Absolutissimus de octo orationis partiu[m] constructione libellus, nec minus eruditione pueris utilis futurus... nuperrime uigilantissima cura recognitus.Basel, Johann Froben, (August) 1515.

ERASMUS Desiderius &; LILY William (1515)


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Woodcut title-border by Urs Graf (see below), device of Froben at end.  

4to. 22 leaves (of 24). Blue sugar-paper wrappers.  

Basel, Johann Froben (August) 1515.  

Heavily annotated and rare first printing of Erasmus’ revised edition of this enormously influential schoolbook on Latin syntax.

The importance of this imperfect copy lies in its strictly contemporary and copious annotations, which may well illustrate the way the book was used in class, recording ‘what the master said’, i.e. examples and references given, that were written down by the annotating student who sometimes writes glosses in German (e.g. 5r ‘tantas’ ‘so gross’), but for the most part writes in Latin in a flowing humanist hand. These annotations extend throughout. There are many examples adduced from Terence, with references to individual plays (Heautontimoroumenos, Adelphi, Phormio, Eunuchus). There is also a reference to Plautus (see below). There are many Vergilian quotations from Aeneid books 2,4,5,6, 11(18v), one from Catullus (5r V.2, 'Rumores quae senum severiorum omnes unius aestimatis [assis]'), a quotation from Martial (I, 37) on the subject of Bassus (5v), as well as references to Cicero and St. Jerome (11r). Other writers are also mentioned, including Pliny, Ovid, Euripides (16v) and Sallust, Bellum Jugurthinum 10.7 (‘nam Concordia parvae res crescunt Discordia maxime dilabuntur’).

As well as references to classical authors, there are some to contemporary writers: Erasmus Moriae encomium (11r), Brassicanus (17r) whom Erasmus got to know in September 1520, and Politian, the opening of whose prologue to Plautus Menaechmi is quoted (24r): ‘Heus, heus [tacete] sultis, vos ego ut loquar’, written in 1488 for a performance of the play. There is also a reference (18v) to Alexander Hegius (d. 1498) whose pupil at Zwolle Erasmus had been, and what is surely a very contemporary reference, to the attack on Italy and Milan by François I of France in 1515 (14v, 'Gallorum rex exercitum duxit ad bellandum Mediolanum'). On 6v is a reference to Beroaldo teaching at Bologna.

All these quotations and references are used to illustrate grammatical points or figures of speech: synecdoche is mentioned on 12r and 18r. On 12verso where the ablative absolute is being discussed, the following examples are given: ‘Virgilio vigente latinitas viguit, Augusto regnante natus est Christus' and 'Erasmo Basilee agente visebatur ab omnibus doctis’ [a mistake]. The section discussing the gerund is very heavily annotated (13v-14r). Other points of meaning are also illustrated, e.g. on 6v the distinction made between ‘loca minora’ cities such as Basel, Strasbourg, etc. and ‘loca maiora’ which are countries.  

First published in London by Pynson in 1513 and written at the behest of John Colet, Dean of St. Pauls (1467-1519) who had re-founded and handsomely endowed St. Paul’s School. Colet, as he says in his preface addressed to William Lily (reprinted here), who had been appointed the first High Master in 1510, was wedded to the idea of education instilling ‘pii mores & bonae literae’, which could be done only in Latin to which this work provides. Erasmus himself in his Catalogus lucubrationum (1537 ed., p. 22) speaks of the book, and how Colet ‘multis precibus, hoc extorsit potius quam impetrauit, ut nouum opus nouae scholae dedicarem’, and how he revised Lily’s work to the extent that ’Lily wouldn’t wish not to know it, and I couldn’t’.  

The title border is in the distinctive style of prolific woodcut artist and engraver Urs Graf (1485-c.1527), with his monogram inscribed on a slate hanging from the left-hand column, first used in Froben’s edition of Erasmus’ Moriae encomium published a few months earlier. Graf’s border was based on a design by Albrecht Dürer for Willibald Pirckheimer’s translation of Plutarch two years previously (Nuremberg, 1513) and, in turn, the block for this border was reused by Froben and copied by other printers.  

Unfortunately lacking two leaves (a2-3), which hold the new preface by Erasmus (Allen Ep. 341) and first two pages of text. Title-page slightly stained, two leaves at end loose.  

VD16 E2544. OCLC (US: Berkeley, Illinois, Princeton, Yale only. UK: British Library only). V. Sebastiani, J. Froben, Printer of Basel (2018), no. 42.

Stock Code: 235066

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