Desmond M. Clarke
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 2006
Online Publication Date:July 2009
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511498077.013
The very friendly letter, which showed that you were thinking of me, is the most precious thing that I could receive in this country.(Descartes to Elizabeth)
The people who were most influential in Descartes' early life were all women. His mother died when he was one year old. That might have provided a context in which he could have formed close family ties with his two siblings, Pierre and Jeanne, or with his father, Joachim. Apart from Jeanne, however, he seems to have been estranged from his immediate family and to have directed his affections from infancy toward others. The first person with whom he bonded closely was his nurse, with whom he maintained a residual emotional link for the rest of his life. According to his niece, Catherine, Descartes specifically asked as he was dying that those who managed his estate ‘take care of the living expenses of his nurse, whom he had always cared for when he was alive’. This final token of gratitude should not be exaggerated. It probably indicates a redirected love for his mother rather than a deep, authentic love for someone whom he had not seen for more than fifty years. The other people most closely involved in Descartes' early life were his grandmothers. Since his father, Joachim, worked in Rennes for part of each year from 1596 to 1600 – when he remarried and moved permanently in Brittany – Descartes was effectively cared for until he went to college by his two grandmothers, Jeanne Sain and Claude Ferrand.