A Brill Calendar: March 5
Mercator: An Appreciation
Few pleasures compare with discovering the specific behind a subject which was previously only dealt with generally.
When it comes to art it may be noticing the drop of paint Frans Hals used to create the (previously unnoticed) malicious glint in the eye of René Descartes. When it comes to people, it is the privilege of getting to know an acquaintance better: a little or a lot. And when it comes to the documented past, the potential of enchantment is prodigious; and may be effectuated without great exertion. It is an omnipresent blessing; only pre-empted by routine, laxness and thoughtlessness.
An example. As long as there is no socio-cultural penalty to know more about one faceless ‘Mercator’ than that he was 'the someone' who devised a method to project a globular surface on a flat piece of paper, we can leave it at that. Even if we denied ourselves the delight of getting to know this inventor better; it is seldom that adding specifics to general knowledge doesn’t improve the quality of our assessment; and often in a quite surprising way, particularly in this case.
Gerardus Mercator (Rupelmonde, Flanders March 5 1512 – Duisburg, Duchy of Cleves, December 2 1594) was much more than the mathematician of this single geometrical feat: he was a generalist, educated in Louvain University, conceiving a new concept in printing & publishing and coining a neologism for it in 1569: ‘Atlas’. Gerard Kramer was a master of many trades, an excellent engraver, calligrapher and instrument-maker, a scholar who did not hesitate to write a representative Chronology of God’s creation of Mankind and His Planet from the very beginning, up to 1568. Kramer was a versatile and trustworthy courtier and consultant to the Duke of Cleves; altogether an admirable and lovable character, as well as an independent mind coping with constant, malicious suspicions against his person. Yet he survived them and became a Founding Father of cartography.
Like the 33rd President of the United States of America, Harry Spencer Truman, was wont to say: “The only thing that is truly new, is the history you don’t know”.