NOVEMBER 13, 2006
He was, in short, a modern medical doctor. No one would dare to call Portaleone "Europe's physician," but his story vividly illustrates a series of conjunctions that were true across Europe: the connection between medical doctors and political power; the role of doctors,precisely because of their proximity to power, as important civil servants; the nexus between scholarly training and practice,between the medical philosophies of different regions, between alchemical-mystical doctrines and rational or empirical approaches,between scientific and sacred philosophies, between scholarship and clinical practice, between privileged minorities and intolerant majorities, between individual and communal destinies, between humane letters and the observation of nature, between learning printed and preserved and learning lived and lost. All this is what makes the history of doctors--as opposed to the history of medicine, which is something else entirely--so interesting.
In 1985, Arnaldo Momigliano, the great Piedmontese-born historian of the ancient world, directed the attention of his many readers to the under-explored relationship between the way doctors practiced medicine and the way many of them practiced history--a subject that has only in recent years become the occasion for scholarly collaboration between historians of science and historians of history. But three years before Momigliano issued his summons, Hugh Trevor-Roper had also turned to the history of doctors, publishing an essay about doctors in politics. Europe's Physician was written in the previous decade and was already nearly finished, but for one reason or another it had still eluded the final touch by the time of its author's death in 2003. Trevor- Roper had first confronted the work of doctors as historical agents during Hitler's last days,about which he wrote a famous book in 1946 in which the detective work is so intelligent, and so intelligently described, that it could be given to undergraduate history majors as a primer in how to evaluate evidence for the purpose of historical reconstruction.But it was not until he immersed himself in the history of the Reformation that Trevor-Roper hit upon a worthy subject for a thorough examination of the doctor in politics.
THEODORE DE MAYERNE was born in Geneva in 1573, and was educated first at Heidelberg and then at the medical school at Montpellier.He traveled extensively in Germany, the heartland of chemical views of nature: part quackery, part philosophy, part empirical science.In the German--and Protestant--figures he met there, Mayerne saw how scientific approaches could reflect underlying theological commitments and dovetail with--or undermine-- political loyalties.From there he went to Paris and, working under the wing of other Calvinist chemical doctors, claimed a position as one of Henri IV's physicians. Mayerne built a very successful practice among the highest of Huguenot grandees: he accompanied the duke of Rohan,later champion of the Huguenot rebellion of the 1620s, on his grand tour in 1600. But he also treated many important Catholics;venereal disease brought him a patient named Armand Jean duPlessis, the future Cardinal Richelieu.
The story of how the great Catholic-Protestant competition seeped into every nook and cranny of intellectual and cultural life, from books to fashion to medical practice, is one that Trevor-Roper told in essays and lectures over the decades. In this biography of Mayerne, we see the Reformation and its discontents from the perspective of medicine as a profession in France. It is not a pretty picture. The reader gains a real sense of how complex--and,from the perspective of the minority Protestant camp, how threatening-- were the developments under the once-Protestant Henri IV. He had been the leader of the Protestant camp during the French civil wars of religion, which he had brought to a conclusion in1598 at the price of his own religion, famously having declared that "Paris was worth a mass."
But in 1610 the king was assassinated by a Catholic for whom he was still a Protestant, and all restraint was cast to the winds. There was some violence, but more insidious was the relentless conversionary pressure applied to high- profile Huguenots. The idea was to destroy the community by depriving it of leadership, and in this way to so demoralize a minority that it would eventually join the majority. It was this that led the great classical scholar Isaac Casaubon to flee into the welcoming arms of James I of England. Less exalted figures feared direct physical violence.Mayerne fled, too; but he kept his medical appointment to the French Crown, and some years later, though working as doctor to James I and showing no sign of returning to France, he sued for his back wages.
Doctors were trusted like few others in the early modern courts of Europe. This made them ideal servants for special missions. And when the doctor was himself an emigre, with all sorts of personal contacts across the social spectrum in different countries, his utility increased dramatically. James, with whom Mayerne seems to have gotten on exceptionally well, used his doctor repeatedly for such adventures--so often, in fact, that the French quickly picked up on his movements and eventually declared him persona non grata.James was himself a patient of Mayerne's, and the doctor left posterity one of the most brilliant portraits of the king, written as a memorandum for those who would have to care for him while Mayerne was off on a diplomatic mission to Switzerland (a fascinating tale in itself). Aside from gout, Mayerne writes, the king was strong in mind and body. Like all great thinkers, he was a bit melancholic--the description Mayerne gives sounds a bit more like what we mean by "bipolar"--but it was really in his drinking habits that he was out of line: "In drink he errs in quality,quantity, frequency, time and order. He drinks promiscuously beer,ale, Spanish wine, French sweet wine, and especially, his ordinary drink, thick white muscatel; whence diarrhoea. Sometimes, when his stomach is loose, he takes red Alicante wine, but he does not care whether the wine is good so long as it is sweet. He hates water and anything watery."
Trevor-Roper pieced together his fascinating and far-ranging story from fragments--archival material in eight languages from six different countries-- but the narrative is always lively and fluent. Mayerne is not an entirely forgotten figure, but Trevor-Roper has gone down alleys long thought blind and emerged with gems. Those in our own day who argue that a good story must be a simple story are yet again proved wrong by this wonderful book.Trevor-Roper takes a complicated life and then weaves it into the even more complicated topography of the French wars of religion and the titanic clash between Catholic and Protestant powers, the echoes of which still reverberate within the European Union.Europe's Physician is beautifully written, with the charm and the grace of a scholar who is the master of all he surveys.
MAYERNE'S LIFE IS an unusually interesting tale, full of appealing vignettes about the court of the Stuarts: a courtier who sweated so profusely that his hair had to be curled each day (he blamed it on his diamond jewelry), another who had a continually itchy anus(cured at long last by the good doctor). But what elevates this book from the crowd of lives of forgotten celebrities is not the story of the life, but the context of it; not the biographical foreground, but the historical depth of field. Europe's Physician is valuable for its information and its craftsmanship, but it is important also for what it reveals of a scholarly career that it uncannily recapitulates.
Trevor-Roper began his career as a historian in 1940 with a biography of Archbishop Laud, the great nemesis of the age in which cells of Calvinist provocateurs operated freely and clandestinely across Europe in the interest of God and revolution, no less than in the age of Thomas de Mayerne. Laud was Charles I's pick to be archbishop of Canterbury and wipe out dissent in the Church, while Charles did away with Parliament in a ten-year experiment to rule England as if it were a Continental monarchy. Both experiments failed, and Laud preceded Charles to the scaffold as scapegoat and villain.
But by 1962, in the preface to the second edition of his book,Trevor-Roper was already acknowledging a certain discomfort with his presentation of Laud and, especially, of Laud's Calvinist enemies. His equation of Calvinism and capitalism was too unequivocal; his treatment of the Calvinist laity and their "real religious leaders" was too sketchy. He acted on these regrets with a series of essays in the thirty years that followed, a brilliant,curving torrent of early modern historiography that was later collected in volumes with uninspiring titles such as Religion, the Reformation and Social Change; Renaissance Essays; From Counter-Reformation to Glorious Revolution; and Catholics,Anglicans and Puritans. Some of these essays launched a thousand replies; others were clearly unsurpassable efforts. But all of Trevor-Roper's essays reflected a sea of learning and a marvelous ability to weave together distinct, colorful strands into a clear narrative. He made his own the extraordinary period from 1590 to1640--and, more specifically, the conflict between the varieties of Protestantisms as they were set within the grand narrative of the clash between Protestant and Catholic powers that so decisively shaped the position of England in its relations with the European mainland.
EUROPE'S PHYSICIAN CLOSES the circle that was opened by Archbishop Laud. For not only does the fine measure of Mayerne and his world show the subtlety whose absence Trevor-Roper lamented in the work of his youth, but its chronology and its geography place it at the heart of the mature Trevor-Roper's interests. Some years ago,interested in the origins in the 1930s of new approaches to the study of seventeenth-century intellectual history, I wrote to Trevor-Roper asking how he became interested in the revival of ancient Stoicism that so dominated the culture of the years between1580 and 1640--a subject not much studied anywhere at the time,least of all in England. I assumed it had to be connected to his work on Laud. In a letter in March 1999, Trevor-Roper explained tome how these decades of Protestant-Catholic "cold war" became the pivot of his scholarship:
What a difficult question you ask! You ask about my own mental processes, which I have not myself studied or analyzed. But I shall try to answer you. Of one thing I can be certain. However my interest in Erasmianism may have developed, it was not a direct result of my work on Laud. I do not think highly of that book,which I wrote, under no supervision, before I had really given any thought to history, historical philosophy, or the history of ideas.(I was trained as a classical scholar not as a historian--of which I am glad, since I was taught the classics well whereas such historical teaching as I had, or would have had, was very elementary.) It was only after my book on Laud was published that I really began to think about history and the history of ideas.
The pleasures of biography aside, then, this book on Mayerne, with its profound immersion in the political and religious cultures of Europe around 1600, can be read as an attempt to make good a carrer's false start. The period on which it focuses most intensely has come to be seen in the historical writing of the last three or four decades as one of intense paradox--of deep and unhealed political and religious wounds attended, on the surface, by extraordinary exploration across the splits and the schisms. The Prague of Rudolf II has become an emblem of this paradox of intellectual questing amid political stasis. Europe's fault line cut most deeply across the Empire, and it was there, eventually, in1618 that the conflagration was kindled and the Thirty Years' War--the first European civil war and the last war of the Reformation--finally exploded after many near-misses.
But the Paris of Henri IV was not so different. Here, too, we find craftsmen and alchemists making art out of nature, such as the heretical potter Bernard de Palissy. Here, too, we find scholars plumbing the secrets of the ancient world in order to remake the modern one, such as Jean Bodin. And here, too, we find the most complex versions of theological political accommodations: a Protestant king abjuring his faith in order to end a civil war of religion on terms advantageous to his former co-religionists while being gradually drawn into the orbit of a new world that sought,desperately, to undo those terms. Under those conditions, as Trevor-Roper shows, the personal and the professional inevitably became the political, as Catholic-Calvinist divisions squeezed themselves into every corner of French life. His presentation of intramural strife in the medical faculty of the Sorbonne--between the defenders of orthodox book-learned medicine, who were upstanding Catholics, and the new empirical chemical doctor strained in Germany, who were Calvinists--casts this world in a brilliant raking light.
The idea of a "third way" between Catholic and Protestant has inspired the work of R.J.W. Evans on Rudolfine Prague, the work of Gaetano Cozzi on Sarpi's Venice, and the work of Marc Fumaroli on French culture before and after Henri IV, as it does Trevor-Roper's depiction of Jacobean England as the "offshore aircraft carrier" of international Protestantism. In a way, what all these great scholars portray is a dazzling but fleeting moment in which it seemed that there were alternatives to a world divided into black and white. And what marked each of these encounters was not only apolitical project, but a cultural--or, more precisely, a scholarly--one. We might identify that scholarly project with the principles of the early Enlightenment: skepticism and empiricism on the cultural side, toleration and civil sovereignty on the political side, and above all a desire to preserve everything in balance.
In his letter to me, Trevor-Roper provided some insight as to how he came to focus on this moment of dazzling and precarious equipoise.The key lay not in the seventeenth century, but in the sixteenth;not with obvious revolutionaries such as Bacon, Descartes, and Galileo, but with Erasmus of Rotterdam.
I always had a sympathy for Erasmus: his exact scholarship, his humanist philosophy which rose above that scholarship, his easy Latin style, his wit and skepticism. Then, after the war, I read Marcel Bataillon's great work Erasme et l'Espagne  which put Erasmus in a larger context. I was greatly impressed by this, and all Bataillon's work, and visited him in Paris. It was through Bataillon that I saw Erasmus as an intellectual radical and a spiritual thinker- -not merely as a humanist writer.... In the course of my general reading I discovered that the ideas of Erasmus persisted, not merely in the Protestant world, but also in Catholic societies ... and this led me to see the period of general peace and the relaxation of ideological orthodoxy as a brief age of enlightenment before the renewed ideological wars of the 17 th century.
This point seemed very important to Trevor-Roper, for he returned to it in a postscript. "A further general point about Erasmianism," he began, and then, referring again to Bataillon's great book, he noted the way its conclusion led him to think about how the Dutch survived the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands after 1550:
I was able to observe how Erasmianism, in its native land, was able to survive under Counter-Reformation pressure by outward conformity and inner heresy. I also observed the same phenomenon in Switzerland, where the Italian Erasmist emigres sought refuge and sought to survive under an opposite and equally oppressive orthodoxy. From both the Netherlands and Switzerland these heretics tended to converge on England and so strengthened the thin Erasmian current.
SO TREVOR-ROPER CAME to his deep engagement with the culture of early seventeenth-century Europe--an engagement that is registered in this posthumous book, as in his path breaking lectures collected as The Plunder of the Arts in the Seventeenth Century--from Erasmus and the sixteenth century. What scholarship there was in the 1930son the intellectual world of early seventeenth-century France was motivated by an interest in the "free-thinking" that first started in Italy, rather than the impact of the homegrown Huguenot challenge. It played no part in Trevor-Roper's formation.
The relative disinterest in the cultural consequences of Calvinism among French scholars of the first half of the twentieth century sharply diverged from the treatment of Calvinism in Germany. In his second thoughts on Archbishop Laud, Trevor-Roper pled guilty to having harbored a crude view of the identity of Calvinism and capitalism that he took away from The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber's enormously influential work on the relation of religious belief to economic behavior in early modernity. But Trevor-Roper drew more generally from the German tradition. So this final book can be read not only as a treatise on the culture of Calvinism, but as an attempt to blend German categories to French realities in an English style.
As Trevor-Roper points out, no treatment of Calvinism can succeed that does not recognize its international character. Or, as he puts it in Europe's Physician, "Mayerne, above all things, was a cosmopolitan. Born in Geneva, of French-Piedmontese parents,educated in Germany and France, living in France and England,establishing himself as a feudal baron in Switzerland, married in turn to two Dutch women," he called himself, variously, "a Frenchman of Geneva" and "a demi-Suisse," and aspired to be "appropriately English." Still, as Trevor-Roper notes, "he never belonged to any country. He was a citizen of the world," which the historian immediately qualifies: "or rather, within the world, of an international society whose claims transcended those of any mere local patriotism." And this was not just any kind of internationalism. This was a religious bond, and it marked its members from before their birth. Mayerne's life and career, we are told, were shaped "by one great fact of sixteenth- century life:the brute, inescapable fact of religious persecution."
AND YET WHAT makes Trevor-Roper's treatment of Mayerne so valuable is that it does not treat Calvinism as a religion or even as a theology, but as an intellectual climate, an ethos. He reaches for what being Calvinist meant to most lay Calvinists. "Huguenotism,"he offers, "was not only a way of thinking: it was a way of life."The Calvinists of Western Europe were not necessarily even believers in predestination. They were, instead,
intellectual reformers, "liberals," even "libertines," in the tradition of Erasmus, who were driven to protect themselves by assuming a "Calvinist" armour which, once they were securely established, they would easily discard again. But if they would discard that armour, they would never discard the mentality which had caused them to assume it rather than to surrender (as other"liberals" had done) to the exasperated Catholic society around them. They were a proud race, an elite of independent,individualist, self-contained, self- disciplined, active, modern men. They showed the force of their character by their willingness to emigrate. They needed that force in order to remake their live sin foreign countries. They often also remade the foreign countries into which they emigrated.
The psychological focus is fascinating. The Calvinist immigrants,Trevor- Roper remarks, "were a dynamic force partly because of their moral qualities. They were heretics: that is, they had chosen their own way of life and were determined to live by it." Mayerne and his father were "typical Calvinists of their time: proud,patrician, self-sufficient (sometimes intolerably self-sufficient), even closet republicans--the type described by their friend, the Huguenot hero-poet Agrippa d'Aubigne, as `princes quiregnent sur eux-memes [princes who rule over themselves].'"
For Trevor-Roper, the Calvinist "princes" represent, in their code of internal rectitude, a "heroic age of individuals." But if we compare his "individualism" with that of Weber, the great theorist of the Calvinist personality, we see a much more complex tapestry in which religion plays a central role, but as an internalized social ethic, rather than anything associated with ritual or dogma.Just how Trevor-Roper humanizes Weber's sharp categories is apparent in his perceptive and affecting comments about the failures of Mayerne's sons. Ne'er-do-wells who died young (the two older boys died in their twenties, dashing their father's grand hopes of succession), they never showed anything of their father's mettle. The same phenomenon was true, Trevor-Roper notes, of Casaubon, Rohan, and d'Aubigne: "all saw their severe pattern of life, the high ideal on which they had modelled themselves, and which they sought to impose on their family, repudiated by sons who could not carry such a burden." Trevor-Roper calls this "the syndrome of the puritan hero's rebel son," but it might be truer to the thrust of his own argument to acknowledge a deeper reality:that individuals are made, not born. The Calvinist culture of the self, this project of individual self-creation, must be renewed in every generation. It is not heritable.
BUT THERE IS SOMETHING even more striking about Trevor-Roper's characterization of the spirit of Calvinism. It is his explicit modeling of the international Calvinist condition on the Jewish condition in the Diaspora. Right from the beginning, just after introducing Mayerne the cosmopolitan malgre lui, Trevor-Roper comments that "the dispersal of European talent in the century after the Reformation is surely one of the great fertilising displacements of European history. There is nothing comparable with it until the equally fertilising--and even more costly--dispersal of the European Jews in recent times."
This is not a casual aside. Trevor Roper pursues the parallel more systematically: "For by this dispersal, old countries would be changed and new ones created. Just as the persecuted and scattered Jews of our time have created the state of Israel--a practical experiment inconceivable until it was established--and have thereby convulsed the politics of the surrounding Arab world, so the persecuted and dispersed Calvinists of the sixteenth century created new political systems which disturbed the traditional balance of Europe. " Italian and French refugees created Geneva,while Flemish and French ones created Holland, "and turned Amsterdam from an obscure fishing town into the commercial miracle of the seventeenth century."
The Calvinists of 1600 were, you might say, un peuple d'elite, surde lui- meme et dominateur. (This was de Gaulle's infamous characterization of the Jews; "arrogant and pushy" is the best street translation.) And so there was no love lost for them among their neighbors. As with the Jews, the disproportionate success of a small, cohesive, self-important group did not make many friends among the disproportionately unsuccessful majority culture. "The Huguenots clung together, forming a society within society,compact, impenetrable, in assimilable.... They might move freely in metropolitan society.. .. But their private world, into which they retreated and within which they were at ease, was irreducibly Huguenot. They consulted with Huguenot doctors; they employed Huguenot apothecaries. Huguenots were their closest friends."
If one replaces "Huguenot" with "Jew" or "Jewish," then the asperity of the response by the Parisian medical faculty sounds more familiar to our ears, which are more finely tuned to anti-Semitism than to intramural Christian sectarianism. As Trevor-Roper writes,"these Huguenot doctors were in their eyes a foreign body which,thanks to royal protection, had acquired an indecent power in Paris. They had invaded the monopoly of the university and they were corrupting the true medicine as well as true religion by their destructive, heretical notions.... They were more wicked, of course, because they were more successful." And so when things began to fall apart for the Calvinists after their defeat at the battle of the White Mountain in November 1620, these princes of self-mastery--who had expected to change the wider world--turned inward on themselves. In this regard, too, Trevor-Roper reaches for the Jewish historical experience as an instructive parallel. "Such a withdrawal is a form of `interior emigration,' a consequence of defeat. We see it in Rohan; we see it in Agrippa d'Aubigne; we see it, in comparable form, in the great court-Jews of the Diaspora.Outwardly, these men comply with the world which they have been unable to change, but inwardly they know that their own values,their own traditions, are better, and they will not desert them."
IF TREVOR-ROPER'S ANALOGY of Jews and Calvinists differs sharply from Weber, he is far more precise than Werner Sombart, who also tried to use the Jewish historical experience as a platform for attacking Weber. In The Jews and Modern Capitalism which appeared in 1911, Sombart sloppily mixed scholarship and stereotypes, though his book eventually helped readers such as Fernand Braudel to recognize that the rise of the Dutch depended directly upon the converso Jewish diaspora. The Spanish Inquisition shook the trees and the Dutch Regenten collected the fruit.
In Germany, the generations of scholars that followed Weber and Sombart worked more deeply on the connections between Calvinism and the state-- eventually, in the decade after World War II,discovering a convergence of Calvinism and Stoicism. There is something to this; recall d'Aubigne's comment about princes who rule over themselves. But in the postwar interpretations, the seventeenth century's ideological conflicts were drained of their religious valence. And as it happened, the scholars who were most keenly committed to this neo-Stoic vision of seventeenth-century culture were former Nazis.
Trevor-Roper, who knew a thing or two about Nazis, also knew a great deal about neo-Stoicism, the seventeenth-century mixture of ancient Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Skepticism that was designed, like a modern self-help literature, to assist people in adversity--which meant civil war, court intrigue, and religious persecution. I asked him about this connection as well. This was his reply:
I have tried to answer--very imperfectly--two of your three specific questions. Before the third I retreat. I didn't know the Oestreicher [sic] and Otto Brunner were ex-Nazis. But I can see why neo-stoicism could appeal to the defeated Erasmians of the Netherlands--as, of course, did Tacitism. The retreat of the libertines under the pressure of the new despotism, into the citadel of private virtue, Lipsius' de Constantia, Cremonini's extra utmoris est, intus ut libet [outside according to custom, inside according to will]. But those ex- nazis ...! What kind of Nazi were they? Disciples of Stefan George perhaps. Where did they stand on20 July 1944?
Is it a surprise, really, that former Nazis of whatever stripe--Otto Brunner, the great Austrian medievalist who inspired the new German social history after the war, was a true believer in the Fuhrer,while Gerhard Oestreich, who coined the term "social disciplining"and described its practice two decades before Foucault discovered him, was merely a German cultural conservative-- could not understand the role of religion as a shaper of personality, let alone benefit from the Jewish historical example? What Trevor-Roper's historical picture restores are the complex ties between religion, intellectual life, and individual lifestyle:Calvinism as a shaper of personality, and the experience of European Judaism as a laboratory for understanding the dynamics of that interplay.
A book of scholarship lasts when it is more than the sum of its footnotes. Faults can always be found in a book, let alone one written thirty years before its publication. But long after today's interpretation of Henri IV or Charles I or Laud will be challenged by some new revisionism, people will return to Europe's Physician for its "big picture," and for its humanity, and for its ability to think historically about problems that are five hundred years old and as fresh as the morning newspaper. Perhaps Trevor-Roper's concluding judgment of Erasmus in his letter can stand as a fitting epitaph to this book, and to the career it so brightly mirrors: "I find it interesting that Gibbon, that `most strong-minded of historians' as Carlyle called him, almost alone in his time saw the long-term revolutionary intellectual tradition begun by Erasmus.Nearly everyone else saw him as a civilized moderate scholar snuffed out by rival orthodoxies."