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Jewish Public Library

Horologium Hebraeum
(London : Thomas Payne, 1639)

About The Book

Schickard lived in an era when most European institutions of higher learning were still directly or partly affiliated with the Church. Before there were dedicated Jewish universities or academic programs, Hebrew and Hebrew Bible studies formed part of the general student curriculum. Christian students like Schickard who delved further became part of a growing number of Christian Hebraists. Two books from that curriculum, 16th century German humanist scholar of Hebrew and Greek Johann Reuchlin’s De rudimentas Hebraicus and the 12th century Rabbi David Kimhi’s Miklol, influenced Schickard’s early writings.

After completing his academic studies, Schickard became a deacon, but was appointed a lecturer in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages at his alma mater – the Tübingen Stift, precursor to the university located there. During this time, he wrote his first Hebrew grammar Methodus linguae sanctae (1614).

He later described Methodus as “merely his first thoughts on the subject, the work of a novice learner who had high hopes but was embarrassed – deservedly.” He even called himself one of “more people writing Hebrew grammars than studying it. If somebody manages to understand 3 Hebrew words, he’d probably write his own book”. However, by 1619 Schickard had left his church work entirely to become a full professor in Hebrew and Aramaic at Tübingen.

There, he began thinking about how he could improve on Methodus in order to better teach Hebrew grammar to his students. Schickard theorized that Hebrew Bible texts themselves could be as source materials for students to learn some basic, clear grammar rules and vocabulary – and then as a subsequent basis for further language learning.

His Tübingen contemporary and theologian Matthias Hafenreffer’s Synopsis locorum theologicorum also inspired Schickard’s efforts, not the least because of its brevity. Schickard favourably regarded the 50-page book as compared to Reuchlin’s 600-page tome, which he felt was impractical although more logically composed than Kimhi’s work.

Schickard’s opportunity to test his ideas arrived when 6 of his former theology students, later joined by 6 others, asked him to teach them Hebrew. Horologium, whose preface is dedicated to the original 6 by name, was the 116-page result of those lessons.

Its title page implies the Hebrew language’s basics could be learnt within “24 hours in 12 days”. In practice, each student had 2 hours to study a unique Bible passage’s grammar and vocabulary. Each would then “teach” the others their sections, so after 12 days, everyone would understand all the texts. Similarly, Student A learned words that began with each of the Hebrew alphabet’s initial three letters, then would teach those words to Student B, who simultaneously learned words beginning with the next 3 letters. The cycle would continue until all students understood all the words throughout the alphabet.

The text proper consists of vocalized Hebrew letters, words and phrases arranged alongside related Latin transliterations, translations and explanations to aid in pronunciation, grammar and overall comprehension. Several appendices in Horologium demonstrate Hebrew syntax, verb conjugations and how to find the root of any word; Schickard’s theory of Hebrew being humanity’s original language; and a lexicon of 1200 frequently-used Biblical words.

Horologium’s final text section proper – authored by Bartholomew Beck, rector of the Eisleben gymnasium or secondary school – analyses and deciphers the Hebrew text of Psalm 34 according to Schickard’s grammatical rules. Schickard had previously written to Beck to briefly describe his intent and theories, and to request Beck’s contribution. A grateful Schickard reprinted his letter to the rector immediately before Horologium’s preface, and closed the book with his brief poem honouring him.

Once published, Horologium met with some scholarly criticism but attained much popularity in the academic world as a whole. In fact, for many years after its founding, Harvard University made it a required text in all its faculties’ curricula. As of 2020, the book has appeared in nearly 50 editions and reprints.

About The Author

In what seems the first of many tragedies to befall Herrenberg (Germany)-born Wilhelm Schickard (1592-1635), the son of a Lutheran minister’s daughter, his carpenter father died when Wilhelm was only 10. One of Schickard’s uncles, a priest, took responsibility for supervising Wilhelm’s earliest education at a Latin school; another uncle subsequently took on similar duties. This uncle served as a teacher at a church school affiliated with the Stift in nearby Tübingen, a mostly Catholic region. A Lutheran seminary and residence hall for training pastors – and predecessor to the University of Tübingen – the Stift offered a bachelor’s program through the church school. Wilhelm earned his degree there by 1609, studying theology, languages, mathematics and astronomy. It was the start of Schickard’s lifelong association with Tübingen.

Schickard went to the Stift – which luckily offered room, board and subsidies to relatively impoverished students like him – and earned his master’s degree in 1611. He continued for two additional years of post-graduate study focused on theology and oriental languages, while supporting himself as a private teacher in maths and languages. Upon completing his studies, Schickard became a Lutheran deacon and wrote his first Hebrew grammar and published work, Methodus linguae sanctae (1614), which met with little success.

Given his academic background, the phrase “Christian Hebraist” describes Schickard well, but during his 5 year tenure as deacon he also had time to nurture an unusually wide range of interests and skills as a polyglot familiar with at least 10 languages, a wood and copperplate engraver, and as an inventor, mathematician, cartographer and astronomer. He also continued writing several treatises on subjects as varied as optics and ancient languages, and began an exchange of letters with a fellow Tübingen alumnus destined to become his work colleague. The two discussed Schickard’s recent ideas for a remarkable invention; his correspondent was celebrated astronomer Johannes Kepler.

By 1619 Schickard had left his pastoral duties after successfully applying for an appointment as Tübingen’s professor of Hebrew and Aramaic. He developed his own teaching methods based on his strong belief that part of his job was to make it easier for his students to learn. To this end, Schickard published Hebraea Rota (1621), a short treatise on conjugating Hebrew verbs that he hoped would prove easier to use than Methodus.

It included a printed set of two rotating discs that when cut, placed on top of each other and manipulated according to Schickard’s text, could display the conjugation of Hebrew verbs. However, Rota’s limited scope – and the difficulty for users to cut and align small holes necessary to view the discs properly – resulted in the book’s rather muted reception.

Undeterred, Schickard then posited a system in which his individual students would help create a shared, cumulative body of knowledge for all. That became the basis for his Horologium Hebraeum (1623), a textbook published in countless editions over the following two centuries. The JPL owns a bound volume containing Horologium and Rota, both from editions dated 1639.

Schickard’s activities resulted in scholarly renown. In Jus regium Hebraeorum (“The King’s Law”, 1625), Schickard used Talmudic and rabbinical literature as proofs of the Hebrew Bible’s support of monarchy. He also advanced map-making with an unprecedented accuracy, and invented calculating machines for both Hebrew grammar and astronomical dates. However, his academic achievements stood in stark contrast to his personal circumstances.

In 1615, Schickard married Sabine Mack. From the start, their fortunes seemed ill-fated. For one, only 4 of their 9 children survived infancy. As well, in 1631 they briefly fled Tübingen and settled for several weeks in Austria, in the middle of what evolved into the Thirty Years’ War. They returned to Tübingen but by 1632 they again traveled to Austria. They returned yet again to Tübingen in 1634, having purchased a new home there suitable for astronomical viewings; but within 2 months, the Battle of Nördlingen brought violence, famine, and disease to the area along with the Holy Roman Empire and Spanish Empire’s Catholic soldiers.

Schickard soon found himself burying most of his family, including his mother, beaten to death by those soldiers; and his eldest daughter, two youngest daughters and his wife, along with two servants and a student lodger – all victims of the bubonic plague. These calamities surely convinced Schickard to preserve what seemed more and more his only likely legacy: his scholarly notes and manuscripts, many incomplete, which he buried.

By summer 1635 the plague also claimed Schickard’s sister, housed in Wilhelm’s home. He first responded by escaping to nearby Dußlingen, in hopes of reaching Geneva. However, he feared that the works he had left behind in Tübingen would be stolen, and while going back there he fell ill and ultimately died – also from the plague. The next day, his son and sole remaining heir died.

For several years before Schickard’s death, his reputation had briefly eclipsed those of several of his recently-deceased contemporaries. For example, after Johannes Kepler died, fellow polymath Matthias Bernegger thought Schickard the best astronomer alive. Similarly, after Johannes Buxtorf’s death, Dutch philosopher and theologian Hugo Grotius considered Schickard the greatest Hebraist.

Besides the abovementioned books, Schickard’s few completed works include Cometenbeschreibung, Handschrift (1619); Be’ur ha-ofan, also known as Rota Hebraea (1621); Astroscopium (1623); Lichtkugel (1624), Der Hebräische Trichter (1627); Kurze Anweisnug, wie künstliche Landtafeln aus rechtem Grund zu Machen (1629); and Ephemereis Lunaris (1631).

The JPL’s Copy

Our library’s copy of Horologium was printed in 1639 in London by well-known publisher Thomas Payne. Two London booksellers, Philemon Stephens and Christopher Meredith financed the book, as they dealt primarily with theological works for Stephens’ Gilded Lyon bookstore just outside the gates of the churchyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral. By this time, the two had owned their own shops for nearly 2 decades and would stay in business for another 25 years – an impressive feat, as the Gilded Lyon had literally hundreds of competitors near them in the area considered Britain’s book trade centre for a century or so.

The copy measures 16.5 x 11 x 2 cm, a handsome volume portable enough for student use. It seems unlikely that it has been rebound, with its binding very reminiscent of typical 17th century practice. Mottled brown leather covers both the front and back boards, and the easily-seen pastedowns became common only around the time of this edition’s printing. Similarly, the end bands, which are dirty but appear to be green and white, also typify this time period. On both the front and back cover, a small decorative band is tooled into the leather along the spine. The spine’s mostly-faded leather makes it difficult to tell if at some point it bore other decoration or title information. There too, gold tooling particularly marks the ridges made by the stitching.

Upon opening the volume, one can see indications of two of its owners on the inside front cover. An illustrated bookplate pasted upside down relative to the text’s Hebrew orientation – likely due to one owner’s lack of Hebrew language knowledge – bears the crest and typeset cursive script name and residence of “William Markham Esq. Becca Lodge, Yorkshire”. This seems surprising, as Markham was the grandson of Archbishop of York William Markham, for whom the city of Markham (Ontario) is named. The Archbishop’s father, Major William Markham, settled in Nova Scotia and reputedly built Halifax’s first house.

When the cover is flipped so that Markham’s crest is upside down, a handwritten penned inscription identifies and dates another owner: “Ex Libris Brent Maxfield 1954.” Maxfield, a notably prolific antiquarian collector of British imprints, consistently and assiduously wrote detailed, researched bibliographical notes on and in his holdings. That would explain how, a centimetre or so below this marking, a penciled note in similar handwriting states “This issue not in the S.T.C.” or British Short Title Catalogue, a list of primarily English-language works published between 1473 and 1800 in Britain and its former colonies held by the British Library and others worldwide. Maxfield’s estate was liquidated in a 1980s Sotheby’s auction; this copy possibly came to our library as a donated item originating from that sale.

The detached first leaf’s recto includes what appears to be Maxwell’s pencilled “First edition. A different issue to that in the B.M. The title was cancelled (the original stub is still present in this copy) and a new title and prelims inserted. Lacks A1 (? A blank leaf.)” The verso of the leaf is blank. Online research confirms Maxwell’s notes as accurate: the stub is a remnant of the typeset illustrated border for the edition’s original title page, printed a year earlier. It differs from the finalized 1639 title page, with a shorter version of the text and a slightly variant Latin inscription, “To experience [or test] is to not laugh”.

The intact 1639 title page, printed in Latin block and italic type, contains no decorations other than two rectangles encasing the text and a third, slightly unusual design.

At the time of this book’s publication, London did not use street address numbers, and so businesses often used signs featuring unique symbols to identify their locations. Printers or bookshops would usually grace their publications’ title pages with them, in the form of a printer’s mark – in this case, Stephens’ golden lion. However, for this joint venture with Payne and Meredith, the trio opted instead to simply print the words “under the sign of the Golden Lion” and use a custom emblem and motto.

That emblem consists of a double-sided arrow, which is surrounded by a circle featuring a printed Hebrew motto suggesting “To remember is all, and all is to remember”. Both emblem and motto suggest, perhaps, the ongoing cycle of learning. In turn, the emblem is flanked by a Latin inscription roughly translating as “To see is to not laugh” – in other words, “Read this and take this seriously”, or “Take this work on its own merits”.

A dedication to the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, follows the title page. Intriguingly, Laud collected manuscripts. Given this edition’s publication date, it is even more notable that a year after its appearance, Laud was arrested, tried for treason and beheaded 5 years afterwards – despite the fact his trial had ended without a verdict.

The balance of Horologium’s pages appear intact and well-bound, with gold-leaved edges.

A copy of Schickard’s Rota Hebraea, printed by Payne et al. in London, and published the same year as Horologium, is bound into this volume immediately afterwards. This short work – originally published in 1621 as Schickard’s sophomore attempt to help students learn Hebrew verb conjugations – included two circular diagrams with inherent educational and practical limitations. Its inclusion in this bound volume, therefore, likely has more to do with the shared publication date than its actual utility.

Most of Rota’s other equally undistinguished features pale in comparison to that of Horologium. Its title page displays no printer’s emblem, mottos or other significant designs; it ends with a simple errata page; and its end page and final pastedown are blank, unlike those at the front.

Rota’s sole visibly interesting aspect, inserted between the final end page and the volume’s back cover, are two small pages, each with one of the previously-mentioned diagrams. The penultimate page’s diagram contains conjugation suffixes for all 7 forms of a nominally ‘standard’ Hebrew verb – in this case, “to remember”. The final page diagram, divided into individual Latin-labelled sections for present, infinitive, future and imperative tenses, also includes corresponding Hebrew-labelled infinitive prefixes adjacent to markings for holes meant to be cut out by the reader. When the user cut them out, placed this diagram on top of the verb forms’ diagram, and properly moved it around according to Schickard’s text, it would enable him or her to view a complete, fully-conjugated verb table for any one of these 7 verb forms or 4 tenses.

That our copy’s diagram pages remain intact and fully bound into the volume is fairly remarkable as over time, any previous owners – whether students or book collectors – had countless opportunities to remove and assemble them as Schickard intended.

Calculating Clock

Schickard’s association with his “calculating clock” or mechanical calculator remains a controversial subject. Dr. Franz Hammer, Johannes Kepler’s biographer, discovered drawings for the six-digit numbered machine in letters between Schickard and Kepler. Schickard’s belief that his invention could be useful to calculate astronomical tables predicated his exchanges with Kepler.

Hammer determined that since this correspondence had been lost, it had consequently resulted in undue acclaim for Blaise Pascal as the original inventor of the mechanical calculator. However, subsequent research indicated that Schickard’s images had been previously published several times and – more importantly – the machine it described would not work if actually built. It was, nevertheless, the first design for a direct-entry calculating machine, with an ingenious use of rotating Napier’s rods for multiplication.

Still, controversy exists as to whether Schickard’s drawings and letters to Kepler truly represent the final blueprints for and claims of a working device; or would the addition of a commonly-used clock making piece, known as a détente, have allowed Schickard’s design to successfully function and validate his work? For now, the answer remains uncertain: while clockmakers eventually did build his clock as originally described, they never had the chance to test it due to its destruction in a fire.

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