BARROW (ISAAC)
Lot 295
BARROW (ISAAC)
Sold for £9,560 (US$ 15,344) inc. premium

Lot Details
John Ray and his Circle
BARROW (ISAAC)
Formal autograph letter signed (“Alumnus vester observantissimus I.B.”), to the Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge, in Latin, written from Pera, Constantinople, giving an account of his travels through Italy, especially a stay among the magnificence of Medicean Florence, prolonged because of the plague, followed by a voyage beset by adventures, via Melos to Smyrna, and then on to Constantinople itself, where he has been staying for a year and a half with Sir Thomas Bendish, the English Ambassador, which leads him into an extended account “of the present state of affairs” under the first ‘restored’ Grand Vizier, Koprulu Mehmed Pasha (“…This vast empire, under a young king, is administered by a pro-king – they call him Vizar Azem I Supremum Consiliarum – a man nearly seventy years of age, but endowed with wonderful vigour of body and mind. Rather more than two years have passed since, having been raised from a middle condition to this height, he received the reins of government…within which space he has accomplished so many and great things that strength and splendour have restored to this realm. Abroad, he has revived the terror of the Ottoman name, which had faded into contempt; at home, he has uplifted its prostrate majesty and set up order again after it had collapsed. He recovered the islands of Tenedos and Lemnos which had recently been wrested from the Turks, greatly to their dishonour; he repelled an attack by the Venetian fleet; he reduced Moldavia and Wallachia to order, when they were plotting a revolt, by removing the princes of those provinces and substituting others; he forced the Transylvanians to ask for pardon and peace without conditions. The most excellent work he has done is to repress entirely the intestine factions by which the prestige of the empire had been gravely weakened, even destroyed, and its strength reduced to nothing…Christendom seems likely to find its worst enemy in this man so bitterly intent on advancing the Ottoman power. Fired by this stimulus (though some who are better versed in politics assign a far deeper cause), he secured the King’s personal support for his enterprises by moving the Court from the Imperial seat to Adrianople. Then he undertook an expedition against the Transylvanians with a large pressed army on the pretext that Prince Ragotzy, a Turkish subject who had been foisted into power for this very purpose, had invaded Poland against orders, hoping to secure that kingdom for himself. In that way a blow would be dealt to Ottoman honour, and such an offence could not be left unavenged. It is not long since he invaded Transylvania; but when the Transylvanians saw that entreaties were unavailing, they strenuously opposed the invaders; and as yet there are no signs of much success for his forces. God may yet avert the storm that was threatening the Christians…” [Osmond’s translation from Derham’s text]), and also giving an account of the fortunes of the Greek Church (“…Since I have been staying here, nothing fresh has happened to the Greeks, except that last year their Patriarch suffered punishment. His name was Parthenius, and he is said to have been one of the best Patriarchs they have had for many years. He was accused of having intrigued with the Duke of Muscovy, whom the Greeks regard as the chief upholder of their Faith now and the future restorer of their freedom; to the Turks, therefore, he is the more suspect. Most of them consider the Patriarch guiltless of misdeed and to have been the victim of his rival’s figments; for amongst the priests here mean abilities are combined with a towering ambition to ascend the patriarchal throne. Howsoever, the matter was not looked into at all; but as a deterrent to others who might be disposed to hatch plots, Parthenius was led into the open and hanged. Thus, clothed in his Pontifical habit, he hung for two days – a lamentable sight…”); closing his letter by commenting on the Turks’ fondness for jollification, and hoping that he will soon find his way back to civilization as exemplified by Cambridge; docketed by Derham “Paper. 1./Dr Barrows Lr…to the Fellows of Trin. Col. Cambridge from Constantinople. Caland August 1658/Publ./Lr.1./W.Ds”, with some slight smudges from what appears to be printer’s ink, four pages, folio, guard, printed identification slip, slight paper losses at folds restored, slight dust-staining, but overall in good and sound condition, Constantinople, 1 August 1658

Footnotes

  • THE ORIGINAL OF ISAAC BARROW’S CELEBRATED LETTER TO THE FELLOWS OF TRINITY COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE, WRITTEN FROM CONSTANTINOPLE IN 1658. Barrow – encapsulated by Aubrey as “a strong man, but pale as the candle he studied by” and by Evelyn as “that excellent, pious, and most learned man, divine, mathematician, poet, traveller, and most humble person”– is today best remembered as Newton’s mentor and predecessor as first Lucasian Professor of Mathematics (1663-69), and as the Master of Trinity responsible for building the Wren Library (1672-77). During the Commonwealth, Barrow’s university career was under threat because of his uncompromisingly royalist convictions, notwithstanding the support of an earlier Master, the staunchly puritan Thomas Hill (who declared: “let him be; he is a better man than any of us”). It was deemed politic therefore that Barrow be given one of the three travelling scholarships available to Fellows of Trinity, for which he was to receive a three-year stipend of £16 per annum, on condition that he wrote back to the college regularly. This he failed to do. In addition to some accounts in verse, he seems to have sent Trinity only two prose accounts of his travels, the first from Paris on 9 February 1655/6, the second being the present letter (which, understandably, starts with an apology for long silence): “Whether he satisfied them with the frequency of his Epistolae (sometimes in prose, sometimes in verse) may be questioned, but their value to his biographer cannot be exaggerated” (Percy H. Osmond, Isaac Barrow: His Life and Times, 1944, p.48; where extracts are translated, pp.55-6, 67-9). The circumstances in which the present letter was written are summarized by Mordechai Feingold: “From the time he left France in February 1655/6, Barrow appears not to have written and ‘official’ letters to his college – with the exception of a verse poem – as stipulated in the terms of his traveling fellowship. More unfortunate still, none of his private letters from this time have survived. At least one letter to Trinity from Turkey must have been written, however, for his permit was about to expire in May 1658 and Barrow obviously requested a renewal of his leave. The college records show that an extension was indeed granted by the college on 30 March 1658, and a letter sent off, gently admonishing him at the same time for his long neglect in writing. It was in response to this admonition that Barrow composed his last epistolary account to his college, which contained a summary of his travels from the time of his arrival in Italy” (‘Isaac Barrow: divine, scholar, mathematician’, in Before Newton: The life and times of Isaac Barrow, edited by Mordechai Feingold, 1990, p.51). The text of this letter has been hitherto known only through the version – for once, unabridged – printed by Ray’s executor William Derham in his Philosophical Letters (1718): one must assume that this, the original, was retained by Ray, who was a friend of Barrow’s and a resident Fellow of Trinity at the time. No counterpart to this letter is listed by M.R. James as being held among the Barrow papers at Trinity, which comprise, for the most part, sermons (The Western Manuscripts in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge, vol.ii, 1901). There is, however, an autograph original of another letter written by Barrow from Constantinople in the British Library, Add.MS.5488, f.167 (this is dated 17 December 1658, and is addressed to his future biographer Abraham Hill). We can find no record of anything in his hand having occurred for sale.
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