Mencke English

Johann Burckhardt Mencke, De Charlataneria Eruditorum (1715)

p. 61

But how some people will allow themselves to be imposed on [p. 62] witness those wheeler dealers in all antiquity, to name none but [p. 63] the biggest by far, Athanasius Kircher and Jacobus Gronovius. There were at Rome some high-spirited young men who heard that a building was to be erected somewhere in the city and decided to test Kircher’s intelligence. So they arranged for a dirty old stone to be buried secretly on that site and scribbled on it with various amazing figures made up for the occasion. What could it be? The foundations of the new building were thrown up and the stone was removed – a new record of antiquity to be admired for its very integrity. Ask Oedipus, go to Kircher. He took one look at the stone and jumped for joy, tapping the ground with his feet. He instantly began to interpret the circles, crosses and all the signs together so grandly and plausibly that the like was never seen before.

Footnote to p. 64

Never seen before.] I am reminded of another equally amusing tale about Kircher. A close friend showed him a sheet of silken paper such as the Chinese use, covered with extraordinary characters. The good Athanasius would have devoted great pains and much lamp oil to explaining them but his friend, getting impatient with the wasted labours, moved the paper past a mirror, and Kircher instantly realised he had been fooled, for the writing on the sheet read, in Longobardic letters painted backwards, “Do not follow after vain things and waste time on jokes serving no good purpose.”

p. 228

Another kind not to be ignored are those who promote their soon to be published books. There are whole catalogues full of these, but I shall illustrate them only with Andreas [p. 229] Muller of Greifenbach, who boasted of his intimate knowledge of the Chinese language, and promised an expectant world his Key to it. However, as events taught Job Ludolf,** he only had a beginner’s grasp of it and “threatened much but coughed up nothing”.

** It is amusing to read the two letters of his on the subject printed by Struve, Act. Lit. vol. VI p. 47-51.