Constantijn Huygens, jr., called Leeuwenhoek "the great man of the century"

August 13, 1680

The summer after Leeuwenhoek was elected to membership in the Royal Society, Constantijn Huygens, the younger, wrote to his brother Christiaan:

Tout le monde court encore chez Leeuwenhoeck comme le grand homme du siecle. Il y a quelques mois que ceux de la Societé Royale de Londres le receurent parmy leur nombre ce qui luy donna quelque petite vanité, et il demanda serieusement al Signor Padre si estant revestu de cette qualité la il seroit obligé de ceder le pas a un docteur en medicine.

Dobell's translation (p. 50):

Everybody here is still rushing to visit Leeuwenhoek, as the great man of the century. A few months ago the people of the Royal Society in London received him among their number, which gave him some little pride; and he even seriously inquired of Sir Father if, being now invested with this dignity, he would be obliged in future to take a back seat in presence of a doctor of medicine.

"Sir Father" is their father Constantijn, Leeuwenhoek's mentor. Perhaps Dobell's "little pride" does not do justice to the condescension in Constantijn's "petite vanité". "Petty vanity" might capture it better.


Oeuvres complètes, vol. VIII, No. 2226, (p. 295 of printed version)