Samuel Hartlib

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Samuel Hartlib (* around 1600 in Elbing , Royal Prussia ; † 1662 in London , England ; born Samuel Hartlieb) was a German-English scientist and educator . He was known as "the Great Intelligencer of Europe" (the great information collector and disseminator of Europe).

Live and act

His father was a wealthy dye works owner (who fled the Jesuits from Posen to Elbing around 1600) and his mother was the daughter of the English merchant (and head of the English merchants in Elbing) John Langthon in Elbing. Hartlieb studied at the grammar school in Brieg and at the Königsberg University , then briefly at the University of Cambridge in England (without being matriculated). In 1628 Hartlib moved from Elbing to England at the same time as the preacher of the English congregation of Elbing, John Dury . There he married Mary Burningham, with whom he had at least four sons and two daughters and who died around 1660, and remained there almost until the end of his life.

He joined the idealistic secret society " Antilia ", which had members mainly in Germany and was dedicated to the reform of religion and education. She wanted to unite all sects and churches in order to prepare them for the second coming of Christ . In 1630 he founded an academy (school) in Chichester on behalf of the society. After their failure, he went to London to help others realize their reform ideas.

His own favorite project was the establishment of a publicly funded address office (Office of Publick Adresse - based on the model of the Bureau d´Adresse by Théophraste Renaudot in Paris), which was supposed to collect information from scientists in all fields of knowledge and to link it for general benefit Precursors to scientific academies such as the Royal Society. The focus was on practically applicable sciences. It should also serve for the exchange of domestic and foreign merchants, serve the dissemination of inventions and secure the patronage of rich sponsors. He was unable to obtain the necessary financial means, but in his financial efforts he received at least enough public funds to cover his living and that of some ailing scientists. In 1657/58 he founded an address office in Dublin. He was officially referred to as a businessman, but does not seem to have worked as such.

Hartlib supported Protestant religious refugees from Central Europe in England, which was devastated by the Thirty Years War, and invited Johann Amos Comenius to England in 1641 and published his work Prodomus pansophiae and other works and supported his ideas for educational reform. He was also an advocate of John Dury's efforts for Protestant unity. His ideas of an enlightened state promoting education and science he presented in his utopia A description of the famous kingdom of Macaria from 1641. It was influenced by the utopias of Thomas More , Francis Bacon and Johann Valentin Andreae (Christianopolis) (he insists on it that the writer John Hall (1627–1656) made an English translation of the book by Andreae, published 1647). Like Dury, he was under the influence of Andreae (one of the originators of the Rosicrucian movement), with whom he also corresponded.

Hartlib was very active in promoting science and education and formed the center of the "Hartlib Circle", considered one of the forerunners of the Royal Society (it was also called by Robert Boyle Invisible College ). As the one-man embodiment of his address office, he collected the ideas of inventors and thinkers and spread them abroad. In this way his house became a hub for international academic literature exchange. He edited many publications, especially translations, but also distributed “gray literature” - handwritten copies of letters and essays. This was not only financially less risky than printing, but also made it possible to distribute unfinished works to interested parties and send them back with suggestions and corrections. His circle included Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle. and their alchemical activity was supported by Kenelm Digby . Additional members were William Petty , the chemist Benjamin Worsley (1618-1673), the scientist Arnold and Gerald Boate and the inventors Cressy Dymock and Gabriel Plattes to the circle. He also had contact with John Milton , who dedicated his On Education (1644) to him, and the mathematician John Pell , with whom he corresponded when he was in Switzerland. He corresponded with Johannes Hevelius in Danzig, John Dury in the Netherlands and Germany, John Winthrop (Governor of Massachusetts) and George Starkey in New England and with Henry Oldenbourg . He was also in contact with Samuel Pepys , who was a guest at the wedding of his daughter Nan with John Roth from Utrecht, with Thomas Hobbes , Christopher Wren , John Evelyn and Pierre Gassendi .

In the years after the civil war, they were primarily looking for ways to raise the country's prosperity and extend human life. They did not stop at alchemical experiments either. They wanted to work with Divine Providence to hasten the improvement of human conditions. The Restoration and the return of the Stuarts set all projects back and Hartlib lived impoverished in Oxford and London. Finally he lost books and manuscripts in a fire.

Samuel Hartlieb from Elbing set out with the aim of documenting all human knowledge and making it possible for all humanity to study it universally ("To record all human knowledge and to make it universally available for the education of all mankind").

The estate is in the Sheffield University Library.


  • A Description of the Famous Kingdome of Macaria, London, 1641
  • A Faithful and Seasonable Advice, or, the Necessity of a Correspondencie for the Advancement of the Protestant Cause, London, 1643
  • Considerations Tending to the Happy Accomplishment of Englands Reformation in Church and State. London, 1647
  • A Further Discoverie of the Office of Publick Address for Accomodations, London, 1648
  • Samuel Hartlib and his legacy, London 1651, 3rd edition 1655 (collection of articles on agriculture, including by Cressy Dymock and Robert Child)

Hartlib's letters and his estate, a total of over 25,000 pages, were published on CD in 1995. Much of it is in the University of Sheffield library.


  • Marie Boas Hall : HartLib, Samuel . In: Charles Coulston Gillispie (Ed.): Dictionary of Scientific Biography . tape 6 : Jean Hachette - Joseph Hyrtl . Charles Scribner's Sons, New York 1972, p. 140-142 .
  • Mark Greengras, Michael Leslie (Eds.) Samuel Hartlib and Universal Reformation. Studies in Intellectual Communication , Cambridge 1994
  • GH Turnbull: Samuel Hartlib. A sketch of his life and his relation to JA Comenius , Oxford 1920
  • GH Turnbull: Hartlib, Dury and Comenius. Gleanings from Hartlibs papers , Liverpool, London 1947
  • GH Turnbull Samuel Hartlib's Influence on the Early History of the Royal Society , Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 10, no. 2, 1953
  • RH Syfret The origins of the Royal Society , Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 5, 1947/48, pp. 75-137.
  • Henry Dirck's Biographical Memoir of Samuel Hartlib , London 1865
  • Friedrich Althaus: Samuel Hartlib- a German-English character picture , Leipzig 1884
  • HM Knox: William Petty 's Advice to Samuel Hartlib, British Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2 (May, 1953), pp. 131-142.
  • Martin Schmidt:  Hartlib, Samuel. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 7, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1966, ISBN 3-428-00188-5 , p. 721 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Alfred SternSamuel Hartlib . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 10, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1879, p. 672 f.
  • Donald R. Dickson: The Tessera of Antilia. Utopian brotherhoods and secret societies in the early seventeenth century, Brill 1998
  • Charles Webster (Ed.) Samuel Hartlib and the Advancement of Learning , Cambridge University Press, 1970.
  • Carol Pal: The early modern information factory: how Samuel Hartlib turned correspondence into knowledge . In: Paula Findlen (ed.): Empires of knowledge - scientific networks in the early modern world, London; New York: Routledge 2019 ISBN 978-1-138-20712-7 , pp. 126-158.

Web links

References and comments

  1. John Dury was also involved in the design
  2. 1645 to 1659 he received various grants from parliament. Marie Boas Hall, Dictionary of Scientific Biography
  3. ^ Joad Raymond, John Hall, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. Its first scientific publication appeared in Chymical, Medicinal and Chyrurgical Addresses Made to Samuel Hartlib Esq , London, 1655
  5. Pell was Oliver Cromwell's political agent and Cromwell seems to have also used Hartlib for his political connections abroad - he is referred to as secretary at Cromwell's funeral
  6. ^ The Hartlib Papers on CD Rom, Ann Arbor, Michigan 1995, edited by J. Crawford, M. Greengrass, M. Leslie, T. Raylor