James Petiver wrote Letter L-478 of 2 August 1711 to Leeuwenhoek to complain about what happened when he tried to visit

August 2, 1711

This letter is known only by reference in Leeuwenhoek’s reply.

In this letter, James Petiver complains that he had come to visit Leeuwenhoek but was not allowed inside.

This letter is the only known letter to Leeuwenhoek from the English apothecary, botanist, entomologist, and Royal Society member James Petiver. The date is New Style on the assumption that Petiver would have written it shortly after his attempted visit while he was still in Holland, where he matriculated at Leiden University on 28 July 1711 when he was 45 years old. However, Jarvis and Coulton’s “Chronology of the Life” notes that Petiver “visits the Netherlands (his only trip overseas) in June–July [1711] to purchase material from the collections of the late Paul Hermann (1645–1695) on behalf of Sir Hans Sloane”. See also Dobell, Little Animals, p. 78, n. 4.

Before Paul Hermann was director of the Hortus Botanicus at Leiden University, he spent five years as a doctor in Sri Lanka with the Dutch East India Company. There, he collected almost two thousand specimens that are now among the botanical collections at the Natural History Museum in London.

For other letters concerning letters of recommendation, see Letter L-451 of 4 May 1707 introducing Gilbert Burnet and Letter L-473 of late 1709 introducing Alexander Stuart. Both letters were written by Royal Society secretary and Philosophical Transactions editor Hans Sloane.


Letter L-480 of 18 August 1711 to James Petiver

I have received your missive of the 2nd of August 1711, in which you expressed your displeasure that you were not received at my house.

I would request you not to take it ill of me, since everyone who seeks to visit me is refused entrance unless he has a letter of recommendation.

I did properly receive Mr Alexander Stuart, doctor of medicine, who also presented me with a disputation for his graduation ceremony and to whom you had handed the Transactions and the letter of Mr Hans Sloane and who also brought them to me, along with two gentlemen accompanying him, and I showed them several of my observations. And since that time I have looked forward several days to seeing you, and if you had kept with you the letter of Mr Hans Sloane, you would not have missed the kind reception at my house. You have been refused the more so as being not known because in a period of 8 to 10 days before your visit in four days’ time 26 people, all of whom had a letter of recommendation, except a duke and an earl with their tutor, came to visit me, which tired me so much that I was in a sweat. This being so, I request you kindly not to take it ill of me that to my great regret you were refused admittance. And if my weak legs had permitted it, I should have called on you in Rotterdam.