Antoni Cink wrote Letter L-498 of sometime in October 1713 to ask Leeuwenhoek to examine sage leaves

October 1, 1713

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

In this excerpt from a letter, Antoni Cink tells Gerard van Loon that he has read in the works of Athanasius Kircher that the sage plant is covered with webs and poisons people who eat them. He asks Van Loon to ask Leeuwenhoek to examine sage leaves with his magnifying glasses.

The letter that Van Loon forwarded to Leeuwenhoek was sent to him by Antoni Cink (1668-1742), professor at the university in Louvain, which is why Leeuwenhoek replied directly to him. In Letter L-501 of 24 October 1713, Leeuwenhoek refuted Kircher’s ideas. Leeuwenhoek wrote another letter to Cink, Letter L-516 of 26 March 1715, about the structure and action of muscle fibres and tendons from the leg of a mouse before Cink responded with Letter L-517 of 2 July 1715, thanking him. Leeuwenhoek promptly responded with Letter L-518 of 7 July 1715, another discussion of muscles and tendons.

The following spring, Cink and two other professors at Louvain presented Leeuwenhoek with an honorary medal accompanied by the laudatory Letter L-534 of 24 May 1716. Leeuwenhoek would write another two letters to Cink. Letter L-535 discussed plant germination and saltpeter, as well as another rejection of spontaneous generation. In his final Letter L-553 of 6 July 1617, Leeuwenhoek told Cink about how two doctors treated his recent illnesses. Both doctors gave him saltpeter, and one mixed it with opium. There is no known reply from Cink.

The book by Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) is D’Onder-aardse Weereld in Haar Goddelijk Maaksel en wonderbare uitwerkselen aller Dingen (The subterranean world in her divine structure and the wondrous effects of all things), published in 1682 in a Dutch translation from the Latin Mundus subterraneus (Subterranean world). Leeuwenhoek had already refuted Kircher’s ideas in Letter L-228 of 15 October 1693 and Letter L-231 of 20 December, 1693, both to the Royal Society, and Letter L-285 of 20 February 1696 to Frederik Adriaan van Reede.

For Cink and Gerard van Loon (1683-1758), brewer, lawyer, historian and numismatist from Delft, see Letter L-535 of 12 June 1716.


Letter L-501 of 24 October 1713 to Antoni Cink

Mr Gerard van Loon sends me an excerpt of a letter from Louvain which, having been translated, runs as follows.

“Today we have read how Kircherus with his magnifying glasses would have discovered that unwashed sage is covered with certain webs, like the webs of spiders, which were fashioned by little animals, which he has also seen on those leaves. This is what this Kircherus relates, only to indicate a cause for something which is said to have happened, that people who had eaten unwashed leaves of sage have died because they had been poisoned by them. Therefore, we ask Your Honour to confer on this with Mr Leeuwenhoek; and that he will deign to examine such leaves with his unequalled magnifying glasses.”