At the age of nineteen Isaac was sent to the Academy of Geneva, where he read Greek under Francis Portus a Cretan. Portus died in 1581, recommending Casaubon, then only twenty-two, as his successor. He remained at Geneva as professor of Greek until 1596. There he married twice, his second wife being Florence Etiennes, daughter of the scholar-printer Henri Estienne. At Geneva, Casaubon lacked example, encouragement and assistance and struggled against the troops of the Catholic dukes of Savoy, but became a consummate Greek and classical scholar. He spent all the money he could spare on books, including copying classics that were not then in print. Even though Henri Estienne, Theodore de Beza (rector of the university and professor of theology), and Jacques Lect (Lectius), were men of superior learning, they often had no time for Casaubon.
Casaubon sought help by cultivating the acquaintance of foreign scholars, as Geneva, the metropolis of Calvinism, received a constant stream of visitors. He eventually met Henry Wotton, a poet and diplomat, who lodged with him and borrowed his money. More importantly, he met Richard Thomson ("Dutch" Thomson), fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and through Thomson came to the attention of Joseph Scaliger. Scaliger and Casaubon first exchanged letters in 1594. They never met, but kept up a lengthy correspondence that shows their growing admiration, esteem and friendship. Influential French men of letters, the Protestant Jacques Bongars, the Catholic Jacques de Thou, and the Catholic convert Philippe Canaye (le sieur du Fresne) endeavoured to get Casaubon invited to France.
In 1596, they succeeded, and Casaubon accepted a post at the University of Montpellier, with the titles of conseiller du roi (king's advisor) and professeur stipendié aux langues et bonnes lettres (salaried professor of languages and literatures). He stayed there for only three years, with several prolonged absences. He was badly treated and poorly paid by the university authorities. Casaubon began to see the editing of Greek books as a more suitable job for him. At Geneva he had produced some notes on Diogenes Laertius, Theocritus and the New Testament. His debuted as an editor with a complete edition of Strabo (1587), of which he was so ashamed afterwards that he apologized to Scaliger for it. This was followed by the text of Polyaenus, an editio princeps, 1589; a text of Aristotle, 1590; and a few notes contributed to Estienne's editions of Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Pliny's Epistolae. His edition of Theophrastus's Characteres (1592), is the first example of his peculiar style of illustrative commentary, at once apposite and profuse. When he left for Montpellier he was already engaged upon his magnum opus, his editing of and commentary on Athenaeus.
The issue was contrived that the Protestant party (Du Plessis Mornay) could not fail to lose. By concurring with this decision, Casaubon confirmed the Protestants' suspicions that, like his friend and patron, Canaye du Fresne, he was contemplating abjuration. From then on, he became the object of the hopes and fears of the two religions; the Catholics lavishing promises and plying him with arguments; the Protestant ministers insinuating that he was preparing to forsake a losing cause, and only haggling about his price. Neither side could understand that Casaubon's reading of the church fathers led him to adopt an intermediate position between Genevan Calvinism and Ultramontanism.
Meanwhile, the king repeated his invitation to Casaubon to settle in Paris, and gave him a pension. No more was said about the university. The recent reform of the University of Paris closed its doors to all but Catholics; and though the chairs of the College de France were not governed by the statutes of the university, public opinion ran so violently against Protestants, that Henry IV dared not appoint a Calvinist to that position. When the king's sub-librarian Jean Gosselin died of extreme old age in 1604, Casaubon succeeded him, with a salary of 400 livres in addition to his pension.
Despite all these advantages, Casaubon considered many schemes for leaving Paris and settling elsewhere. Offers came to him from various quarters, including Nimes, Heidelberg and Sedan, France. His friends Lect and Giovanni Diodati wished, rather than hoped, to get him back to Geneva. In Paris, Casaubon was still uneasy about his religion: the life of a Parisian Huguenot was always insecure, for the police were likely not strong enough to protect them against a sudden mob uprising. Since the Fontainebleau Conference, an impression prevailed that Casaubon was wavering. The Catholics told him he could gain a professorship only if he renounced Protestantism. When it became clear that Casaubon could not be bought, Henry IV, who liked Casaubon personally, took it upon himself to try to convert him. (Henry himself had converted to Catholicism in order to rule France.) The king's cardinal Duperron, in his capacity of aumonier, argued with Casaubon in the king's library. On the other hand, the Huguenot theologians, especially Pierre du Moulin, chief pastor of the church of Paris, accused Casaubon of conceding too much, and of having departed already from the lines of strict Calvinistic orthodoxy.
Casaubon found great success in England. John Overall, one of England's most learned high clergymen, received him and his whole family into the deanery of St Paul's, and entertained him there for a year. Lancelot Andrewes, then Bishop of Ely, also became Casaubon's friend, taking him to Cambridge, where he met with a most gratifying reception from the notabilities of the university. They went on together to Downham, where Casaubon spent six weeks of the summer of 1611, in which year he became naturalized. In 1613 he was taken to Oxford by Sir Henry Savile, where, amid the homage and feasting of which he was the object, his principal interest was for the manuscript treasures of the Bodleian Library. He declined the honorary degree which was offered him.
Still, Casaubon gradually discovered the serious inconveniences of his position. Having been taken up by the king and the bishops, he had to share in their rising unpopularity. The courtiers were jealous of a foreign pensioner who was so close to the king. Casaubon was especially mortified by Sir Henry Wotton's behaviour towards him, so inconsistent with their former intimacy. His windows were broken by vandals, and his children were pelted in the streets. On one occasion he appeared at Theobalds with a black eye, having been assaulted in the street. These outrages seem to have arisen solely from the English antipathy to the Frenchman: Casaubon, though he could read an English book, could not speak English. This deficiency exposed him to insult and fraud, and restricted his social activity. It excluded him from the circle of the “wits“; and he was not accepted in the circle of the lay learned, the “antiquaries" like William Camden, Sir Robert Cotton and Henry Spelman.
Although Sir Henry Savile ostensibly patronized him, Casaubon could not help suspecting that it Savile had persuaded Richard Montagu to forestall Casaubon's book on Baronius. An exception was John Selden who was close enough to Casaubon to lend him money. Besides the jealousy of the natives, Casaubon had now to suffer the open attacks of the Jesuit pamphleteers, who, after he committed to Anglicism, detested him. Not only Joannes Eudaemon, Heribert Rosweyd and Scioppius (Gaspar Schoppe), but a respectable writer, friendly to Casaubon, Andreas Schott of Antwerp, gave currency to the insinuation that Casaubon had sold his conscience for English gold.
The most serious cause of discomfort in England was that his time was no longer his own. He was continually being summoned to one or other of James's hunting residences in order to converse. The king and the bishops compelled him to write pamphlets on the subject of the day, the royal supremacy. At last, ashamed of misappropriating Casaubon's stores of learning, they asked him to refute the popular Annals of Baronius. Upon this task Casaubon spent his remaining strength and life.
He died of a congenital malformation of the bladder; but his end was hastened by an unhealthy life of over-study, and by his anxiety to acquit himself creditably in his criticism on Baronius. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. The monument by which his name is there commemorated was erected in 1632 by his friend Thomas Morton when Bishop of Durham.
His son Méric Casaubon was also a classical scholar.
A pious scholar.('I Have Always Loved the Holy Tongue: Isaac Casaubon, the Jews, and a Forgotten Chapter in Renaissance Scholarship')(Book review)
Aug 01, 2011; "I Have Always Loved the Holy Tongue": Isaac Casaubon, the Jews, and a Forgotten Chapter in Renaissance Scholarship BY ANTHONY...