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Johannes Schmidl on Jacobus Horcziczky de Tepenec

From Historia Societatis Jesu Provinciae Bohemiae (1754)

Sinapius (Jacobus)

[II 102]

When the Church was restored our hands next turned to fitting out our house, and we moved into it on the Ides of December. With the College looking such a sorry sight it was some comfort that a fair part of the Library had survived unscathed, and with a good many books including those we most wanted. The fathers were bereft of bare human necessities but their poverty was relieved by the charitable donations from numerous friends. First and foremost Count Tillius, who immediately sent a donation of a thousand Rhenishers, and the Royal Administrator of the Melnik region, Jacobus Sinapius, with a gift of a hundred thalers. And so it was that the Prague Jesuits were restored to their House and their fortunes, rejoicing all the more in all their trials because the crime was greater than the injury, thirty months after they had been expelled by Regrom.

[III 73]

Jacobus Sinapius and his marvellous good fortune

Also in this year, Heaven garnered to itself the greatest of all benefactors of the Prague College, namely Jacobus Horcziczky, afterwards known in Latin as Sinapius. By diverse paths Fortune gradually raised this man from the depths to the heights and, as so rarely happens, smiled on him continually. He stood out as the most skilled architect of his own fortunes (while God was with his efforts), and showed in one person what human ability can do. If there was a field in which he might excel you need only mention it to him and you would confer the skill and dedication on him.

Jacobus, who was of obscure birth, was first destined for the work of a day servant in the kitchen of the Krumlov College. But since he proved to be too gifted for our brothers to allow him to languish in the kitchen fumes he was removed from there and transferred to the care of the Muses. When he had somehow mastered classical languages he was assigned to the Pharmacist of the College, our Brother Martinus Schaffner, famed far and wide in the Art of Medicine and particularly in the parts known as Botany and Chemistry. There he was a keen recruit and drank in all that art with his gift for learning, using his eyes and ears. Little by little he proceeded far beyond the rudiments of the art.

He then moved to Prague seeking to fund his studies with Philosophy, and was received into our Alumni Seminary where he acted as the chief steward or dispenser of victuals and set to work on Aristotle in the schools. All this time he continued to experiment again and again with the arts he had drunk in at Krumlov, distilling medical waters and dyes from herbs and other things. On days when the Muses make holiday he would cross the Moldau and sell those waters by the door of our garden with the blessing of the Rector. There was no need of ivy either; the efficacy of his waters was proclaimed by the illnesses it put to flight. and soon enough there was a thirst for more Sinapian waters than he could boil.

But in the middle of this, fortune saw fit to point Jacobus elsewhere and open a different door for him. He had the ability to master several matters and so he also devoted himself to handling economic affairs Around the year 1600 he was appointed Prefect and that autumn Provisor of the Neuhaus Seminary. Then, at the request of the nuns of St George’s, Prague, he took charge of the administration of their goods with the title of Captain, that is Prefect, in about 1606. He was a devout Catholic for as long as he lived, and at this time, wanting his fellow countrymen to teach the Roman mysteries more exactly, he wrote a Catholic Confession. It was based on Divine Scripture, the Councils and the Fathers (no doubt he was aided by one of our Fathers previously mentioned). He submitted it to the press in 1609, dedicating it to the Chancellor and Nobility of the kingdom.

During all this period (for what the spirit has been pleased to learn it generally returns to) our Jacobus continued to practice his chemistry. Such was his success that he discovered many unusual things in that art by his own talents and practiced alchemy with great success. Nothing of this kind could long escape the notice of Emperor Rudolph, who was very interested in arts of this kind and a great promoter of them. He therefore summoned Jacobus and commanded him to reside at his Court. The court of Rudolph was thronged with very learned men, drawn to Prague from all parts of Europe by his great prizes. The place abounded in craftsmen, above all in those who worked in jewels, gold and other metals. There were painters, sculptors and the like for there were no arts and sciences, particularly those from which public advantage could be reaped, whose skilled men he would not have. and drew into their choir the Dane Tycho Brahe, a great mathematician if ever there was one, Anselm de Boot the jeweller of Bruges and Jacobus Typotius the much talked of scholar. Not least, the Emperor was delighted by the host of chemists and often worked with them. He wanted to have Sinapius at hand with leisure for this great work; and he gave the Emperor his obedience for many years.

Nothing he had done before was easier than shining under a prince so generous to his favourite artisans. and Sinapius pleased the emperor immensely with his inventions and results He grew so rich (receiving a knighthood and perpetual courtiership in 1608) that soon after when the emperor was hard pressed by war, he could help him with money. He grew yet further in favour with Rudolph after the latter learned by experience how good Jacobus was at his craft. He recalled his spirit back to its post when it was already failing from sickness and the rest of the crowd of doctors despaired of the emperor’s health.

However high fortune raised the man it did not change him but left him with the same manners as it found him, modest, honest and pleasant to all. He did all in his power to promote the Catholic faith and for that reason, if he discovered that students were aiming for the priesthood he always fostered them with his singular generosity. Jacobus had few admirers in Bohemia equal to the Society and they in return would encourage him with glowing and full testimonials. He was a refuge to the Prague College in all their necessities and a standing benefactor.

[III 74]

He dies, leaving his fortune to the Prague College

It seems that this man’s last end was brought on by a fall from a horse; over the space of a year thereafter he slowly died. Two days before his death he had himself moved from Melnik to Prague, where he spent his dying day, 25 September, in the hands of Fr Adam Krawarsky, whose apostolic virtues and energy he admired and praised above all else.

After he appointed the Prague Society as the heir of his fortunes and faculties, his body was given, as befitted such a great benefactor, in a splendid funeral the day before the Calends of October in the church of the Saviour and buried next to the altar of the Annunciation so that the Society would not lose anything of the whole man, Sinapius. Fr Georgius Ferus praised the deceased to a packed congregation with his famous eloquence. He has a marble tomb inscribed to his memory and his likeness has its place in the College among other benefactors with this epigraph:

Jacobus Horcziczky de Tepencze, chemist at the court of emperor Rudolph II, famed for his virtue, fortunes, favour with the same emperor and his notable generosity to the College of the Society of Jesus at St Clement’s in Old Prague.