The Correspondence of Isaac Beeckman (28 letters)

Primary Contributors:

ePistolarium, CKCC project, Huygens ING, The Hague

Isaac Beeckman (1588–1637)

Despite not publishing during his lifetime, the influence of Dutch philosopher and scientist Isaac Beeckman was far reaching as a result of his epistolary contact with a number of leading scientists of his day.

Born in Middleburg, Zeeland, a place to which his Calvinist family had fled — via London — from Brabant in the southern low countries, Beeckman enrolled as a student of theology, literature, and mathematics at Leiden. His father was a candlemaker and an installer of water conduits and, contrary to expectation, Beeckman did not progress to the ministry, but established himself instead with a business similar to his father’s before enrolling as a medical student at Caen. On the recommendation of Andre Rivet, he assumed the post of Rector at the Latin school in Dordrecht, where a tower was constructed in which he was able to make meteorological and astronomical observations.

Beeckman kept a journal in which he noted many of his ideas and discoveries relating to mathematics, physics, music, medicine, and logic. A long-standing friend of Descartes — the two met in Breda in November 1618 and, the following year, Descartes dedicated to Beeckman his Compendium Musicae — Beeckman was friend to and corresponded with a number of international scholarly figures, including Mersenne, Gassendi, Snel, Stampioen, and Blaeu. During the 1630s, Beeckman worked grinding lenses and was a member of a committee investigating Galileo’s theory of determining longitude from observation of Jupiter’s satellites.

Beeckman died on 19 May 1637. Seven years later, his younger brother, Abraham, published a selection of entries from the journal; beyond this, his work was restricted to what he had been able to convey through personal and epistolary contact. It was not until 1905 that Cornelis de Waard ‘rediscovered’ and published the journal in its entirety.


Partners and Additional Contributors

The Circulation of Knowledge project [CKCC] was established in 2008 as a partnership between the Descartes Centre at the University of Utrecht, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (National Library of the Netherlands), the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (Huygens ING), the Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS), and the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The project began by digitizing the metadata and curating existing full-text transcriptions of c.20,000 letters to or from nine prominent intellectuals resident in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic. In 2013, this material was published as open access in a sophisticated web application — the ePistolarium — which provides scholars with multiple means of exploring and analysing both metadata and full texts across all nine correspondences. As well as conducting full-text searches, mapping and graphing the metadata, and extracting people mentioned, the ePistolarium is capable of interrogating the entire corpus to analyse and visualize co-citation networks, and produces the results of keyword extraction and experimental topic-modelling.

CKCC’s 20,020 records represent the largest single dataset contributed to EMLO during the second phase of Cultures of Knowledge.  The re-publication of these records within EMLO marks the inauguration of the rolling incorporation of major new catalogues which will continue throughout 2015 and beyond. As well as integrating CKCC’s metadata into an expansive union catalogue, EMLO’s records link back to the original letter texts published within the ePistolarium.

The metadata and transcripts for Isaac Beeckman’s correspondence were supplied to CKCC by Huygens ING under the supervision of Huib Zuidervaart. EMLO would like to thank Walter Ravenek for his careful preparation of CKCC metadata and Miranda Lewis for her work on the people and place records associated with the correspondence.

Key Bibliographic Source(s)

The metadata and texts for the transcriptions published in the ePistolarium were taken from:
Beeckman, Isaac, Journal tenu par Isaac Beeckman de 1604 à 1634, ed. Cornelis de Waard, 4 vols (The Hague, 1939–53).


Beeckman’s surviving correspondence is small. Of the twenty-eight letters published in EMLO, which range from 1612 to 1635 and for which transcriptions are hosted in ePistolarium, 3.7% are written in Dutch and 96.3% in Latin. His correspondents range from Descartes in Breda, Mersenne and Gassendi in Paris, to André Rivet in Leiden and The Hague.

A link has been provided from each record in EMLO to the online transcription in the ePistolarium catalogue where, it should be noted, the Gregorian calendar is used throughout. EMLO has included in this catalogue seven letters that appear also in the Descartes catalogue.


Further resources

Published Editions

Beeckman, Isaac, Journal tenu par Isaac Beeckman de 1604 à 1634, ed. Cornelis de Waard, 4 vols (The Hague, 1939–53).

Further Reading

Berkel, K. van, Isaac Beeckman (1588–1637) and the Mechanization of the World Picture (Amsterdam, 1983).

Berkel, K. van, Isaac Beeckman on Matter and Motion: Mechanical Philosophy in the Making (Philadelphia, 2013).

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