Athanasius Kircher, a German Jesuit in 17th-century Rome, was an enigma. Intensely pious and a prolific author, he was also a polymath fascinated with everything from Egyptian hieroglyphs to the tiny creatures in his microscope.
His correspondence with popes, princes and priests was a window into the restless energy of the period. It showed first-hand the seventeenth-century’s struggle for knowledge in astronomy, microscopy, geology, chemistry, musicology, Egyptology, horology… The list goes on.
Kircher’s books reflect the mind-set of 17th-century scholars - endless curiosity and a substantial larding of naiveté: Kircher scorned alchemy as the wishful thinking of charlatans, yet believed in dragons.
His life and correspondence provide a key to the transition from the Middle Ages to a new scientific age. This book, though unpublished, has been long quoted and referred to. Awaited by scholars and specialists of Kircher, it is finally available with this edition.
John E. Fletcher, M.A. (1966), Queen Mary College, University of London. Senior Lecturer in Germanic Studies, University of Sydney. Before his early death in 1992 he had published extensively on Athanasius Kircher and his correspondents.
"This is the long awaited masterwork on the great polymathic German Jesuit of the seventeenth century, Athanasius Kircher. Scholars have continually acclaimed the work in its thesis form, but now it has at last become widely accessible through publication by Brill. It considers the life, work and correspondence of Kircher, and adds a translation of his autobiography with extensive commentary. The bulk of the work critically evaluates Kircher's extraordinary contributions in many fields - cosmology, geology, linguistics, medicine, mechanics, music, history, art - and covers his relationships with great continental scholars (Peiresc, Huygens, Boyle, etc.) and with patrons of scientific endeavour (especially Christina of Sweden), together with his part in the Jesuits' "Republic of Letters" across the globe, and his influences on subsequent 'greats' (Leibniz, Goethe, etc.). An immense work of patient, careful and astute scholarship."
Gary Trompf, University of Sydney
"Fletcher’s approach to Kircher gives far greater significance to his German upbringing and formation than many recent studies in English, Italian, and French that have focused on his mature years in Rome. [...] The result is an intellectual treasure trove: dive into any chapter and you will discover a finegrained analysis of yet another facet of Kircher’s world."
Paula Findlen, Stanford University, in: Renaissance Quarterly Vol.65, No.4
"His book provides a fantastic jumping-off point for understanding the social and political dimensions of baroque science, as well as book exchange in the Republic of Letters."
Suzanne Sutherland Duchacek, Stanford University, Ambix, Vol. 61, No.1
"In the biographical sketch and, above all, the descriptions of the correspondence, anyone researching Kircher will find much useful information – a considerable amount still unavailable elsewhere... Fletcher’s study will be an essential reference for investigators of Kircher’s correspondence."
Daniel Stolzenberg, University of California, Davis, The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol 45, No.4
All those interested in the history of science and the pursuit of esoteric knowledge, the intellectual history of the Baroque period,and the Jesuits.