Liber cum primis pius, de praeparatione ad mortem,

ERASMUS Desiderius (1534)


Please contact us in advance if you would like to view this book at our Curzon Street shop.

First edition - with More's epitaph

nunc primum & conscriptus & aeditus. Accedunt aliquot epistolae serijs de rebus, in quibus item nihil est no[n] novum ac recens.Froben printer's device on the title and final page in 2 states (the latter larger), woodcut initials by Urs Graf. Rubricated throughout. 

4to (202 x 155mm). 167, [1]pp. Rebound in modern boards covered with a fragment of a printed and rubricated leaf from an early printed Concordance. [Colophon:] Basel: In officina Frobeniana per Hieronymum Frobenium, et Nicolaum Episcopium,

First Edition. Erasmus's De praeparatione ad mortem was written in response to a request in June 1533 from Anne Boleyn's father, Thomas Boleyn, for whom Erasmus had already written two works. Boleyn, to whom as Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde ("Vuiltisheriae & Ormaniae") the work is dedicated, had asked for "libellus aliquis de praeparatione ad moriendum", in other words an up-to-date version of the medieval Ars moriendi. The autograph manuscript survives in the Royal Library in Copenhagen, and is entitled Liber quomodo se quisque debeat praeparare ad mortem.

It was written at speed and printing was almost completed at Christmas 1533, although the preliminaries were still not ready. The book was not distributed until mid-February 1534 and it was not until 11 March that two copies ("libelli aurati") were sent to England but not, it seems, to Thomas Boleyn, who had to wait for a handsomely bound copy. The book was well received in London and strange to relate Queen Catherine of Aragon who died on 7 January 1536 and who had, as every schoolboy knows, been ousted to make room for Anne Boleyn, read her copy, literally to death (see letter 3090 from the Imperial Ambassador Chapuys, also mentioning the death of More). Whoever received the second copy sent to England, Anne, Catherine or even More, would not, one hopes, have realised quite how of evil augury such a gift was!

It was an immediate success work and between its first appearance and 1540 some twenty editions were published in Latin, in Cologne, Paris, Cracow, Antwerp, and Lyons, and the work was translated into French (1537-39, 4 editions), Spanish (Burgos, 1535), German (1534), Dutch (1534) and English (1538 & 1543). See Erasmus, Opera omnia ... ordinis quinti tomus primus (Amsterdam & Oxford, 1977).

The work consists of 10 quires (A-K inclusive of the title and the dedication to "Thomae comiti Vuiltisheriae & Ormaniae" on the verso of A1) or 80 pages. To make the work more substantial Froben has added a number of letters from and to Erasmus, all recent in date. The letters by Erasmus are mostly connected with some aspect of death, and the mottoes on the title in Hebrew, Greek and Latin are all connected with death, and are taken from Isaiah (xxxviii), the Revelation of St. John (xiv. 21 'Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord') and St. Paul (Phil. i.21 'For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain'). The presence of the three languages is possibly meant to remind one of the trilingual inscription placed above Christ on the cross by order of Pilate, with the sub-text 'quod scripsi, scripsi'.

The first letter is to the Spanish humanist scholar Juan de Vergara (1492-1557) about the deaths of Archbishop Wareham and of Christopher a Schidlowitz (Krzystof Szydlowiecki, 1467-1532, Chancellor of Poland) to whom Erasmus dedicated his Lingua (Basel, 1525). He tells us that Wareham's successor at Canterbury is Thomas Cranmer "by profession a theologian, a most upright man and of unimpeachable morals" who will, like Wareham, help Erasmus. The next letter to Johann Fabri or Faber (1478-1541), Bishop of Vienna, is particularly interesting for the information it affords us about Sir Thomas More, his origins and family. Probably to be dated to the end of 1532 (see Allen, Opus ep., letter 2750) or more likely early 1533 as it mentions that More has been deprived of the chancellorship and his place taken by a "nobilis" [Thomas Audley, later Baron Audley of Walden was appointed Lord Keeper on 20 May 1532 four days after More's resignation but was only named as Lord Chancellor on 26 Jan. 1533] who has released those "free men" that More had sent to prison because of their contentious teachings. He cannot confirm this as he has not heard from England for some time, "and the letter from More which I now send has been stuck in Saxony for some months". He speaks of King Henry VIII's love for More and his favourable treatment of him, calling him, the king, in Greek philomoros, and of the importance of the standing of the chancellor whose dignity is nearest to that of the king. Who has succeeded more he does not know. He describes More's London origin - to be a Londoner in England gives one some pretensions of nobility - his father's standing and his own position as a distinguished lawyer; both kings and kingdoms have need of such men both in times of war and peace; war is to be avoided but peace is not an everyday thing, and it brings about corruption in men's morals, unless society is governed by the counsels of wise men [i.e. lawyers]. He speaks of men deserving nobility rather than simply inheriting it, and cites various examples, some referring to relatively lowly grades of society, including the Codex of Roman Law (Book XII, Titulus de professoribus), and of how More, and his father, deserved their nobility. He also writes of how More hates seditious beliefs. The most fascinating part of the letter is that describing More's house and family, which is almost the prose equivalent of the famous Holbein painting of More and his family (lost in a fire in Poland in the 18th century): "he has built by the Thames not far from the city of London, a country house which is neither lowly nor so magnificent as to excite envy, but sufficiently roomy. There he lives with his intimate family circle, his wife, son and daughter-in-law, his three daughters and their husbands, together with his grandchildren who already number eleven. By the favour of Christ he sees the children of his children, and will see those who will be born from those grandchildren; as there is no one amongst them who is not in the bloom of his age, it is likely that the progeny will be numerous." Erasmus tells of how More's children by his first marriage have been looked after by his second wife: his first wife died young, but "he loves and cares for his second wife, sterile though she be and advanced in age, as if she were a girl of fifteen. Hardly anyone else alive is a greater lover of children, and he knows no difference between an old woman and a girl. ... You would say that his house was another Plato's Academy, but to be frank I am rudely dismissive of his house if I compare it with Plato's Academy, where numbers and geometrical figures, and from time to time moral virtues were the subject of discussion. More's house you would more justly describe as a school and gymnasium of the christian religion. ... There is no squabbling there, no ill-tempered word is heard, no one is idle. And More exercises control over his family not by means of curses or sharpness but only by benevolence and companionableness. ... In the neighbouring church [Chelsea Old Church] he has erected for himself and his family a communal tomb, to which he has transferred the bones of his first wife, from who he will suffer no divorce. On the wall is an inscription ... which my servant has faithfully transcribed. I send a copy with this letter. I see that I have been more than usually loquacious, but it is a delight for me to speak of one friend to another friend. ..."

This is followed by two letters from More to Erasmus, printed here for the first time (pp. 103-115), the first dated 14 June 1532, and the second undated but is circa June 1533. The first letter falls into two parts, one dealing with More's attitude to old age and his declining health, which obliges him to think of giving up his public life but hopes that God will not allow him to pass his time in 'iners atque ignavum ocium,' but rather give him the health and spirit to spend his time well ('bonas horas collacare') and the other to Erasmus himself, his books, his tireless writing, even although himself in poor health, his brilliance and genius - 'we are not all Erasmus. Who apart from you would dare to promise what you provide?' - before discussing the attacks made on Erasmus and his theological views, which, says More, are all founded in the Fathers and the Scriptures. More also mentions the importation of heretical books printed in English from Belgium. The second letter, which is much shorter, mentions Henry VIII's fierceness against heretics ('acrior quam episcopi ipsi'), mentions Tyndale, Melanchthon and the Wyclifites, before passing on to discuss the rumour-mongers who have criticised his epitaph and, as it were, 'credo', and who have put it about that he (More) unwillingly gave up his office. More tells us of how the King himself had twice publicly caused reference to be made to how unwillingly he had accepted More's resignation, that he has been very specific and deliberate in what he has put in the epitaph and of how much he hates heretics and what damage he believes they will inflict on society. The text of the 'Table affixed to the tomb of Thomas More' with the 12-line verse epitaph (the former first published here and latter first published in More's Epigrammata, 1518) is printed before this letter on pp. 109-111. This is, as we learn from the letter just quoted, a deliberate statement by More of his background, and of his literary interests, who his father was, how he was educated, what his public life had been, those people, like Tunstall who had been his benefactors, of his two wives (his first wife died 1511) and his children and grandchildren, of how he had erected this tomb and how he hopes when God calls him to be there buried. The verse epitaph commemorates his wives, the care and love that his second wife showed for her step-children and his own equal love for both wives, ending with the wish that they may all three live together in heaven, the only place where such a 'threesome' can properly exist.

Taken together these two statements from his own pen commemorate him and his works, and he clearly intended them to be, as it were, an Apologia pro vita sua showing both his public record and his private persona. It is a very conscious testimony mapping-out, as indeed Erasmus also shows in the letter devoted to describing More, what More wanted posterity to see of him. It is a literary topos, the writer setting the record straight: 'So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee'. The remaining letters are from Erasmus, all printed here for the first time and are all reprinted by Allen. They are to the Alsatian Justus Decius, secretary to the King of Poland and friend of Copernicus; Dr. Julius von Pflug (1499-1564), councillor to Duke George of Saxony and later Bishop of Naumburg-Zeitz (at the request of Pflug and Melancthon Erasmus wrote De sarcienda ecclesiae concordia, 1533); Pierre du Chastel (d. 1552) later grand aumonier de France and a bishop, a great friend of humanists and much involved with Robert Estienne, who in 1527 lodged with Erasmus in Basel when he was working for Froben and who visited Erasmus at Freiburg in summer 1532 (this letter dated from 24th September [1532]; Gerardus [Gerrit] ab Assendelft (1488-1558) member of the Council of Holland (1515) and a patron of Erasmus, who arranged a monetary present from the States in 1533; Guilllaume de Horion a patron of scholars to whom Erasmus presented a copy of Explanatio Symboli, now at Trinity College, Cambridge; Eustache Chapuys (d. 1556), Imperial Ambassador to England who visited Catherine of Aragon at Kimbolton a few days before her death in Jnauary 1536; Abel van Colster of Dordrecht (1477-1548), a graduate of Cologne and Orleans, and a member of the Council of Florence; Johann Georg Paumgartner (1513-1541), scion of an important Nuremberg family (his father was dedicatee of Erasmus's selection of Chrysostom's homilies and had given Erasmus a gold cup as a present (as is here mentioned); his mother was a Fugger), who in 1533 was with the court of Queen Mary of Hungary in the Low Countries; Damiano de Gois (1502-1574), to whom a lengthy lettered is addressed (pp. 144-152) was a distinguished Portuguese scholar and (for a time at least) public servant, who spent much time in Louvain; he was, like Erasmus (the publication of whose complete works he was, at the time of Erasmus's death, prepared to finance), a believer in religious toleration and much interested in the protection of subject or oppressed peoples like the Ethiopians and the Lapps; he ended his life in Portugal imprisoned for his tolerant attitudes; Franciscus Rupilius (fl. 1514-41) a client of the Paumgartner family, with whom Erasmus briefly corresponded; Paulo Sadoleto (1508-1572) Bishop of Carpentras, a nephew of Cardinal Sadoleto, who is here (p. 155) described as holding pride of place 'inter syncerissimos amicos meos' ; and lastly the long letter to the brothers Pero (1499-1551) & Christobal Mexia, both from Seville, the former of whom is well-known as the author of the Silva de varia lecion, one of the most popular books of the sixteenth century and widely translated and printed. These letters are all written from Freiburg-im-Breisgau mostly in 1533/34.

Provenance: With the inscription on the title "Mnrij Schyrensis" i.e. the Benedictine Monastery at Scheyren in Upper Bavaria (where the item would seem to have been bound 3rd in a volume; there is also a small tab on the fore-edge of the title as a volume divider).

Two small wormholes in quires R-X sometimes affecting the odd letter of text, otherwise a fine, fresh copy with wide margins.

Literature: R. W. Gibson, Thomas More: a preliminary bibliography (New Haven & London, 1961), no. 141; Gerard B. Wegemer & Stephn W. Smith, eds, A Thomas More Source Book (Washington, D.C., 2004); Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago & London, 1980).

Stock Code: 225920

close zoom-in zoom-out close zoom