Reuchlin, John

, a learned German, who contributed much to the restoration of letters in Europe, was born at Pforzheim in 1450. His parents, perceiving his talents and turn for books, were easily persuaded to give him a liberal education, and sent him to Paris, then the seat of literature in these western parts, with the bishop of Utrecht; where he studied grammar under Joannes a Lapide, rhetoric under Gaguinus, Greek under Tiphernas, and Hebrew under Wesselus. Being returned to his own country, he | took the degree of doctor in philosophy at Basil, where he lived four years; then went to Orleans to study the law, and was admitted doctor in 1479. He taught the Greek language at Orleans, as he had done at Basil; and composed and printed a grammar, a lexicon, some vocabularies, and other works of alike nature, to facilitate the study of that language. By all this he gained Extraordinary reputation; for, the knowledge of the two languages was at that time so rare an accomplishment, that it was actually made a title of honour. This appears from the following inscription of a letter: “Andronicus Contoblacas, natione Graecus, utriusque linguae peritus, Joanni Reuchlino,” &c. that is, “Andronicus Contoblacas, a Greek, skilled in both languages, to John Reuchlin,” &c.

After some time, Eberhard, count of Wirtemberg, being to make the tour of Italy, Reuchlin was chosen among others to attend him; chiefly because, during his residence in France, he had corrected his own German pronunciation of the Latin, which appeared so rude and savage to the Italians. They were handsomely received at Florence by Lorenzo de Medicis, the father of Leo X. and became acquainted with many learned men there, as ChalcondylaSj Ficinus, Politian, Picus earl of Mirandula, &c. They proceeded to Rome, where Hermolaus Barbarus prevailed with Reuchlin to change his name to Capnio, which signifies the same in Greek as Reuchlin does in German; that is, smoke. Count Eberhard entertained so great an esteem for Capnio, so he was afterwards called, thatj upon his return to Germany, he made him ambassador to the emperor Frederic III.; who conferred many honours upon him, and made him many presents. He gave him. in particular an ancient Hebrew manuscript bible, very neatly written, with the text and paraphrase of Onkelos, &c. Frederic died in 1493; and Capnio returned to count Eberhard, who died also about three months after the emperor: when, an usurpation succeeding, Capnio was banished. He retired to Worms, and continued his studies: hut the elector Palatine, having a cause to defend at Rome some time after, selected him as the ablest man for his purpose; and accordingly, in 1498, Capnio made an oration before the pope and cardinals concerning the rights of the German princes, and the privileges o the German churches. He remained more than a year at Rome; and had so much leisure as to perfect himself in the Hebrew tongue under | Abdias, a Jew, and also in the Greek under Argyropylus. He had some trouble in his old age by an unhappy difference with the divines of Cologne, occasioned by a Jew named Pfefferkorn. This man, of whom we have already given a brief account (see Pfeffekcorn), to shew his zeal for Christianity, advised that all the Jewish books, except the Bible, should be burnt; but the Jews having prevailed on the emperor to allow them to be examined first, Capnio, who was universally acknowledged to excel in this kind of learning, was appointed by the elector of Mentz, under the authority of the emperor, to pass a judgment upon these writings. Capnio, who had too much good sense to adopt, in its full extent, this wretched policy, gave it as his opinion, that no other books should be destroyed, but those which were found to be written expressly against Jesus Christ, lest, with the Jewish books on liberal arts and sciences, their language itself, so important to the church, should perish. This opinion was approved by the emperor, and the books were by his authority restored to the Jews. Pfefferkorn and his supporters were exceedingly enraged against Capnio, and pursued him with invectives and accusations even to the court of Home. His high reputation in the learned world, however, protected him; and bigotry met with a most mortifying defeat in his honourable acquittal.

The spleen of the ecclesiastics against Capnio was still further increased by a comedy abounding with keen satire, which this writer, whose genius was not inferior to his learning, produced; the chief design of which was to expose the ignorance of the monks. Jt was at first only circulated in manuscript, but afterwards found its way into the press, and was published in 150?. In the latter part of his life, the adversaries of Capnio had too much reason to exult over him; for notwithstanding all his learning and celebrity, he was scarcely able, by teaching the Greek and Hebrew languages (which he did in several different schools) to preserve himself from absolute want; nor must it be forgot that he was the preceptor of Melancthon. He spent his last days at Trebingen, where he died in 1522. His faculties, which were naturally vigorous, were cultivated with great industry. His mind was richly stored with various erudition, and his character was eminently distinguished by probity and urbanity. His principal works were, “An Epitome of the History of the four Empires;” the “Life | of Constantino the Great,” from Eusebius; “De Verbo mirifico,” “De Arte Cabalistica,” and “Letters from learned men,Zurich, 1558. He is also supposed, but unjustly, to have been the chief author of the celebrated work, entitled “Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum.1

1

Melchior Adam.—Niceron, vol. XXV. Hody de Grci Illustribus. Dupin. Cave. —Saxii Onomast. Brucker