Postel, Guillaume

Postel, Guillaume one of the most learned Frenchmen of his time, is celebrated especially as one of the wildest religious visionaries the world has ever encountered. He was born May 28, 1505 (according to some historians, 1510), at Dolerie, near Barenton, in Normandy. He lost his parents early, and poverty compelled him to leave his country. At the age of thirteen years he found at Say, near Pontoise, a modest situation as schoolmaster. He saved some money, and went to Paris to pursue his studies. There he was the victim of a robbery, which reduced him to extreme misery, and he was confined by sickness to a hospital for two years. When he was restored to health, his poverty and the high price of living compelled him to leave Paris, and to support himself by gleaning in the Beauce. Afterwards he entered the College of Sainte-Barbe in the quality of a servant; there he became by private study one of the most learned Hebraists of his time. No less remarkable was his proficiency in the Greek language. He lived successively in Amiens and Rouen, and then went back to Paris to become a tutor. He accompanied La Forest to Constantinople to transact some political business. He went a second time to the capital of Turkey with the heirs of a citizen of Tours, who had died leaving 300,000 ducats as a deposit in the hands of Ibrahim Pasha. Postel improved these occasions to study the Arabic language, and brought back with him a number of manuscripts in Arabic and Syriac. The New Testament in Syriac, which he was the first to bring to Europe, was printed at the expense of the emperor Ferdinand I. Shortly after this Postel published an alphabet in twelve languages, and some other writings. His learning was now acknowledged by king Francis I, and he was given in 1539 a professorship of mathematics and Oriental languages, with a salary of 200 ducats, which allowed him much leisure to devote himself to linguistic studies; but he lost his chair when chancellor Poyet, his benefactor, fell into disgrace. Postel thereupon repaired to Vienna, where he helped Job. Alb. Widmanstadt in the publication of his New Testament in Syriac (printed in 1555). Compelled to leave that city for motives unknown, he was mistaken for a murderer who had some likeness to him, and arrested on the frontier of the Venetian territory. He succeeded in escaping his captors, and went to Rome in 1544. He there made the acquaintance of Ignatius de Loyola, and determined to enter the Order of the Jesuits. But the head of the neophyte was full of fantastic ideas, due to the study of the rabbins, and also to the study of the stars. After a two-years' novitiate he was expelled from the order, and Ignatius prohibited all intercourse with him. Postel having exposed in some writings his mystical ideas, he was imprisoned. Escaping to Venice, he was denounced to the Inquisition but was dismissed by that tribunal, being considered more a fool than a heretic. He afterwards lived in Genoa and Basle. Beza asserts that Postel offered to abjure his errors and to enter one of the Protestant communities, which seems doubtful. It appears that in 1553 he was a teacher of mathematics at Dijon, when his obnoxious opinions compelled him again to flee. He lived for some time at the court of the emperor Ferdinand I, whence, after a public abjuration of his opinions, he was recalled to his former situation at the College of France by Francis I, but soon lost it again, and spent the last eighteen years of his life in the monastery of Saint-Martin des Champs. "In his old age," says a contemporary, "princes and men of science paid their visits to the venerable recluse at Saint-Martin des Champs, where he lived. He there sat in his chair, his white beard falling down to his girdle; and in his deportment was such a majesty, such gravity in everything he said, that no one ever left him without a wish to see him again, and without astonishment at what he had heard." He died Sept. 6,1581. It was during his life at the monastery that Postel published in 1572 his ideas about the comet which appeared in that year, and in 1575 a new edition of his Histoires Orientles, dedicated to Francis of Valois. He says in the dedication that Catharine de'Medici had made choice of him for preceptor of her son Francis, and that lie declined the position on account of the dangers of the court, which he had painfully experienced in his own life. It is related by contemporaries that when he lectured at Paris, at the College of the Lombards, he drew such crowds that, the great room of the institute being too narrow, he caused his auditors to go down into the yard, and spoke to them from a window. Maldoniatus says that "there came out of his mouth as many oracles as words." He may have been wrongly accused of atheism, but he entertained strange theological opinions. Among the wild and extravagant notions that he entertained, one was that he had died, and risen again with the soul of Adam; whence lie called himself "Postellmus restitutus;" he also maintained that women shall have the dominion over men, and that his writings were revealed to him by Jesus Christ. He was therefore confident of being able to explain by reason and philosophy all Christian dogmas, inclusive of the mysteries, his personal reason having become so superior to that of other men that by its means he would convert all nations to the Christian faith. "Christ has given," he said, "the excellence of faith to the apostles; but faith being now almost extinct, he gave us, and especially to me, instead of the faith, nay, with the faith, Reason, so powerful and victorious, as never did the apostles have it. And thus innumerable things in the Scripture and in nature, which never were understood, by said victorious reason will be understood." He asserted that the human soul of Christ was created and united with the eternal Word before the creation of the world. He affirmed that everything that was in nature was described in the heavens in Hebrew characters, formed by the arrangement of the stars. The world was to subsist only for 6000 years, an opinion he had taken from the Jewish Cabala. The end of the world will be preceded by the restoration of all things into the state they were in before the fall of Adam. He dreamed of the fusion of all religions into one creed; and in his desire to reconcile Christians, Jews, and Mohammedan, undertook to explain the most extravagant opinions. But, whatever judgment we may pronounce on his opinions, justice compels us to recognize that all historians commend the purity of his life, the wisdom of his conduct, and the benevolence of his character: lie often neglected his own interests to take care of others'. He left, Linguarum XII charactemribus differentium alphabetuma introductio ac legendi methodus (Paris, 1538, 4to): — De or iginibus seu de Hebraicce linguce et gentis antiquitate atque variarum linguarum affitate (ibid. 1538, 4to): — Grammatica Arabica (ibid. 1538, 4to): — Syrie descriptio (ibid. 1540, 8vo): — De magistratibus Atheniensiun (Basle, 1543, 8vo; Leipsic, 1591, 8vo, with the notes of John Frederick Hekelius): — Alcoranti seue legis Mahometi et evangelistarum concordiae liber (Paris, 1543, 8vo): — Sactrarum aspodexeon, seu Euclidis Christiani libri 2 (ibid. 1543): — IV liborum de orbis terre concordia primus (ibid. 8vo): — De rationibus Spiritus Sancti (ibid. 1543, 8vo); in this work Postel endeavors to prove that there is nothing in religion that is not in accordance with nature and reason: — De orbis terrcs concordice libri 4 (Basle, 1544, 8vo); it is the best of Postel's works, and expounds with much talent his favorite ideas about the conversion of all the nations of the world: — De nativitate Mediatoris ultima, nunc fltura et toti orbi ferrarum ins singulis ratione preeditis manifestanda opus (ibid, 1547, 8vo): — Absconditorum at constitutione mundi clavis, qua mens humana tam in divinis quam in humanis pertinget ad interiora velamnina aetnae veritatis (ibid. 16mo; and with appendix, Amst. 1646, 16mo): — Candelabri typici in Mosis tabernamculo jussu divino expressi interpretatio (Venice, 1548-Hebrew, Latin, and French): — De Etruriae iregionis, que prima in orbe Europseo habitata est, originlibus, institutis, religione, et moribus (Florence, 1551, 4to): — Les Raisons de la Monarchie, et quels Moyens sont necessaire pour y parvenir (Paris, 1551, 8vo): — Abrahami patriarchae liber Jesirath, sive formationis mundi, patribus quidem Abrahami tempora precedentibus revelatur, etc. (ibid. 1552, 16mo): — De causis seu de principiis et originibus naturae utriusque (ibid. 1552, 16mo): — Eversiofaldsorum Aristotelis dogmatum (ibid. 1552. 16mo): — L'histoire memorable des Expeditions depuis le Deluge, foites par les Gauloys ou Francoys depuis la France jusques in Asie, ou en Thrace, et en l'orientale Partie de l'Europe (ibid. 1552, 16mo): — De Phoenicum- litteris, seut de prisco Latine et Graecae linguae charactere (ibid. 1552, 8vo): Tabule in astronomliaem, in arithmeticam theoricam et in musicam theoricam (ibid. 1552): — La Loi Salique, livret de la premiere humaine Veiite (ibid. 1552, 16mo; Lyons, 1559, 16mo): — Promto-Evangelium Jacobi, fratris et potissin eum orbi Latino ad hanc diem incognita aut inconsidoerata historiat (ibid. 1553, 8vo): — Descriptio Donini (Basle, 1552, 8vo): — De Originibus, seu de varia des Gaules (Paris, 1553, fol.): — Signoum caelestium vera cofiguratio et significationum expositio (ibid. 1553, 8vo): — La Doctrine du Siecle dore, ou de l'evangelique Regne de Jesus, Roy des Roys (ibid. 1551, 16mo; reprinted with the following): — Les tres marveilleuses Victoires es s Femmes du Nouveau-Monde; et comme, elles doivent a tout le Monde par Raison commander, et mome i ceux qui auront la Monarchie du Monde Vieil (ibid. 1553, 16mo). This book has become very rare and precious. Postel declares that he speaks in the name and by the inspiration of a certain mere Jeanne, whom he had known in Italy, and whose substance has been absorbed by his own: — Des Merveilles des Indes et du Noveau-Monde ou est demontre le Lieu du Paridis terrestre (ibid. 1553, 16mo): — Description de la Terre-Sainte (ibid. 1553, 16 mo): — Le prime nove dell' altro mondo, eioi l'ammirabile storia intitolata: La Vergine Venetiana (1555, 12 mo); — De la Republique des Tures et des Maeurs et Loys de tous les Mahumedistes (Poiters, 1560, 4to):— Cosmographiae discipline Compendiu m, cum synopsi rerum toto orbe gestarum (Basle, 1561, 4to):— La Concordance des quatre Evangiles (Paris, 1562, 16 mo):— Les permiers Elements d'Euclide Chretien en Vers (ibid. 1562 8vo):— De universitate seu cosmographia (ibid. 1563 4to reprinted several times): — De raris histories et de admirandis rebus quae a quinquaginta amnis contegerunt (1553-83; Paris 1563, 4to). Postel is one of the authors to whom the celebrated work De tribus impostoribus has been attributed. — Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Géneralé, s.v. See Ittig. De Postello (Leips. 1704); Desbillons, Sur la Vie de Postel (Liege, 1773); Sainte-Marthe, Eloges; Thevet, Hist. des Hommes illustres; Desbillons, Noveaux Eclaircissements sur la Vie de Postel; Collmieo, Gallia Orientalis; De Thou, Eloges des Savants; Sallengre, Memoires de la Litterature, vol. 1 and 2; Marrier, Hist de Saint-Martin des Champs; Niceron, Memoires, vol 8; Chaufepie, Remarques sur Postel; Goujet, Mem. hist. sur le College Royal. Lelong also names a Vie de Postel by the abbé Joly, canon at Dijon. See also Brunet, Manuel du Libraire, 4, 822; Frere, Manuel du Bibliographie Normand; Hallam, Introd. to the Literature of Europe (Harper's ed.), 1, 240, 406.

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