Vossius, Isaac

, a man of great parts and learning, was the son of Gerard John Vossius, and born of his second wife at Leyden, in 1618. The particulars of his life will be comprised in a short compass: he had no master but his father in any thing; and his whole life was spent in studying. His merit having recommended him to the notice of Christina of Sweden, the queen submitted to correspond with him by letters, and employed him in some literary commissions. He even made several journeys into Sweden by her order, and had the honour of teaching her majesty the Greek language: but, being there in 1662 with M. Huet and Bochart, she refused to see him, because she had heard that he intended to write against Salmasius, for whom she had at that time a particular regard. In 1663, he received a handsome present of money from Lewis XIV. of France, and at the same time the following obliging letter from Mons. Colbert. “Sir, Though the king be not your sovereign, he is willing nevertheless to be your benefactor; and has commanded me to send you the bill of exchange, hereunto annexed, as a mark of his esteem, and as a pledge of his protection. Every one knows, that you worthily follow the example of the famous Vossius your father; and that, having received from him a name which hath rendered him illustrious by his writings, you will preserve the glory of it by yours. These things being known to his majesty, it is with pleasure that he makes this acknowledgment of your merit,” &c. After the death of his father, he was offered the history-professorship, but refused it; preferring a studious retirement to any honours. In 1670 he came over to England, and was that year created doctor of laws at Oxford; “after he had been,” says Wood, “with great humanity and friendship entertained by some of the chief heads of colleges, as his father had been before in 1629.” In 1673, Charles II. made him canon of Windsor, assigning him lodgings in the castle, where he died Feb. the 10th, 1638. He left behind him the best private library, as it was then | supposed, in the world; which, to the shame and reproach of England, was suffered to be purchased and carried away by the university of Leyden.

M. des Maizeaux, in his life of St. Evremond, has recorded several particulars relative to the life and character of Isaac Vossius, which are certainly not of a very favourable cast. St. Evremond, he tells us, used to spend the summers with the court at Windsor, and there often saw Vossius; who, as St. Evremond described him, understood almost all the languages in Europe, without being able to speak one of them well; who knew to the very bottom the genius and customs of antiquity, yet was an utter stranger to the manners of his own times. He expressed himself in conversation as a man would have done in a commentary upon Juvenal or Petronius. He published books to prove, that the Septuagint version was divinely inspired; yet discovered, in private conversation, that he believed no revelation at all: and his manner of dying, which was far from being exemplary, shewed that he did not. Yet, to see the frailty of the human understanding, he was in other respects the weakest and most credulous man alive, and ready to swallow, without chewing, any extraordinary and wonderful thing, though ever so fabulous and impossible. This is the idea which St. Evremond, who knew him well, has given of him. If any more proofs of his unbelief are wanting, Des Maizeaux has given us them, in a note upon the foregoing account of St. Evremond. He relates, that Dr. Hascard, dean of Windsor, with one of the canons, visited Vossius upon his death-bed, and pressed him to receive the sacrament; but could not prevail, though they begged of him at last, that, “if he would not do it for the love of God, he would at least do it for the honour of the chapter.” Des Maizeaux relates another fact concerning Vossius, which he received from good authority; namely, that, when Dr. Hascard pressed him to take the sacrament, he replied, “I wish you would instruct me how to oblige the farmers to pay me what they owe me: this is what I would have you do for me at present.” Such sort of replies are said to have been common with him; and that once, when a brother of his mother was sick, and a minister was for giving him the communion, he opposed it, saying, “this is a pretty custom enough for sinners; but my uncle, far from being a sinner, is a man without vices.| As to his credulity and propensity to believe in the most implicit manner any thing singular and extraordinary, Mons. Renaudot, in his dissertations added to “Anciennes Relations des Indes & de la Chine,” relates, that Vossius, having had frequent conferences with the father Martini, during that Jesuit’s residence in Holland for the printing his “Atlas Chinois,” made no scruple of believing all which he told him concerning the wonderful things in China; and that he even went farther than Martini, and maintained as a certain fact the antiquity of the Chinese accounts above that of the books of Moses. Charles II. who knew his character well, used to call him the strangest man in the world for “there is nothing,” the king would say, “which he refuses to believe, except the Bible;” and it is probable, that the noble author of the “Characteristics” had him in his eye while he was writing the following paragraph. “It must certainly be something else than incredulity, which fashions the taste and judgment of many gentlemen, whom we hear censured as Atheists, for attempting to philosophize after a newer manner than any known of late. I have ever thought this sort of men to be in general more credulous, though after another manner, than the mere vulgar. Besides what I have observed in conversation with the men of this character, I can produce many anathematized authors, who, if they want a true Israelitish faith, can make amends by a Chinese or Indian, one. If they are short in Syria or the Palestine, they have their full measure in America or Japan. Histories of Incas or Iroquois, written by friers and missionaries, pirates and renegadoes, sea-captains and trusty travellers, pass for authentic records, and are canonical with the virtuosos of this sort. Though Christian miracles may not so well satisfy them, they dwell with the greatest contentment on the prodigies of Moorish and Pagan countries.” This perfectly corresponds with the nature and character of Isaac Vossius, although lord Shaftesbury might have more than one in his eye when he wrote it.

His works, though very numerous, are yet neither so numerous nor so useful as his father’s. His first publication was “Periplus Scylacis Caryandensis & Anonymi Periplus Ponti Euxini, Græce & Latinæ, cum notis.” Amst. 1639, 4to. Although he was only a youth of twenty-one when he published this, James Gronovius judged his notes worth inserting in the new augmented edition which he | gave of these authors at Leyden 1697, under the title of “Geographia antiqua,” in 4to. The year after, 1640, he published “Justin,” with notes, at Leyden, in 12mo, also a juvenile production, but of no particular value. “Ignatii Epistolæ, & Barnabæ Epistola, Græce & Latinæ, cum notis,” Amst. 1646, in 4to. He was the first who published the genuine epistles of Ignatius, from a Greek manuscript in the library at Florence, which was found to agree exactly with the ancient Latin version which archbishop Usher had published two years before. His notes have been inserted in Le Clerc’s edition of the “Patres Apostolici.” “Pomponius Mela de situ orbis, cum observationibus,” Hagse Com. 1648, 4to. Salmasius is the subject of his animadversion in these notes. “Dissertatio de vera estate mundi, &c.” Hagae Com. 1659, 4to. This dissertation, in which it is attempted to establish the chronology of the Septuagint upon the ruin of that of the Hebrew text, was attacked by many authors, and particularly by Hornius, to whom Vossius replied in “Castigationes ad Scriptum Hornii de ætate Mundi,” Hagse Com. 1659, 4to. Hornius defended what he had written, the same year; and Vossius, the same year, replied to him again in “Auctarium Castigationum, &c.” 4to. Hornius was not however to be silenced, but published another piece, still in the same year; and then father Pezron adopted and maintained the opinion of Vossius, in his book, entitled “L’Antiquite de temps retablie,1661. Vossius published “De Septuaginta Interpretibus, eorumque translatione & chronologia Dissertationes;” and, in 1663, “Appendix ad hunc librum, seu Responsiones ad objecta variorum Theologorum:” both in 4to. His next publications were upon philosophical subjects, as “Deluce,” “De motu marium & ventorum,” “De Nili & aliorum fluminum origine;” which are not thought of much consequence. "De Poematum Cantu et Viribus Rythmi, Oxon. 1673,in 8vo, in which are some curious remarks.” De Sibyllinis aliisque, quae Christi natalem præcessere, Oraculis,“Oxon. 1679: reprinted in” Variarum Observationum Liber.“”Catullus, & in eum Isaaci Vossii Observationes,“Lond. 1684, 4to, and Leyden, 1691. There is a great deal of erudition in these notes of Vossius, mixed with gross indelicacies. The greatest part of a treatise by Adrian Beverland,” De prostibulis veterum,“the printing of which had been prohibited, was inserted in them; but this being discovered, | the press was stopped from proceeding any farther; and the edition, the first of those mentioned above, though begun and carried on in Holland, was brought over to England to be finished; as may appear from the different characters of the end, the title, and the preface. In 1685, he published a thin quarto volume at London, entitled,” Variarum Observationum Liber,“in which are contained the following dissertations:” De Antiquae Romae & aliarum quarundam urbitnn magnitudine; De Artibus & Scientiis Sinarum; De Originæ & Progressu Pulveris Bellici apud Europaeos; De Triremium & Libnrnicarum constructione; De emendatione Longitudinum; De patefacienda per Septentrionem ad Japonenses & Indos navigatione; De apparentibus in Luna circulis; Diurna Telluris coriversione omnia gravia ad medium tendere;“to which are subjoined,” De Sibyllinis Oraculis, Responsio ad Objecta nupera: Criticae Sacræ,“and” Ad iteratas P. Simonii objectiones altera Responsio.“Vossius’s propensity to the marvellous, and his prejudices for antiquity, appear from the first page of this book of various observations; where he tells us, that ancient Rome was twenty times as large as Paris and London put together are at present; and assigns it fourteen millions of inhabitants; which however is nothing in comparison of the single town of Hanchou in China, whose inhabitants, he assures us, amount to twenty millions, besides the suburbs. This” Variarum Observationum Liber,“however, as well as Isaac Vossius’s works in general, all shew ingenuity and learning, and there are in them some singular and striking observations; but yet very little knowledge is to be drawn from, and very little use to be made of them. Thirlby says very justly of him, that he was a man of great learning, had excellent parts, and sufficient judgment, but never troubled his head about what was the truth in any question whatever. If criticism, or philosophy, or theology, was the subject, it was, says Thirlby,” quite enough for him to cast about for and invent things new, out of the way, and wonderful; but whether these strange and newly-discovered things were true or false, was a point which he left to be examined by those who might think it worth their while.“The last of his works we shall notice is,” Observationum ad Pomponium Melam appendix: accedit ad tertias P. Simonii objectiones Responsio, c.“Lond. 1686, 4to. James Gronovius, having used Vossius ill in his edition of” Mela,“| at Leyden, 1685, in 8vo, is in this appendix paid in kind; Humphrey Hody is also answered, in a short piece contained in this publication; who had advanced something against Vossius’s notions of the Septuagint version, in his” Dissertatio contra Historiam Aristeae de LXX. Interpretibus,“printed at Oxford,” 1685.

The journalists of Trevoux have contrasted the different merits of Gerard and Isaac Vossius, by drawing a parallel between them, which very well illustrates the character of each, and may form a proper conclusion to this article. Nothing,“say they,” can be more opposite than the characters of this father and son; nothing more different than the make of their understandings. In the father, judgment prevails; in the son, imagination: the father labours slowly; the son goes on with ease: the father distrusts the bestfounded conjectures; the son loves nothing but conjectures, and those bold and daring: the father forms his opinions upon what he reads; the son conceives an opinion, and then reads: the father endeavours to penetrate the sense of the author he cites, and pays a proper deference to their authority, as to masters; the son imposes his own sense on these authors, and regards them as slaves, who ought to give testimony as he would have them: the father’s aim was to instruct; the son’s to parade and make a noise: truth was the father’s darling object; novelty the son’s. In the father, we admire vast erudition, orderly arranged and clearly expressed; in the son, a dazzling turn of style, singular thoughts, and a vivacity, which even pleases in a bad cause: the father has written good books; the son has written curious books. Their hearts also were as unlike and different as their heads. The father was a man of probity and regular in his manners; was unhappily born a Calvinist, yet had the service of religion always in his view ,*


Their words are, “Ne par malheur dans la secte Calviniste.” Calviniste re in many French writers the general name for Protestant. Gerard John was an Arminian.

and approached as nearly to the true faith as mere reason could enable him. The son was a libertine both in principle and practice, made religion the object of his insults, and only studied to find out the weak sides of it: his indelicate and shameful notes upon Catullus, printed at the close of his life, shew also plainly enough what kind of man he was.“Of Gerard John Vossius’s other sons, who did not survive him, we may notice Dionysius Vossius, | who was born at Dort, and became learned in the Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldee, Arabic, French, Italian, and Spanish languages. He wrote, among other small things,” Maimonides de Idololatria, cum Latina versione et notis,“printed at the end of his father’s work” de origine et progressu Idololatrire;“and some notes upon Cæsar’s Commentaries, to be found in the edition of Graevius, at Amsterdam, in 1697. Francis Vossius, another son, published a Latin poem in 1640, upon a naval victory gained by Van Tromp. Gerard, a third son, was the editor of Paterculus, the Elzevir of 1639, 12mo: and Matthew, a fourth son, published at Amsterdam, in 1635,” Annalium Hollandise Zelandiseque libri quinque," 4to. 1

Niceron, vol. XIII. —Chaufepie. Foppcn, Bibl. Bclg.