At the Illustrious School in Breda

10 februari 2012

After two years at Leiden, Christiaan was transferred by his father — this time with his younger brother, Lodewijk — to the new “Illustrious School” at Breda, which had just been founded by the Prince of Orange (Frederick Henry), and of which his father was one of the trustees. Here, Christiaan continued his legal studies from March 1647 to August 1649.

There is little doubt that Law was not Christiaan’s own choice: his earlier studies had awakened in him a love of mathematics and science. In his social circle, these subjects were considered more as hobbies appropriate for a gentleman of leisure — and which were therefore taught at university — but which should not become a serious occupation. One could not make a living with research, and practical mathematics was the domain of humble “mathematical practitioners” and therefore unsuitable for a person of Huygens’s social standing. With training in Law, one could hope to attain high administrative positions, and it is therefore understandable that father Huygens pushed his sons in this direction. However, partly because of the new ideas of Descartes, Christiaan saw the study of mathematics and natural philosophy (i.e. physics) as the key to a new world, to the pursuit of which he felt he could devote his life. Throughout his studies at Breda, he remained in contact with his Leiden mathematics professor, Van Schooten.