A Brill Calendar: May 19
"esse percipi est"
Few widely-known academic ‘dicta’ are more readily endorsed than a crisp Latin saying: ‘esse percipi est’: to be is to be perceived.
The Anglo-Irish scientist, philosopher and Anglican bishop George Berkeley (an exact contemporary of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti) formulated this insight as a young man, after having been elected as Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1707. It may be applied without hesitation to the significance of Isaac Beeckman (Middelburg, Zeeland December 12 1588 – Dordrecht, May 19, 1637). Matriculating in Leyden two days after his 20th birthday in order to become a Calvinist minister, his short life came to display a unique diversity in callings: from candle-making and manufacturing tubing systems for beer-breweries, to the rectorate of the illustrious Latin school in the city where he died.
In September 1618, Beeckman had graduated as Doctor of Medicine at the Academy of Caen and returned to Zeeland. Almost immediately, (November 10 1618 to be precise), he ran into a young French mercenary soldier in the pay of Maurice, Prince of Orange, named René Descartes on a busy market square in Breda. Descartes came to value Isaac, both as a fascinating friend and an exceptional master in the art of explaining wonders rationally; transforming them into solvable puzzles.
It is seldom that a brilliant mind was perceived by so small a circle of intimates; although they included many of the best European intellects of the early 17th century - including Marin Mersenne (1588 – 1648) - the one-man communication link in Europe between science and philosophy of the period. Two reasons explain this curiosity. Beeckman didn’t publish anything; and his meticulously maintained scholarly note-book, his ‘Journael’, was redeemed from oblivion as late as 1905.