Fragment 6

The task of putting together a “Peiresc Bibliography” for this site has been more challenging than expected. The incipient digital age, it turns out (surprise, surprise) has not yet rendered knowledge singular. Some silos have this Peiresciana, some have that. It’s almost done.

But a late look at Gallica, just to be sure, has been a cause for some reflection. Putting “Peiresc” in a title search would have turned up 33 exemplars. But I didn’t do that. Stumbling bleary-eyed into this I inadvertently typed in "Peiresc" without paying attention. It was a keyword search. Reading through the 777 “book” replies has been fascinating.

First of all, there is the chronological sweep, neatly broken down in the left-hand navigation:
17th century: 9 references
18th century: 34 references
19th century: 540 references
20th century: 182 references
21st century: 6 references
(including periodicals increases the total number to 1207; the most interesting change is the increase in 19th century references to 732 and 20th century to 409, demonstrating the disproportionate growth in the 20th century).

Second there is the language distribution (granted this is no doubt a function of what was chosen to be included in Gallica, but still):
French: 724
Latin: 29
Italian: 9
Middle French [?]: 5
Greek: 3

Third, the kind of books in which he appears. This is tipped off by the authors who mention him. Peiresc himself, only appears in 3rd place. Du Cange, the celebrated late 17th century lexicographer and genealogist, whom we know followed up Peiresc’s interest in the French on crusade in the Holy Land, cited him more than any other author. Pierre Larousse, the much more famous 19th century encyclopedist came in second. And, in fact, Peiresc’s name is found in Histories of France, French & related literatures, Bibliography and General encyclopdic works.

Fourth, in some of these references, he piggy-backs off more famous people. This is especially true in the French literature section, where of the 91 books with references to Peiresc, 57 include also references to Malherbe. Similarly 301 of the 777 texts referring to Peiresc also mention Gassendi. (Granted that the search tool—or my use of it—could not be refined to search based on the proximity of the terms, which is what we would really want to know.)

Fifth—and now things really get interesting—reading through the references (the initial search yields “snippet” results and clicking only opens up the first page of the scanned book, meaning that navigating to the snippet requires downloading the whole book as a pdf, which is a two-click process. Annoying. But, one must be grateful for the opportunity to sit at home, be vaguely aware of the snow snarling traffic below, and trawl in a day through more texts than one would ever find sitting in Tolbiac, in a shorter time than one ever could spend in Tolbiac) one begins to sense that in no way can Peiresc be described as “forgotten.”

The whole question of Peiresc’s “reception” is something that I’ve been attentive to for some time. On one very obvious level, having spent a lot of time with the “living” person, and come to some appreciation of his activities, one is simply curious to know how one’s own sense of things stacks up against posterity. I’ve pursued this desultority over the years, usually acted upon in bouts of creative procrastination. This has turned up some very interesting facts: Disraeli, for one, was a great admirer of his (another post on this will follow eventually).

But statistics, or digital-driven experiences, like my Gallican trawl, help refine this general sense of things.

So, I couldn’t help punch “Peiresc” into Google’s recently released “n-grams”. Here’s what I got.

Peiresc in French Books

Peiresc in English Books

The French peaks make easy reading. The first is associated with Tamizey de Larroque’s 7 volume edition of the Lettres de Peiresc and the various popular pieces that surrounded its appearance in the 1890s. The next peak, in the 1930s and 40s coincides with the work of Pierre Humbert and Raymond Lebègue. Adn the last, in the 1990s, the work of Marc Fumaroli, Agnès Bresson and Anne Rhembold.

The English peak is more puzzling, and may reflect some search distortions. But Google n-grams do allow you to then search the results by period, and so one can see that Peiresc was much bandied about in the monthly newspapers of the 1780s, which were just then tuning in to the work of Winckelmann and his contemporaries (like Caylus). I haven’t had a time to work through this material yet—it’s only procrastination right now—but all of this suggests that all these new tools really do make the scholar’s life more fun. Peiresc, for sure, would have approved.


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