F. M van Helmont’s
Alphabet of Nature was one of many books published about language in the early modern period. The “language debate,” as it has come to be called, was a topic of compelling interest to major figures such as Reuchlin, Rabelais, Paracelsus, Agrippa, Postel, Boehme, Kircher, Hobbes, Descartes, Comenius, Spinoza, Locke, Boyle, Newton, and Leibniz. At issue were profound questions about whether language is natural or artificial, ordained by God or created by man. The answers given entailed a web of consequences that could lead to arrest, imprisonment, even execution. It is therefore not surprising that van Helmont wrote his book while imprisoned in the dungeons of the Roman Inquisition.
Allison P. Coudert, Ph.D. in History, Warburg Institute, University of London, is currently the Castelfranco Chair in Religious Studies at the University of California at Davis. She has published extensively on religion, magic, and science in early modern Europe.
Taylor Corse, Ph.D. at the University of Florida, is Associate Professor of English Literature at Arizona State University. Corse has published widely on John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Aphra Behn, Anne Conway, and other writers of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century.
All those interested in religious, cultural, and intellectual history, the history of language, and the history of teaching the deaf.