At Leiden University

10 februari 2012

On 11 May 1645, Christiaan and his brother Constantijn inscribed their names in the student rolls of the university of Leiden (17 km north of The Hague). At that time, universities generally offered higher degrees in only three subjects, Law, Theology, and Medicine. The boys’ father wanted them to study Law, so that they would be able to continue the family tradition of high government service.

The brothers therefore matriculated as Law students, but, like all students, they began by following the general, introductory, Liberal Arts curriculum considered the essential prerequisite for more advanced studies. These Liberal Arts took on various forms in different universities, but in general they involved the study of Classical authors and their opinions in the areas of History, Moral Philosophy, and Natural Science; they also included mathematics. Christiaan took the courses of the professor of Mathematics, Frans van Schooten, a friend of the famous French mathematician and philosopher René Descartes (who was living in the Dutch Republic and on occasion visited the Huygens family). Descartes had developed an entirely new approach to natural science, and young Christiaan became thoroughly grounded in these new concepts that profoundly affected his later scientific work.