Education at home

Together with his older brother, Constantijn, Christiaan was taught by his learned father and by specially appointed tutors. When he was eight, a live-in tutor, a certain Abraham Mirkenius, was hired, whose main task was to teach the brothers Latin, the international language of learning. Their father instructed them in music and arithmetic. This training was so successful that, as father Constantijn related, Christiaan began composing his own music when he was nine, and could then already converse in Latin with his brother. In the following years, he also studied geography, prosody, logic, Greek, French, and Italian, while learning to play the lute, viola, and clavichord.

When he was fourteen, Christiaan became interested in drawing and mechanics. He quickly taught himself to copy printed pictures and built little models of devices he read about. “He then spent all his free time in making little windmills and other models, including even a lathe, which in this year [1643] he had managed to put together well enough to enable him to begin making some things with it.” He soon had his own wood-turning lathe. (His new live-in tutor, Hendrik Bruno, had little patience with these hobbies.) The next year, Christiaan began formal lessons in dancing and horseback riding. At this time, too, a mathematics tutor, Jan Jansz. Stampioen was hired for Christiaan and his brother Constantijn.