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He was born at Semuren-Auxois in Burgundy. His father, a counsellor of the parlement of Dijon, sent him, at the age of sixteen, to Paris, where he became intimate with Isaac Casaubon. In 1606, he went to the University of Heidelberg, where he devoted himself to the classics. Here he embraced Protestantism, the religion of his mother; and his first publication (1608) was an edition of a work by Nilus Cabasilas , archbishop of Thessalonica, in the 14th century, against the primacy of the pope (De primatu Papae), and of a similar tract by the Calabrian monk Barlaam (d. c. 1348). In 1609 he brought out an edition of Florus.
In 1606 or 1607 Salmasius had discovered, in the library of the Counts Palatine in Heidelberg, the only surviving copy of Cephalas 's early unexpurgated copy of the Greek Anthology, including the 258-poem anthology by Straton of Sardis that would eventually become known as the notorious Book 12. The newly discovered poems in the Palatine version were copied out by Salmasius, and he began to circulate clandestine manuscript copies of them as the Anthologia Inedita. His copy was later published: first in 1776 when Richard François Philippe Brunck included it in his Analecta; and then the full Palatine Anthology was published by F. Jacobs as the Anthologia Graeca (13 vols. 1794-1803; revised 1813-1817). The remains of Straton's anthology became Book 12 in Jacob's standard critical Anthologia Graeca edition. It was only in 2001 that a full Greek-to-English translation of Book 12 was issued, by Princeton University Press.
Returning to Burgundy, Salmasius qualified for the succession to his father's post, which he eventually lost on account of his religion. In 1620 he published Casaubon's notes on the Augustan History, with copious additions of his own. In 1623 he married Anne Mercier, a Protestant lady of a distinguished family; the union was by no means a happy one, his wife being represented as a second Xanthippe. In 1629 Salmasius produced his magnum opus as a critic, his commentary on Solinus's Polyhistor, or rather on Pliny, to whom Solinus is indebted for the most important part of his work. Greatly as this commentary may have been overrated by his contemporaries, it is a monument of learning and industry. Salmasius learned Arabic to qualify himself for the botanical part of his task. After declining overtures from Oxford, Padua and Bologna, in 1631 he accepted the professorship formerly held by Joseph Scaliger at Leiden. Although the appointment in many ways suited him, he found the climate trying; and he was persistently attacked by a jealous clique, led by Daniel Heinsius. who as university librarian refused him access to the books he wished to consult.
Shortly after his removal to the Netherlands, he composed at the request of Prince Frederick Henry of Nassau , his treatise on the military system of the Romans (De re militari Romanorum), which was not published until 1657. Other works followed, mostly philological, but including a denunciation of wigs and hair-powder, and a vindication of moderate and lawful interest for money, which, although it drew down upon him many expostulations from lawyers and theologians, induced the Dutch Reformed Church to admit money-lenders to the sacrament. His treatise De primatu Papae (1645), accompanying a republication of the tract of Nilus Cabasilas , excited a warm controversy in France, but the government declined to suppress it.
In November 1649 appeared the work by which Salmasius is best remembered, his Defensio regia pro Carolo I. His advice had already been sought on English and Scottish affairs, and, inclining to Presbyterianism or a modified Episcopacy, he had written against the Independents. It does not appear by whose influence he was induced to undertake the Defensio regia, but Charles II defrayed the expense of printing, and presented the author with £100. The first edition was anonymous, but the author was universally known. A French translation which speedily appeared under the name of Claude Le Gros was the work of Salmasius himself.
This celebrated work, in our day principally famous for the reply it provoked from John Milton, even in its own time added little to the reputation of the author. His reply to Milton, which he left unfinished at his death, and which was published by his son in 1660, is insipid as well as abusive. Until the appearance of Milton's rejoinder in March 1651 the effect of the Defensio was no doubt considerable; and it probably helped to procure him the flattering invitation from Queen Christina which induced him to visit Sweden in 1650. Christina loaded him with gifts and distinctions, but upon the appearance of Milton's book was unable to conceal her conviction that he had been worsted by his antagonist.
Milton, addressing Christina herself, ascribes Salmasius's withdrawal from Sweden in 1651 to mortification at this affront, but this appears to be negatived by the warmth of Christina's subsequent letters and her pressing invitation to return. The claims of the university of Leiden and dread of a second Swedish winter seem fully adequate motives. Nor is there any foundation for the belief that Milton's invectives hastened his death, which took place on the September 3, 1653, from an injudicious use of the Spa waters.
As a commentator and verbal critic, Salmasius is entitled to very high rank. His notes on the Historia Augusta and Solinus display not only massive erudition but massive good sense as well; his perception of the meaning of his author is commonly very acute, and his corrections of the text are frequently highly felicitous. His manly independence was shown in many circumstances, and the bias of his mind was liberal and sensible. He was accused of sourness of temper; but the charge, if it had any foundation, is extenuated by the wretched condition of his health.
The life of Salmasius was written at great length by Philibert de la Mare , counsellor of the parlement of Dijon, who inherited his manuscripts from his son. Papillon says that this biography left nothing to desire, but it has never been printed. It was, however, used by Papillon himself, whose account of Salmasius in his Bibliothèque des auteurs de Bourgogne (Dijon, 1745) is by far the best extant, and contains an exhaustive list of his works, both printed and in manuscript. There is an éloge by A Clement prefixed to his edition of Salmasius's Letters (Leiden, 1656), and another by CB Morisot, inserted in his own Letters (Dijon, 1656). See also E Haag, La France protesiante, (ix. I49~x73); and, for the Defensio regia, G Masson's Life of Milton.
- This entry incorporates public domain text originally from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.
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