Nicolaas Heinsius the Elder

Nicolaas Heinsius the Elder (Latin: Nicolaus Heinsius; 20 July 1620 – 1681) was a Dutch classical scholar and poet, son of Daniel Heinsius.

Heinsus was born in Leiden, Netherlands. His boyish Latin poem Breda expugnata was printed in 1637, and attracted much attention. In 1642 he began his wanderings with a visit to England in search of manuscripts of the classics; but he met with little courtesy from the English scholars. In 1644 he was sent to Spa to drink the waters; his health restored, he set out once more in search of codices, passing through Leuven, Brussels, Mechelen, Antwerp and so back to Leiden, everywhere collating manuscripts and taking philological and textual notes.

Almost immediately he set out again, and arriving in Paris was welcomed with open arms by the French savants. After investigating all the classical texts he could obtain, he proceeded southwards, and visited on the same quest Lyon, Marseille, Pisa, Florence (where he paused to issue a new edition of Ovid) and Rome. The next year, 1647, found him in Naples, from which he fled during the reign of Masaniello; he pursued his labours in Leghorn, Bologna, Venice, where he was supported by Jan Reynst and Padua, at which latter city he published in 1648 his volume of original Latin verse entitled Italica.

He proceeded to Milan and worked for a considerable time in the Ambrosian library; he was preparing to explore Switzerland in the same patient manner when the news of his father's illness recalled him hurriedly to Leiden. He was soon called away to Stockholm at the invitation of Queen Christina, at whose court he waged war with Salmasius, who accused him of having supplied Milton with facts from the life of that great but irritable scholar. Heinsius paid a flying visit to Leiden in 1650, but immediately returned to Stockholm. In 1651 he once more visited France and Italy with Isaac Vossius, in order to buy books or coins for Christina. In 1654 Christina stepped down, and two years later Heinsius became a diplomat for the States-General on behalf of Coenraad van Beuningen. In 1665 he was appointed by the city of Amsterdam as the official historian. In 1669 he went to Moscow and in 1672 to Bremen. In 1675 he settled down in his countryhouse near Vianen, but moved to the Hague later on.

Heinsius had two illegitimate children by a daughter of a Lutheran minister. He married her only after a lawsuit, but did not want to recognize his sons, Daniel and Nicolaas Heinsius the Younger (1655–1718). This Nicolaas became a wanderer, who in 1679 was appointed as Christina's private physician in Rome.

Heinsius collected one of the biggest private libraries in Europe. He was visited by Lorenzo Magalotti in 1668 when visiting the United Provinces. After his death about 13.000 books were sold in 1683. The famous catalogue was used by many scholars as a reference.

In 1653 Heinsius collected his Latin poems into a volume. His latest labours were the editing of Velleius Paterculus in 1678 and of Valerius Flaccus in 1680. He died at The Hague on October 7, 1681.

Nicolaas Heinsius was one of the purest and most elegant of Latinists, and if his scholarship was not quite so perfect as that of his father, he displayed higher gifts as an original writer.

ANECDOTAL: The Puritan author, John Flavel (ca. 1630−1691), said of Heinsius: "If Heinsius, when he had shut up himself in the library at Leyden, reckoned himself placed in the very lap of eternity, because he conversed there with so many Divine souls, and professed he took his seat in it with so lofty a spirit and sweet content, that he heartily pitied all the great and rich men of the world, that were ignorant of the happiness he there daily enjoyed;" How much more may that soul rejoice in its own happiness, who hath shut himself up in the chambers of the Divine Attributes, and exerciseth pity for the exposed and miserable multitude that are left as a prey to the temptations and troubles of the world.


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