans (xi. 20), Noli altum sapere, sometimes with the addition sed time. In 1528 he married Perrette, a daughter of the scholar and printer Josse Bade (Jodocus Badius), and in the same year he published his first Latin Bible, an edition in folio, upon which he had been at work for the last four years. In 1532 appeared his Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, a dictionary of Latin words and phrases, upon which for two years he had toiled incessantly, with no other assistance than that of Thierry of Beauvais. A second edition, greatly enlarged and improved, appeared in 1536, and a third, still further improved, in 3 vols, folio, in 1543. Though the Thesaurus is now superseded, its merits must not be forgotten. It was vastly superior to anything of the kind that had appeared before; it formed the basis of future labours, and even as late as 1734 was considered worthy of being re-edited. In 1539 Robert was appointed king's printer for Hebrew and Latin, an office to which, after the death of Conrad Neobar in 1540, he united that of king's printer for Greek. In 1541 he was entrusted by Francis I. with the task of procuring from Claude Garamond, the engraver and type-founder, three sets of Greek type for the royal press. The middle size were the first ready, and with these Robert printed the editio princeps of the Ecclesiasticae Historiae of Eusebius and others (1544). The smallest size were first used for the 16mo edition of the New Testament known as the O mirificam (1546), while with the largest size was printed the magnificent folio of 1550. This edition involved the printer in fresh disputes with the faculty of theology, and towards the end of the following year he left his native town for ever, and took refuge at Geneva, where he published in 1552 a caustic and effective answer to his persecutors, under the title Ad Censuras Theologorum Parisiensium, quibus Biblia a R. Stephana, Typographo Regio, ex usa calumniose notarunt, eiusdem R. S. Responsio. A French translation, which is remarkable for the excellence of its style, was published by him in the same year (printed in Rénouard's Annales de l'Imprimerie des Estienne). At Geneva Robert proved himself an ardent partisan of Calvin, several of whose works he published. He died there September 7, 1559.





It is by his work in connexion with the Bible, and especially as an editor of the New Testament, that he is on the whole best known. The text of his New Testament of 1550, either in its original form or in such slightly modified form as it assumed in the Elzevir text of 1631, remains to this day the traditional text. But, as modern scholars have pointed out, this is due rather to its typographical beauty than to any critical merit. The readings of the fifteen MSS. which Robert's son Henri had collated for the purpose were merely introduced into the margin. The text was still almost exactly that of Erasmus. It was, however, the first edition ever published wito a critical apparatus of any sort. Of the whole Bible Robert printed eleven editions,—eight in Latin, two in Hebrew, and one in French; while of the New Testament alone he printed twelve, —five in Greek, five in Latin, and two in French. In the Greek New Testament of 1551 (printed at Geneva) the present division into verses was introduced for the first time. The editiones principes which issued from Robert's press were eight in number, viz., Eusebius, including the Praeparatio Evangelica and the Demonstratio Evangelica as well as the Historia Ecclesiastica already mentioned (1541-46), Moschopulus (1545), Dionysius of Halicarnassus (February 1547), Alexander Trallianus (January 1548), Dio Cassius (January 1548), Justin Martyr (1551), Xiphilinus (1551), Appian (1551), the last being completed, after Robert's departure from Paris, by his brother Charles, and appearing under his name. These editions, all in folio, except the Moschopulus, which is in 4to, are unrivalled for beauty. Robert also printed numerous editions of Latin classics, of which perhaps the folio Virgil of 1532 is the most noteworthy, and a large quantity of Latin grammars and other educational works (many of them written by his friend Maturin Cordier) in the interests of that cause of which he proved himself so stout a champion,—the new learning.

CHARLES ESTIENNE (1504 or 1505-1564), the third son of Henri, was, like his brother Robert, a man of considerable learning. After the usual humanistic training he studied medicine, and became a doctor of that faculty in the university of Paris. In 1540 he accompanied the French ambassador Lazare Baif to Italy in the capacity of tutor to his natural son Antoine, the future poet. In 1551, when Robert Estienne left Paris for Geneva, Charles, who had remained a Catholic, took charge of his printing establishment, and in the same year was appointed king's printer. He died in 1564, according to some accounts in prison, having been thrown there for debt.

His principal works are Praedium Rusticum, a collection of tracts which he had compiled from ancient writers on various branches of agriculture, and which continued to be a favourite book down to the end of the 17th century; Dictionarium Historicum ac Poeticum (1553), the first French encyclopaedia; Thesaurus Ciceronianus; and Paradoxes, a free version of the Paradossi of Ortensio Laudi, with the omission of a few of the paradoxes and of the impious and indecent passages (Paris, 1553; Poitiers, 1553). He was also the author of a treatise on anatomy and of several small educational works.

HENRI ESTIENNE (1528-1598), sometimes called "Henri II.," was the eldest son of Robert. In the preface to his edition of Aulus Gellius (1585), addressed to his son Paul, he gives an interesting account of his father's household, in which, owing to the various nationalities of those who were employed on the press, Latin was used as a common language, being understood and spoken more or less by every member of it, down to the maid-servants. Henri thus picked up Latin as a child, but at his special request he was allowed to learn Greek as a serious study before Latin. At the age of fifteen he became a pupil of Pierre Danes, at that time the first Greek scholar in France. Two years later he began to attend the lectures of Jacques Toussain, one of the royal professors of Greek, and in the same year (1545) was employed by his father to collate a MS. of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. In 1547, after attending for a time the lectures of Turnèbe, Toussain's successor, he went to Italy, where he spent two years in hunting for and collating MSS. and in intercourse with learned men. In 1550 he was in England, where he was favourably received by Edward VI. Thence he went to Flanders, where he learnt Spanish. In 1551 he joined his father at Geneva, which henceforth became his home. In 1554 he gave to the world, as the first fruits of his researches, two first editions, viz., a tract of Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Anacreon, both printed by his uncle Charles. In 1556 Henri was again in Italy, where he discovered at Rome ten new books (xi.-xx.) of Diodorus Siculus. In 1557 he issued from the press which in the previous year he had set up on his own account at Geneva three first editions, viz., Athenagoras, Maximus Tyrius, and some fragments of Greek historians, including Appian's Annibalike [Gk.] and Iberike [Gk.], and an edition of Aeschylus, in which for the first time the Agamemnon was printed in entirety and as a separate play. In 1558 he was appointed printer to Huldrich Fugger, one of the celebrated family of Augsburg bankers, a post which he held for ten years. In 1559 he printed a Latin translation from his own pen of Sextus Empiricus, and an edition of Diodorus Siculus with the new books. In 1566 he published his best known French work, the Apologie pour Hérodote, or, as he himself called it, L'Introduction au Traité de la Conformité des Merveilles Anciennes avec les Modernes ou Traité preparatif à l'Apologie pour Hérodote. Some passages in the original edition being considered objectionable by the Geneva consistory, he was compelled to cancel the pages containing them. The book became highly popular. Within sixteen years twelve editions were printed. In 1572 Henri published the great work upon which he had been labouring for many years, the Thesaurus Graecae Linguae, in 5 vols, folio. The publication in 1578 of his Dialogues du nouveau François Italianizé brought him into a fresh dispute with the consistory. To avoid their censure he went to Paris, and resided at the French court for the whole of 1579. On his return to Geneva in the spring of 1580 he was summoned before the consistory, and, proving contumacious, was imprisoned for a week. From this time his life became more and more of a nomad one. He is to be found at Basel, Heidelberg, Vienna, Pesth, everywhere but at Geneva, these journeys being undertaken partly in the hope of procuring patrons and purchasers for his books (for the large sums which he had spent on such publications as the Thesaurus and the Plato of 1578 had almost ruined him), partly from the increasing restlessness of his disposition. But the result of these long absences was that his press stood nearly at a standstill. A few editions of classical authors were brought out, but each successive one showed a falling off. Such value as the later ones had was chiefly due to the notes furnished by Casaubon, who in 1586 had married Henri's daughter Florence. Henri's last years were marked by ever-increasing infirmity of mind and temper. In 1597 he left Geneva for the last time. After visiting Montpellier, where Casaubon was now professor, he made for Paris, but was seized with sudden illness at Lyons, and died there in his seventieth year, at the end of January 1598.





Few men have ever served the cause of learning more devotedly. For over thirty years the amount which he produced, whether as printer, editor, or original writer, was enormous. The productions of his press, though printed with the same beautiful type as his father's books, are, owing to the poorness of the paper and ink, inferior to them in general beauty. The best, perhaps, from a typographical point of view, are the Poetae Graeci Principes (folio, 1566), the Plutarch (13 vols. 8vo, 1572), and the Plato (3 vols, folio, 1573). It was rather Henri Estienne's scholarship which gave value to his editions. He was not only his own press-corrector but his own editor. Though by the latter half of the 16th century nearly all the important Greek and Latin authors that we now possess had been published, his untiring activity still found some gleanings. Eighteen first editions of Greek authors and one of a Latin author are due to his press. The most important have been already mentioned. Henri's reputation as a scholar and editor has increased of late years. His familiarity with the Greek language has always been admitted to have been quite exceptional; but he has been accused of want of taste and judgment, of carelessness and rashness. Special censure has been passed on his Plutarch, in which he is said to have introduced conjectures of his own into the text, while pretending to have derived them from MS. authority. But a recent editor, Sintenis, has shown that, though like all the other editors of his day he did not give references to his authorities, every one of his supposed conjectures can be traced to some MS. Whatever may be said as to his taste or his judgment, it seems that he was both careful and scrupulous, and that he only resorted to conjecture when authority failed him. And, whatever the merit of his conjectures, he was at any rate the first to show what conjecture could do towards restoring a hopelessly corrupt passage. The work, how-ever, on which his fame as a scholar is most surely based is the Thesaurus Graecae Linguae. After making due allowance for the fact that considerable materials for the work had been already collected by his father, and that he received considerable assistance from the German scholar Sylburg, he is still entitled to the very highest praise as the producer of a work which was of the greatest service to scholarship and which in those early days of Greek learning could have been produced by no one but a giant. Two editions of the Thesaurus have been published in this century—at London by Valpy (1815-25) and at Paris by Didot (1831-63). It was one of Henri Estienne's great merits that, unlike nearly all the French scholars who preceded him, he did not neglect his own language. While Budé wrote French with difficulty and considered it hardly a fit language for a scholar to use, Henri Estienne was loud in its praises and gave practical proof of its capabilities. Of his French writings three were devoted to this theme:— (1) Conformité du Langage François avec le Grec (published in 1575, but without date; ed. L. Feugère, 1850), in which French is shown to have, among modern languages, the most affinity with Greek, the first of all languages; (2) Deux Dialogues du nouveau François Italianizé (Geneva, 1578; reprinted, 2 vols., 1883), directed against the fashion prevailing in the court of Catherine de' Medici of using Italian words and forms; (3) Project du Livre Intitulé de la Precellence du Langage François (Paris, 1579 ; ed. Feugère, 1853), which treats of the superiority of French to Italian. An interesting feature of this tract is the account of French proverbs, and, Henry III. having expressed some doubts as to the genuineness of some of them, Henri Estienne published, in 1594, (4) Les Premices ou le I. livre des Proverbes Epigrammatizez (never reprinted and very rare). Finally, there remains (5) the Apologie pour Hérodote, the work by virtue of which Henri Estienne belongs to literature. The ostensible object of the book is to show that the strange stories in Herodotus may be paralleled by equally strange ones of modern times. Virtually it is a bitter satire on the writer's age, especially on the Roman Church. Put together without any method, its extreme desultoriness makes it difficult to read continuously, but the numerous stories, collected partly from various literary sources, notably from the preachers Menot and Maillard, partly from the writer's own multifarious experience, with which it is packed, make it an interesting commentary on the manners and fashions of the time. But satire, to be effective, should be either humorous or righteously indignant, and, while such humour as there is in the Apologie is decidedly heavy, the writer's indignation is generally forgotten in his evident relish for scandal. The style is, after all, its chief merit. Though it bears evident traces of hurry, it is, like that of all Henri Estienne's French writings, clear, easy, and vigorous, uniting the directness and sensuousness of the older writers with a suppleness and logical precision which at this time were almost new elements in French prose. An edition of the Apologie has recently been published by Liseux (ed. Ristelhuber, 2 vols., 1879), after one of the only two copies of the original uncancelled edition that are known to exist. The very remarkable political pamphlet entitled Discours Merveilleux de la Vie et des Déportements de Catherine de Médicis, which appeared in 1574, has been ascribed to Henri Estienne, but the evidence both internal and external is conclusive against his being the author of it. Of his Latin writings the most worthy of notice are the De Latinitate falso suspecta (1576), the Pseudo-Cicero (1577), and the Nizoliodidascalus (1578), all three written against the Ciceronians, and the Francofordiense Emporium (1574), a panegyric on the Frankfort fair (reprinted with a French translation by Liseux, 1875). He also wrote a large quantity of indifferent Latin verses, including a long poem entitled Musa Monitrix Principum (Basel, 1590).

The primary authorities for an account of the Estiennes are their own works. In the garrulous and egotistical prefaces which Henri was in the habit of prefixing to his editions will be found many scattered biographical details. Twenty-seven letters from Henri to John of Crafftheim (Crato) (ed. F. Passow, 1830) have been printed, and there is one of Robert's in Herminjard's Correspondance des Réformateurs dans les Pays de Langue Française (7 vols, published), while a few other contemporary references to him will be found in the same work. The secondary authorities are Janssen van Almeloveen, De Vitis Stephanorum (Amst., 1683); Maittaire, Stephanorum Historia (Lond., 1709); A. A. Renouard, Annales de l'Imprimerie des Estienne (2d éd., Paris, 1843); the article on Estienne by A. F. Didot in the Nouv. Biog. Gén.; and an article by Mark Pattison in the Quart. Rev. for April 1865. There is a good account, of Henri's Thesaurus in the Quart. Rev. for January 1820, written by Bishop Blomfield. (A. A. T.)



The above article was written by: Arthur A. Tilley, M.A., Fellow of King's College, Cambridge.



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