De Coste on Mersenne

In 1649, the year following Marin Mersenne's death, Fr Hilarion de Coste of the Order of Minims, the same Order as Mersenne, wrote La vie du R P Marin Mersenne, theologien, philosophe et mathematicien, de l'Ordre der Pères Minim. The full reference is H de Coste, La vie du R P Marin Mersenne, theologien, philosophe et mathematicien, de l'Ordre der Pères Minim (Paris, 1649). We present extracts from this work in a translation by Maxine Merrington.

Marin Mersenne 1588-1648

The Life of The Reverend Father Marin Mersenne
Theologian, philosopher and mathematician, member of the Order of Minim Fathers

by
Brother Hilarion de Coste of the same Order

printed in Paris by Sebastian and Gabriel Cramoisy in 1649 by ecclesiastical authority with a dedication to Louis de Valois, Comte d'Alais. Licence from the Reverend Father General Thomas Munos and Spinossa.

The world knows that the Province of Mayne has always been the birthplace of great men, whom learning and courage have made praiseworthy. In the past there were the Cardinals De la Forest, Philastre, du Bellay and Cointereau or Cointerel; Messieurs Guillaume, Seigneur de Langeay, and Martin, Prince d'Yvetot of the House of Bellay, Monsieur de St François, Master of the Requests, later Bishop of Bayeux, Geofroy Boussard, Chancellor of the University of Paris, Pierre de Ronsard, Jean and Jacques Pelletier, Pierre Belon, Robert Garnier, Felix de la Mote le Vayer, Abel Foulon, Sieur Denisot, Germain Pilon, and in our time Monsieur Coeffeteau, Bishop of Marseille, and a great many others. These are the distinguished men who bear witness to this truth.

The Reverend Father Mersenne was born in this same Province in the borough of Oysé on the 8th of September in 1588, a day celebrated in the Church for the birth of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and for the destruction of Jerusalem, which was captured and destroyed by the Emperor Titus, Vespasian's son, as predicted by the Saviour of the world forty years previously. This day is also remarkable for being the birthday of many men famous for their piety, valour and knowledge.

The same day, he was baptised by the Priest, Sieur Pierre Basairdy, through the solicitude of his father and mother, Julien Mersenne and Jeanne Moulière, both pious and excellent people. Sanson Ory and René Blanchar were his godfathers, Marie Mersenne, his paternal aunt, was his godmother, and he was named Marin.

If anyone reproaches me for commenting on these small matters, I would remind him that Plutarch was greatly displeased by the omission of details equally trifling. For he complains of those who did not give in writing the names of the mothers of Nicias, Demosthenes, Formion, Thrasybulus and of Theramenes, notable contemporaries of Socrates; and on the other hand he was delighted with Plato and Antisthenes, because the first gave the name of Alcibiades' tutor and the second did not disdain naming his nurse. Neglect of the ancient writers has been so great that it has caused a dispute between seven towns which all claim to be the birthplace of Homer; each one claims the honour of being the nurse of the greatest poet of Greece. This has always made me think that it is a grave fault of those who are concerned in writing the lives of famous men; they leave out small particulars, which though not considered of much importance at the time, would be greatly appreciated in another century.

Just as fountain-makers take it to be a good omen when they see vapour coming out of the earth in the morning, because it is one of the signs which make them hope they will find a good spring; so in the same way, those who have the best knowledge of our souls, rejoice in noting at a tender age, a passionate desire to learn and a rapturous ardour for knowledge and for virtue, because from that they can conjecture almost certainly the good quality of our minds and the excellence which we must one day achieve.

He, of whose life I am writing, appears to have had a good nature from his earliest years; he had an ardent inclination towards piety and a noble passion for all kinds of curious and agreeable things: for no sooner could he talk than he only spoke of good things: scarcely could he walk but he wished to go to school. In fact he had an aversion for all other forms of exercise except prayer and study. These two occupations never irked him and the older he grew, the more he discovered the delights of knowledge and religious study; so much so that one had to use force if one wished him to leave these happy pursuits.

His parents, seeing his inclination to devotion and study, sent him to Le Mans, where he never failed to satisfy the demands of his Masters and where he soon showed, by little victories gained over his companions, that he would one day triumph in the great world of knowledge.

At that time King Henry the Great gave the Royal palace of La Flèche to the Jesuit Fathers in order to establish a College of their Order. No sooner had Marin Mersenne heard this news than he begged his parents to send him there. He studied with these learned men with great facility, not only literature, which because of its sweetness is called a Humanity, but also Logic, Physics, Metaphysics, Mathematics and some works on Theology, on all of which he thrived happily. This made him a favourite with the Fathers Chastelier, De la Tour, Jean Phelipeaux and others.

After he left the College of La Flèche, he came to Paris to continue his studies in that famous University and in the Royal College heard the illustrious Professors Marius Ambosius, George Criton and Theodore Marsile, and in the Sorbonne (where reside the strength and support of the Faith) the three celebrated doctors André du Val, Philippe de Gamaches and Nicolas Ysambert, whose names will be immortal amongst the pious and the learned. Under these great men, he took his course in Theology which he always honoured as the queen of all knowledge, the rest being no more than her servants. Thus he devoted the best part of his life to this holy exercise, having never let a day pass without reading the Bible and some Greek or Latin Father.

It was by means of this holy occupation, and through the good example set by the Minim Fathers of the Convent at Plessis, near Tours (through which he happened to pass on his way to Paris from his native district), that he resolved to join this Order.

He applied for the habit at the Convent of Paris, near the Place Royale, from the Rev Father Olivier Chaillou, who was Vicar-General at the time. This good Father saw that he was received at the Convent of Notre-Dame de Toutes Graces, also called Nigeon, near Paris, by the Reverend Father Pierre Hébert, who was then the Provincial of the Province of France, a man whose memory is blessed among our people, as much for his piety and for his humility as for the exemplary way in which he governed the Order of which he was the thirty-second General.

Having therefore received the habit of the Order from the hands of the Reverend Father Hébert in the Convent of Nigeon on the 17th of July in the year 1611, feast of the incomparable St Alexis, and after spending two and a half months there, he was sent for the remaining ten months of his year of Probation to the Convent of St Pierre de Fublines, near Meaux and the Royal palace of Monceaux, where he made his Profession on the 17th July, 1612, at the age of 24, at the hands of the Venerable Father Nicolas Guériteau, Corrector of this Convent, founded by Monsieur Pierre Poussemie, Canon and Precentor of the Church of St Estienne of Meaux.

He spent his noviceship most devoutly at the Convents of Nigeon and Fublines, edifying by his virtue and humble scholarship all the men in these two Monasteries, to whom he set a good example in humility, penitence, obedience and charity. This is why he was permitted, by common consent, to take his religious vows, which he had faithfully kept with God, having led a life on earth worthy of Heaven, so poor, so chaste and so pure that he triumphed over those passions which usually triumph over most men, and had sacredly preserved that foremost freedom with which all men are born.

After his religious Profession, the simplicity of his manner, his modest ambition and his love of books and learning enabled him to live contentedly in the Order of the Minims, for innocence reigned in his soul; in the Cloister, he sought only the acquisition of knowledge and virtue; the desire to learn and practise the good, and the conversation of wise and pious men were his only pursuits and delights.

Two and a half months after his Profession, he went to live in the Convent of Paris, where he took Orders as Sub-Deacon, Deacon and Priest at the hands of Monseigneur Henry de Gondy, Bishop of Paris, who has since become Cardinal of Raiz; he celebrated his first Mass on the 28th of October in 1613, the Feast of the Apostles St Simon and St Jude.

Being a Priest, he learnt to perfection the Holy language which was taught him by the Reverend Father Jean Bruno, the Scot, who is said to have been made a Doctor of Theology at the University of Alcala de Henarez and the University of Avignon before entering the Order of Minims and who since then had established the Order in Flanders or the Netherlands with the Reverend Father Jean Sauvage, the celebrated Preacher of the same Order.

The Reverend Father Jean Pricur, being elected Provincial of the Province of France at Michaelmas in 1614, gave Father Mersenne an order under Holy Obedience to stay at the Convent of St Francis of Paula, which the late Duc de Mantouë, de Montferrat and de Nivernois had founded near the town of Nevers in order to teach Philosophy. And in fact Mersenne taught philosophy there during the years 1615, 1616 and 1617 and taught Theology during 1618. But he was obliged to stop these activities as he was elected Corrector of this same Convent. He governed with all the virtues proper to a Superior of a Religious House.

When he had finished his Correctoriate towards the end of 1619, he received an order under Holy obedience from the Reverend Father Hébert (who was for the second time Provincial of the Province of France) to live as a Conventual at the Convent of the Annunciation and of St Francis of Paula near the Place Royale; where he had no sooner arrived than he planned to work on the Holy Scriptures and wrote the first volume of his Commentaires sur la Genèse, which saw the light of day in 1623. He dedicated it to Monseigneur Jean François de Gondy, First Archbishop of Paris. He produced at the same time Des Remarques sur les Problèmes de George Venitien.

The same year, he presented to the public two small books of devotions in French, namely, L'Analyse de la Vie Spirituelle and L'Usage de la Raison.

Furthermore, seeing that impiety was growing steadily in that unhappy age and that God was greatly dishonoured by certain young Libertines, he was inspired to refute their detestable maxims in French, as he had already done in Latin in his commentary on Genesis. That was why he published a book divided into two parts and volumes entitled:

L'impiété des Déistes, des Athées, et des plus subtils libertins de ce temps, combattue et renversée de point en point par raisons tirées de la Philosophie et de la Théologie.

He also gave to the public his book De la Vérité des Sciences, in which he refuted the opinions of the Sceptics and Pyrrhonists; and also two small volumes in Latin for Mathematicians called De l'Abrégé ou Inventaire de la Mathématique and another book in French called De l'Harmonie Universelle.

Next he wrote several other books in the same language called Les Questions Inouies; Les Questions Harmoniques; Les Questions Théologiques, Physiques, Morales et Mathématiques; Les Mécaniques de Galilée; and Les Preludes de l'Harmonie.

He wrote Douze Livres de l'Harmonie in Latin, which he revised and augmented in a second edition a few months before his death.

But as he loved his country and honoured his nation greatly, he transcribed this book into French in two large volumes in folio under the title L'Harmonie Universelle, contenant la Théorie et la Pratique de la Musique.

In the first Volume he described the nature of sound, rhythm, consonance, dissonance, style, modes, composition, the voice, songs and all kinds of harmonic instruments with their notations.

The second Volume contained the practice of consonances and dissonances; figured counterpoint; a method of teaching and learning singing; the embellishment of airs; accentual music; rhythms; prosody; French metrics; methods for singing the Odes of Horace and Pindar; the use of harmony; and several new observations both physical and mathematical.

Three Volumes in quarto written in Latin, of which the first contained the following Treatises, entitled

1. Des Mesures, des Poids, et des Monnoyes des Hébreux, des Grecs et des Romains, réduites à la valeur de celles de France.

2. Des Phénomènes ou secrets naturels qui se font par les mouvements et les impressions de l'eau et de l'air.

3. Le moyen de naviger et de cheminer dessus et au dessous des eaux, avec un Traité de la Pierre d'Ayman.

4. De la Musique speculative et Pratique.

5. Un Traité des Mécaniques selon la Théorie et la Pratique.

6. He explains the trajectories of bullets, arrows, javelins and similar bodies projected by force from longbows and crossbows.

The second Volume consisted of Un Abrégé de la Géométrie Universelle et des Mathématiques mixtes which gave:

Firstly, the fifteen books of the Elements of Euclid, with three others by Monsieur François de Foix de Candale, Bishop of Aire, Commander of the two Orders of the King, the Euclid of his time.

2. Twenty-seven books on the Geometry of Pierre de la Ramée, called Ramus.

3. The works of Archimedes, that is two books on the sphere, the cylinder, the dimensions of the circle, the conic and spherical forms, etc.

4. The supplement of Archimedes.

5. Three books on the spherics of Theodosius, three also on Menelaus, and three on Maurolic and on Antoli of the Sphère avec Théodose about the many habitats of men who live on the earth. The Phenomena of Euclid and Cosmography. Four books of Apollonius' conic sections. Two books of Selenus on the section of the cylinder. Four books on the conic sections of Monsieur Mydorge. Eight books summarizing the Collections of Pappus, which give Euclid's suppositions. The section of angles of Monsieur Viète and several other Treatises. Two books on Mechanics, in which are found the works of Commendius and of Luc Valerius; and on the centre of gravity of solid bodies etc. Seven books on Optics. where he explains catoptrics, dioptrics, parallaxes and different aspects of refraction.

In the third Volume is found Les Nouvelles Observations Physicomathématiques avec Aristarche Samien de la Constitution du Monde.

We must not omit here that our Reverend Father Mersenne took the trouble to revise the Latin and French book Thaumaturgue Optique by the Reverend Father Jean François Niceron the Parisian, a Religious of our Order; after writing his book this Religious had died at the Convent of Aix-en-Provence on the 22nd of September, 1646, aged only thirty-three, to the great sorrow of the scholars and intellectuals who knew him and who loved him for his great knowledge of Theology, Philosophy and Mathematics and for his other excellent qualities.

While working on this book and at the same time on a second Volume of Commentaires sur la Genèse, et sur S Mathieu, and while making constant experiments on the vacuum, he fell ill on the 27th July, 1648, with an abscess which was thought at first to be a false pleurisy. A few days later, seeing that the illness on his side did not lessen but became worse from day to day, he prepared himself to leave this terrestrial life for the eternal and blessed one, since death which appears frightful to most men seemed to him full of enchantment and beauty. He faced the end of his life with all the tenderness of his heart, having purified it by a scrupulous General Confession of his whole life, which he made to me on the 5th of August, Feast of our Lady of the Snows; thus he fortified himself by frequent reception of Holy Communion, by the Holy Viaticum and by Extreme Unction which he demanded with insistence and which he received with incredible zeal and fervour. So that having armed himself with these divine weapons for the battle between the flesh and the spirit and having shed all human affections in order to clothe himself with Jesus Christ alone, he resigned himself to this fearful moment as a perfect Christian and a true Religious. The Venerable Father Jean Auvry, Corrector, and all the brethren of this Convent of St Francis of Paula near the Place Royale, who had looked after him for the thirty-seven days of his illness and who saw him die, wonder yet at the great strength of his character. After having said, during the last days of his illness, what his intentions were about his books which were in the press, and having asked the Father Superior to sequester all the forbidden books that were in his room, his unfettered soul thought only of opening the way to Heaven.

Thus lived, and thus died the Reverend Father Marin Mersenne, Member of the Order of Minims of St Francis of Paula on the 1st of September at three o'clock in the afternoon in the year 1648, having lived sixty years all but one week. He had been a Religious for thirty-seven years, during which he had spent his time either in praying to God or studying or conferring, as much in conversation as in writing, with many able men in all professions, who respected him greatly not only for his knowledge (for he did not ignore anything which could make a man wise) but also because of his sweetness, his humility and all his other excellent qualities which made him the admiration of all those who had the good fortune to know him either by his discussions or by his writings or by the journeys he made in Germany, Flanders and Holland in 1630, in France in 1639 and in Italy and France during the years 1644, 1645 and 1646. For he made friends with the most distinguished and the most celebrated people of the countries in which he travelled.

He was universally mourned by those who had known him, both great and small. I cannot describe the tenderness of heart he bestowed on all who spoke to him. His discourse was never sad, but it was imbued with a certain ingenuousness and a sweetness so engaging that he seemed to hold a gentle power over men's hearts. In fact everyone loved his conversation above all things.

Sixtin Amama, Professor of Grammar at Franeker in Friesland, and Robert Fludd, English physician from the University of Oxford, wrote books against Father Mersenne: but the first, recognising his frankness and sincerity, later made friends with him, as one may see from the pleasant and worthy letters he often wrote to him. The other, having abused both his person and his books with insults such as might be expected from a man without Religion, had to his great displeasure seen many learned men take sides with Father Mersenne against him; amongst whom were the Reverend Father François de la Nouë, Parisian, Theologian of our Order of Minims (now Assistant to the Most Reverend Father Thomas Munoz and Spinossa, Corrector General of the same Order) who wrote under the name Sieur Flaminius; also, the Reverend Father Jean Durel of Forez, Theologian of the same Order, under the name Eusebe de St Just; and Monsieur Gassendi, Provost of the Church of Digne in Provence, who refuted by solid arguments the insults, impertinences and false opinions of this enraged and melancholy man.

These two writers have acquired no glory from the books they wrote against Father Mersenne, for instead of being hurt by the jealous taunts aimed at his virtue and knowledge, he caused the self-same arrows to fall back on their heads by the sincerity of his actions, by the probity of his life and by the strength of his doctrine.
Many excellent men (other than the three I have named) have spoken magnificently of Father Mersenne or have praised his works in their books, such as Claude Robert, Canon and Vicar of Châlon-sur-Saône, who in his Gaule Chrétienne wrote: "Marin Mersenne from Le Mans deserves to be numbered amongst the most distinguished of the Minim Fathers for his infinite piety and learning."

The twin brothers, Messieurs de Sainte Marthe, worthy Historiographers to the King, wrote of Mersenne in the second edition of Robert's Gaule Chrétienne which they had enlarged and in which can be found the Catalogue of Archbishops, Bishops and Abbots of France.

Father Jean Philipeaux of the Order of Jesuits wrote of him in his Commentaires sur Osée.

Father George Fournier, Jesuit, in his Hydrographie.

Dom Pierre de St Romvald of the Order of Feuillant Fathers, in the third volume of his Trésor Chronologique et Historique.

Father Louis Jacob de St Charles, of the Order of Carmelite Fathers, in his Traité des Bibliothèques.

Michel Florent Langrenus, Mathematician and Cosmographer to the King of Spain, in his Selenographie or description of the moon.

Jean HévéIius, magistrate for Danzig in Poland, in his fine, learned and inquiring Selenographie.

Bonaventure and Abraham Elzevirs, in the Préface des Oeuvres Mathématiques de François Viète, Poitevin, Conseiller du Roi and Master of the Requests at the Palace, printed through the good offices of François de Schooten, Professor of Mathematics at Leyden University in Holland.

The Abbot Dom Jean Caramuel Lobkowitz, Religious of the Order of Cistercians, Doctor of Theology in the University of Louvain, in divers treatises on Theology and Mathematics.

Father Luc de Montoya, Religious of our Order of Minims, in his Préface sur les Métaphores du Livre de la Genèse.

Father Claude Rangueil of Crépy-en-Valois, Theologian of the same Order, in his commentaries on the Book of Kings.

And also Father Simon Martin, Religious of the same Order, in his Eulogy of Mary, sister of Moses and Aaron.

Jaques d'Auzoles, Sicur de La Peyre, in his Sainte Chronologie and his Mercure Charitable and also in other books.

René Des Cartes, French gentleman, in his Réponse aux septièmes Questions [sic].

The Reverend Father Jaques Bolduc, Theologian in the Order of Capuchin Fathers, in his Commentaires sur Job.

Christofle Scheinerus, commonly called Scheiner, Jesuit, in his book entitled La Rose des Ursins honours Father Mersenne's Commentaries on Genesis most highly, as may be seen on p. 735 where he is mentioned together with Jean Baptiste Follengius and Pierre Hurtado de Mendoza, both Jesuits.

Jean Berovicius or van Beverwich, in the problem he propounded by letter, namely, whether our life can possibly be prolonged or shortened, or whether it is necessarily of limited duration, addressed among others a letter to Father Mersenne in which he called him a most distinguished Philosopher and he also gave the answer he had sent him.

Pierre Meusnier, Doctor of Medicine, addressed an Epistle to Father Mersenne at the beginning of his lectures on Philosophy, in which he describes him as very devout and very scholarly and concludes with the Father's reply to him.

The Reverend Father Valérien Magni, the Milanese, Theologian and Philosopher of the Capuchin Order (amongst whom his name is famous in Italy and Poland for his piety and learning, which made him beloved by the Grand Prince, the late King of Poland and Sweden, Vladislas IV), addressed and dedicated to Father Mersenne his treatise on L'Athézsme d'Aristote, printed in Warsaw and dated 19th of November, 1647.

Most authors who have written on experiments which question whether Nature suffers a vacuum, have quoted Father Mersenne; amongst others the Reverend Father Estienne Noel, Rector of the Jesuit College of Clermont in Paris, on p. 59 of his book De la Pesanteur comparée, ou de la Comparaison de la pesanteur de l'air avec la pesanteur du Vif-argent, and he quotes him on p. 104 in Chapter 6 of his Des Observations Physicomathématiques.

Monsieur Hobbes, the Englishman, tutor to the Prince of Wales, in his books on Philosophy and Mathematics.

Monsieur Nicolas du Chesne de Forest in his book on Philosophy.

Monsieur Naudé in his Addition à l'Histoire du Roi Louis XI and in his Advis pour dresser une Bibliothèque.

Monsieur Petit, Controller of Fortifications, who had had continual correspondence with Mersenne about experiments and curious facts, in his Discours Chronologique, Traité du Vuide and in several other works.

Leon Allatio, the Greek, in his book entitled Apes Urbanae, about the distinguished men who published books and who were in Rome during the years 1630, 1631 and 1632, mentions Father Mersenne on p. 115.

In the book entitled Réfutation d'un libelle imprimé à Rouen sous le titre de Futilité etc. there is on p. 22 a quotation from Mersenne's work Des Instruments de Musique, side by side with Boethius.

John Selden, the Englishman, praised him highly in several of his works; he admired the goodness of his nature and his scholastic diligence. Those who have read his book Marmora Arundeliana will notice that he quotes Father Mersenne's Commentaries on Genesis three or four times on a single page.

Jean Pellius, or Pele, Professor of Mathematics in the new Academy of Breda, also quotes him on p. 55 in his book entitled Controversia de vera circuli mensura.

In a word the most polished and most learned men of Europe respected and honoured him as an Oracle.

Guillaume Colletet, Advocate to the Parlement de Paris and to the Conseil d'Etat and Privé du Roi, extolled the Reverend Father Mersenne's rare sufficiency in several places in his History of the French poets; but particularly in the life of Jacques Pelletier of Le Mans, a learned doctor, excellent poet and very accomplished in Mathematics. Colletet wrote:-

But in the immortal sciences we have today two men who know precisely all that was known by Eudoxus and Hipparchus, those two famous antagonists, who became both the rivals of Euclid and the legitimate successors of Ptolemy; I am speaking of the Reverend Father Mersenne, Religious of the Minim Order, and Pierre Gassendi, two intellects who, despite the ignorance of the age, represent us in some measure, these two live monuments who, in spite of the waters of the universal deluge, preserve for the world all the arts and all the sciences, in which they excel, the one vying with the other. Furthermore, I can say with truth, that for their great aptitude, they deserve no less esteem from the French than ancient Berosius of Chaldea deserved from the Athenians, who erected a statue of him in precious metal in their schools, of which even the tongue was made of gold. O happy age, O happy empire, where virtue was so nobly rewarded! Besides Father Mersenne's fine and profound knowledge, I also praise his ardent passion for our French poetry; he even earnestly urges us to tune our holy songs to David's lyre and to compose a sweet and melodious harmony for our verse. The letters he sent me on this subject are the glorious and visible witness of his generous feelings and of his great affection for the Muses.

Monsieur de la Mothe le Vayer, Historiographer to the King, addressed his Discours Sceptique sur la Musique to our Rev Father Marin Mersenne, as I have observed twice in this discourse. Firstly:-

As if to please you, my Reverend Father, let us descend from the general consideration to the particular one of Music; I recall that you have had such exalted thoughts on this matter and that the ancients gave us nothing equal to them, we shall nevertheless find certain things to doubt and to which we can apply our sceptical arguments regarding the uncertainty of what strikes our senses. Your profound reflections on that charming game of Mathematics leave no hope of anything being added in the future, for they surpass by far all that the last centuries have given us; what can you expect of me and of my way of arguing, which you already know, but doubts and vacillations which possess me and which concern me just as much as the better known axioms and the more arresting maxims of the School? I am very sensible of my temerity in troubling you with so small a thing, but since the authority you hold over me deprives me of the liberty of a denial, I believe the crime of resisting you with ingratitude would be much worse than simply to be too bold in obeying you. One dedicates so many days to small things in your Temples that the good intention and sanctity of the place makes it worthwhile. I hope that the first or second consideration will operate here in the same way.

Secondly:-

You will hear nothing else on this subject from me, my Reverend Father, except what, in my opinion, will suffice to comply Sceptically with my prime purpose; realising the beautiful and rare manner in which you have treated Music leaves me but one way of saying anything after you. I have not hesitated in making play of the fashions of discoursing or the ways of the Epoch, though I know well that you have never disapproved of them while keeping within the limits of human knowledge and that you have never blamed the Sceptic when he is dutiful to Heaven and subjecting reason to obedience to the Faith, being content to attack the pride of the Dogmatists for the incertitude of their discipline.

Monsieur Gassendi, Provost of the Church of Digne and Tutor to the King, in the fifth book of the life of that illustrious man, Nicolas Claude Fabry, Seigneur de Peiresc, Counsellor to the Parliament of Aix, often spoke with respect of Father Mersenne, and gave him this fine eulogy when he praised the worthy Senator, and the honour of Provence for the favours he bestowed on men-of letters, noting how he lent them books from his library, which was one of the best and most rare not only in France but in the whole of Europe:-

First, he sent a volume on the Theory of Music to Monsieur Doni and later the same volume and another in Arabic with figures accurately drawn by Father Marin Mersenne of the Order of Minims, a man filled with great goodness and learning and indefatigable in exerting himself to clarify and bring to the light of day Religious truths and secrets of Nature.

Jean Jaques Bouchard, Parisian, in the funeral oration which he made in Rome on the 21st of December, 1637, in the Academy of Humorists in honour of the same Seigneur de Peiresc, in the presence of the Cardinals François and Antoine Barberini, Bentivoglio, de la Cueva, Bisci, Pamphilio (now Pontiff of Rome and called Innocent X), Pallote, de Brancas, Aldobrandini and Borghese and several learned men, not only of Italy but of the whole Christian world who lived in that city: after praising several friends of this learned Counsellor of the Parliament of Provence, who are famous not only for their knowledge but also for holding high offices of state and of the Royal Court of this Kingdom which they fill so worthily, he spoke these words in honour of our Frenchmen who made literature their profession, and amongst whom he includes Father Mersenne:-

I speak of Sirmond, Petau, Morin, Mersenne, Bourdelot and Valois and many other men famous for great learning and for their illustrious writings.

Monsieur Ismael Boulliau, Priest, living with M de Thou, wrote on p. 269 of his Notes on Theon of Smyrna:-

Finally, experience shows that for the organ system the division of tones of equal parts makes a more perfect and sweeter chord, and. the division of whole octaves into twelve equal semi-tones makes the consonances of the chords between them more perfect. On this subject, one must read the Rev Father Marin Mersenne in his Treatise on the Organ in his "Harmonie Universelle".

The same writer in the Prolegomena of his L'Astronomie Philolaique, where he speaks of Monsieur Viète's Harmonicon Céleste, wrote:-

He had written a work entitled "Harmonicon Céleste", which Monsieur du Puy once lent to Father Mersenne of the Order of Minims, to gratify his curiosity, for he was ever searching for new and rare things.

Gabriel Naudé, Parisian, Prior of Artige, Canon of Verdun and Librarian to the Cardinals de Bagni, Antoine Barberini and Mazarin, gave him this eulogy on p. 265 of the Octavo edition of his Question du Destin et du Terme dernier de la Vie:-

I can make this clear with plausible arguments. Marin Mersenne and Pierre Gassendi, men born for the public good and for the advancement of the most noble sciences, have firmly proved with most powerful and newly recognised arguments that what is contained in Astrology is supported by neither reason nor experience.

The same writer in his appreciation of that excellent doctor and mathematician, Hierôme Cardan, the Milanese, puts our Father Mersenne into the second order of great intellects:-

The second order of intellects comprises those who have made great progress in diverse fields of knowledge such as Cicero, Plutarch, Pliny, Vives, Gesner, Bodin, Patrizzi, Mazzono, Leon Allatio, Mersenne, Doni and other like men.

The same writer, in his appreciation of Augustin Niphus of Sessa in the kingdom of Naples, the foremost philosopher of his time, wrote:-

I am not so adverse to our Frenchmen that I would wish to conceal the fact that once upon a time a most famous Philosopher appeared brilliantly amongst them, I mean Jean Crassot, and today again we have a Gassendi, a Mersenne, a Boulliau, a Des Cartes and a Beauregard who are well able to defend the honour and the glory of the most subtle and the most curious Philosophy and to escort her happily into the Palace of Knowledge.

Jean Cecile Frey, physician and eminent Professor of Philosophy in the University of Paris, in his new and easy methods for studying the divine sciences, the arts and the knowledge of languages, wrote:-

That is to say, for the Arts, you can do no better than learn what our small book brings to light, entitled: Les Arts et les Sciences ordonnées et définies, and those interested in Mathematics should not miss anything written by Father Mersenne, the most learned of all the Religious.

The Reverend Father Theophile Reynault, Jesuit, in his Trinitas Patriarcharum, namely St Bruno, founder of the Carthusian Fathers; St Francis of Paula, founder of the Minim Fathers, and St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Fathers, wrote on p. 395 this panegyric of our Religious:-

Marin Mersenne, fount of all knowledge, who has written on a prodigious diversity of material, whom this age looks upon with admiration and whom posterity will respect with astonishment. But we must not offend the modesty of a living person.

He was customarily visited by many Prelates, Princes, Seigneurs, Theologians, Counsellors, Doctors, Mathematicians and excellent Poets, whose names are famous for their learning and for their love of literature.

Among the ecclesiastics I have noted:

[There follows a list of 68 persons]

... and an infinity of others with whom I am not acquainted.

Among the laity I have noted:

[There follows a list of 50 persons including mathematicians such as Carcavi and Fermat]

These excellent mathematicians:

[There follows a list of 30 persons including Mydorge, Claude Hardy, Roberval, le Tenneur, Morin, Étienne Pascal, Blaise Pascal, de Beaune, Desargues and Albert Girard]

These illustrious writers on Philosophy, History, Music and Poetry:

[There follows a list of 34 persons including mathematicians such as Descartes, Frenicle, Pierre Petit]

After Mersenne's death, many letters were found in his cell written to him by:

[There follows a list of 67 persons including Constantin Huygens (Christiaan Huygens' father), Torricelli, Fermat, le Tenneur, Cavallieri, Fabri, Descartes, van Schooten and Hobbes]

Amongst these letters were also found some from the members of our Order, who are famous for their writings such as:

[There follows a list of 13 persons]

Thus it may truthfully be said that there is nothing he has not written about with enlightenment and knowledge. I can give him no better praise than that given by Cardinal Cesar Baronio, the great chronicler of this age, to the late M Nicolas le Fèvre, tutor to the late King Louis XIII and to the late Prince: "Learning more eminent and more modest has never been seen." It is difficult to describe the love and enthusiasm which he devoted to anything which could contribute to the advancement of knowledge. The books he published show so great a variety of subjects that one cannot believe that he could learn even a part of it, though his works gainsay one. He stimulated virtuous emulation amongst learned men, for he obliged them to give to the public the truths which they had discovered, also to apply themselves earnestly to search diligently into those things which are most obscure, of which many have been discovered in this century, even perhaps more than will be discovered in another. If he was unable to persuade great geniuses to bring their work to the light of day, he tried to force them into it, by inserting in his own books what he had learnt from them, thus showing them that they could easily undertake what was half done, or at least by this virtuous artifice he would prevent posterity from being deprived of some things that would have otherwise died. He did this in several places in his books, and always acknowledged the authors with frankness and sincerity and only printed their work for their advantage and glory.

He had a great aversion for idleness, and no sooner had he left the company of people who had favoured him with a visit, or had ceased reading books, holy or secular, or finished the psalmody at divine service than he went walking in the gardens with us; these were the recreations he enjoyed and we ourselves enjoyed, when he discoursed on the flowers, fruits, plants and the least of animals and indeed on all the marvels of the Lord which were in our path. He often sang the first verses of Psalm 22: Dominus regit me, etc., or some paraphrase in Latin or French verse of this same Psalm, or he sang the last verse of the last Psalm: Omnis spiritus laudet Dominum, or the whole of this Psalm which contains an exhortation to praise the Holiness of God in His Saints and His power in His visible works with all manner of harmonious instruments.

The souls of such people have the same quality as that fountain admired by the great Alexander in Babylon, whose waters immediately became illuminated by the rays of the sun, or as soon as they were shown fire; for these good people are so fine and purified and have a vision so clear and brilliant that they are enflamed by the smallest spark to meditate on the things of Heaven and the love of God.


JOC/EFR August 2007

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