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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: January 2016

Colvius, Andreas (1594–1671)



Andreas Colvius, the son of Nicolaas Kolff and Maria Van Slingelandt, was born in Dordrecht. He went to Leiden for theological studies (1612) and then continued his studies abroad elsewhere, including at Geneva (1618). Back in Dordrecht (1619) he became minister in the neighboring village of Rijsoord, where he remained until 1622. In that year he accompanied the first Dutch ambassador to Venice, Johan Berck (1565–1627), as chaplain. He used this Venetian period to meet Italian scholars, like Paolo Sarpi (1552–1623), whose History of the Inquisition he translated, and to collect and copy books and manuscripts, like Galileo's Del flusso e riflusso del mare (then as yet unpublished). He returned in 1627 and in 1628 received a call as minister to the Dordrecht Église wallonne (the Francophone Reformed Church). He retired from the ministry in 1666 and died July 1, 1671, leaving a rich library and a huge collection of “curiosities.”

Colvius was known as a very learned man interested in philosophy, astronomy, and natural history. Descartes may have known him through Beeckman, who was one of his friends. In any case, Descartes’ first letter to Colvius was written in reaction to the announcement of Beeckman's death (June 14, 1637, AT I 379–80). In November 1640, Colvius drew Descartes’ attention to an Augustinian parallel to the cogito (presumably The City of God xi, 26) and in April 1643 sent to him some astronomical observations (see AT III 247–48, 646–47). Although Descartes’ Letter to Voetius filled Colvius with dismay in June 1643 (AT III 680–81), this did not lead to a break (AT IV 7–8, 717–18). Through his cousin Johan de Witt (1625–72), the famous statesman, Colvius offered Chanut copies of the letters he had received from Descartes but the offer was declined because, according to De Witt, Chanut was interested only in those letters Descartes himself had prepared for publication (see Thijssen-Schoute 1967).

See also Beeckman, Isaac; Chanut, Hector-Pierre; Cogito Ergo Sum; Correspondence

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Molhuysen, P. C., and Blok, P. J., eds. 1911–37. Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek. Leiden: Sijthoff.
Thijssen-Schoute, C. Louise. 1967. “Andreas Colvius: een correspondent van Descartes,” in Uit de Republiek der Letteren, ed. Thijssen-Schoute, C. L.. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 67–89.