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Hartlib, Samuel

1. Dates
Born: Elbing, Prussia, c. 1600.
Died: London, 10 March 1662.
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 62
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant
He is described as a prominent merchant and dye manufacturer.
By Hartlib's own description, in a letter, the father was wealthy. Two sisters of his mother married highly placed and wealthy Englishmen (although one of them, mentioned by Hartlib in the same letter, cannot be identified). Perhaps Hartlib's own testimony is suspect, but the evidence that he had some personal means seems overwhelming to me. I am putting the rather down as affluent; wealthy is not impossible.
3. Nationality
Birth: German
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge
Cambridge University, c.1621-6 (Webster makes the dates c. 1625-6); never matriculated, and no degree.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Scientific Organization, Scientific Communication
Hartlib attempted to establish an Office of Public Address, partly to serve as a channel of intellectual communication. He was active in promoting useful inventions and information, especially those related to agriculture and medicine.
Hartlib published A Description of the Famous Kingdome of Maccaria, 1641, a utopian scientific state.
The Comenian circle he headed was what Boyle called the "Invisible College."
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage
Secondary: Personal Means, Publishing, Schoolmastering
After his period at Cambridge, Hartlib returned to Elbing in 1627. He then came back to England in 1628 and remained there for the rest of his life.
He established a school in Chicester in 1630. It lasted less than a year, and it appears that he lost money rather than gained. Thereafter he lived in London and was supported largely by patronage. However, he did apparently give private lessons.
Various grants from Parliament for his public service between 1645 and 1649, including a pension of £100 a year after 1649 (though it was not always paid).
Also supported by private benefactors, especially for his service to education. In the 40s, Puritan aristocrats and gentry were his patrons. In the final years of his life there was a Swedish noble, Lord Skyte.
Stimson has no doubt that Hartlib started with some personal means. Webster denies it, but I find it impossible to comprehend his life unless there were some means, at least at the beginning. The conclusion is supported, though certainly not demonstrated by Hartlib's testimony in a letter to Worthington in 1660, that he had spent £300-400 "of my own" per year on his projects in England.
Received money by publishing many books--I question that he earned serious money from this, but apparently he got some.
He is sometimes called a merchant, but there is no evidence that he actually worked at this or that he made money from trade.
8. Patronage
Types: Government Official, Aristrocrat, Gentry
Webster is convincing that the wealthy Puritan families, such as the Fiennes, Riches, and Grevilles, became Hartlib's patrons. Webster speaks of him subsisting primarily on irregular private contributions from the families above and others like them. John Pym became a patron; also Lord Brooke. In Samuel Hartlib and the Advancement of Learning, pp. 25-6, Webster mentions a range of Puritan aristocrats and gentry who were Hartlib's patrons. Again according to Webster, Francis Rous, a prominent figure in the Protectorate, was Hartlib's patron in the 50s. Add Lord Skyte, the Swedish nobleman.
I list the patronage from Parliament under Governmental officials.
Hartlib did not dedicate much as far as I have found. However, he did dedicate A Discourse of Husbandry, 1650, to the Council of State, and Clavis apocalyptica, 1651, to Oliver St. John, the Lord Chief Justice.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Agriculture
Hartlib was energetic in promoting useful knowledge of all kinds, but especially on husbandry (or agriculture), on which he published a extensive number of works, most of them not by himself. Husbandry was for him an analogue of spiritual cultivation.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: His wide correspondence included Pell, Dury, Hevelius, Winthrop, Starkey, Oldenburg, and Wren. He had many young protégés, including Petty, Boyle, the two Boates, Dymock, and Platte, who made up the "Invisible College." He knew virtually all of the men who organized the Royal Society in 1660, though he himself was not a member.
  1. G.H. Turnbull, Samuel Hartlib: A Sketch of his Life and his Relations to J.A. Comenius, (Oxford, 1920).
  2. _____, Hartlib, Dury and Comenius: Gleanings from Hartlib's Papers, (Liverpool, 1947).
  3. _____, "Samuel Hartlib's Influence on the Early History of the Royal Society," Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 10 (1952-3), 101-30.
  4. R.H. Syfret, "The Origins of the Royal Society," Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 5 (1947-8), 75-137.
  5. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 9, 72-3. Dorothy Stimson, "Hartlib, Haak, and Oldenburg: Intelligencers," Isis, 31 (1940), 309-26.
  6. Charles Webster, The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine and Reform, 1626-1660, (London, 1974).
  7. _____, "Introduction," in Webster, ed., Samuel Hartlib and the Advancement of Learning, (London, 1970).
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. H. Dircks, Biographical Memoire of Samuel Hartlib, 1865.
  2. H.R. Trevor-Roper, "Three Foreigners: The Philosophers of the Puritan Revolution," in The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: Religion, the Reformation and Social Change, (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), pp. 237-93.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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