bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Leonardo Bruni’s letters translated

Posted in Humanism, Uncategorized by bonaelitterae on 9 March, 2014

Retreating – with what I consider to be commendable restraint – from the spring sunshine that is bathing the ever-breathtaking Rome, I have had chance to update the list of the lectures I have recently given. Any of you who cares to study it will notice that the latest addition was given this month and, indeed, explains why I have been forced to come to Rome in the middle of term. As I explained in the previous post, I was asked to speak at a conference at the École française, the theme of which was the networks which underpinned the development and circulation of humanist rhetoric; my particular remit was to talk about the diffusion of humanist miscellanies in England. All arch posturing aside, I did wonder whether I should have declined the invitation, falling as it does two weeks before teaching ends at the University of Essex, but I am very glad that I have made the trip. The conference was both a stimulating and a friendly event, and it is also included a presentazione of a new work which deserves to receive attention in those territories of the res publica litteraria which, when they are not discoursing in the Tullian tongue, are English-speaking.

That proposition might seem preposterous when I explain that the work in question includes a parallel translation in French alongside its Latin text but when the text is the epistolary of Leonardo Bruni, I think I can justify the assertion. Florentine chancellor, historian of his city, orator and reviver of Ciceronian Latin, Bruni was – and was acknowledged in his lifetime – as the pre-eminent scholar of the new studia humanitatis. His status was, in fact, demonstrated by a couple of quotations provided in a paper by Vera Tufano at the conference which I have just attended. Talking of Bartolomeo Fazio’s invective against his colleague (and, many would say, his better) Lorenzo Valla, she drew attention to Fazio’s assertion that his opponent was not worthy to be compared to Guarino da Verona and Leonardo Bruni, ‘the two lights and ornaments of Italy’. Those two figures, similar in age but so different in their intellectual formation and careers, were often coupled together by contemporaries, though their reputations were of a rather different construction one from the other. Some of Guarino’s writings, particularly his translations of Plutarch but also his orations, enjoyed a wide circulation, but he was better known for his status as a teacher – a status which, as I have recently argued, was shrewdly fabricated by himself and by his students. It might be said that Guarino was well-known for being well known, while Bruni spoke to audiences in all corners of Europe through his writings, his Laudatio Florentinae urbis, his Dialogi ad Petrum Paulum Histrum, his historical texts and, more than anything, his translations, primarily from Aristotle but also from Plutarch and (as was demonstrated at the conference when Giancarlo Abbamonte spoke of Fazio) from Xenophon. And, what is to the point, integral to Bruni’s familiarity were his familiar letters.

Bruni himself, like his friend Poggio Bracciolini, took care late in his life to compile his personal correspondence into an epistolary, organised in eight books. Bruni’s death took place 570 years ago to the day, on 9th March 1444; in its wake, Giannozzo Manetti supplemented  the epistolary with a further book of his former mentor’s last letters. In an elegant discussion which was part of the the presentazione, Stefano Baldassarri suggested we might muse on how far Manetti might have gone beyond simply adding to the letter-collection and consider whether he might also have edited Bruni’s Latin. However that may be, this nine-book edition had – as I mentioned in my own paper at the conference – a nearly immediate international circulation, one copy of it being made in London before the decade was done. The epistolary also appeared in print from the 1470s, but any ‘modern’ research on these letters turns to the seminal edition printed just under three hundred years after Bruni’s demise and which was the fruit of the labours of Lorenzo Mehus. That work was the basis for comments on revision compiled by F. P. Luiso at the beginning of the twentieth century, but not published until 1980, under the editorship of Lucia Gualdo Rosa. Yet, despite a plan involving Gualdo Rosa herself and Paolo Viti which saw the publication of a censimento of manuscripts of Bruni’s letters, and despite talk of a project based at the Scuola normale superiore in Pisa, there has not been a new critical edition of the Epistolae. It is one of those undertakings so large and so complex that its very importance becomes a barrier to its completion.

The new French publication is provided by Laurence Bernard-Pradelle, who has already established herself as a translator of Bruni with a 2008 collection of his works fit to stand alongside Paolo Viti’s parallel Latin-Italian volume of 1996. Her latest work does not claim to be the critical edition of the epistolario that we continue to await. Some might wonder, with the Mehus being available both on-line and in a recent reprint with an important introduction by James Hankins, what this new publication can add which will be of use to scholars. The answer is that the editor has consciously not based her work merely on Mehus but has taken into account that of Luiso and others, and incorporated the uncollected letters, the ‘extravaganti’, into her work (signifying their non-canonical status by the wise tactic of a typographical change, placing them in a smaller font size). What is more, she has added short introductions to each book, as well as a listing of manuscripts and an extensive bibliography, providing yet more scholarly value. In my judgement, in other words, we should apply Plato’s dictum that the best should not be the enemy of the good: let us wish for a fully critical edition but celebrate what we do now have, while the fairies who grant our wishes steel themselves for what even they will consider a bracing challenge.

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The Slow Study Movement, or Andrew Holes in Paris

Posted in Manuscripts by bonaelitterae on 22 March, 2013

Anyone who has been in earshot of me in the recent past – let’s be honest, not just the recent – is likely to have heard me rail against the culture dominant in Britain that presumes research is only research when it has been printed. It feels at times as if academia has become a support industry for the publishing world. I have no objection to new books: I love books; some of my good friends are or have once been publishers; indeed, I chose to marry one. The problem is not with publication but with the assumption that research only gains its justification through being presented in article or monograph form. There are surely other valid ways of disseminating new findings, be it in the lecture hall, at a seminar or even through an on-line posting.

Even that, though, is not the main concern. It is, rather, that the expectation of publishing encourages swiftly committing discoveries to print when they would be better gestating, maturing, ageing in the barrel of one’s mind. There are, of course, some types of research, where there is a finite set of sources or data which can be analysed and completed within a fairly short time-frame. But are we to privilege those over other types of scholarly investigation? What are we to say, for instance, to the palaeographer who is trying to reconstruct a scribe’s practice where the sources are disparate and, indeed, not for certain all yet identified? It is the sort of pursuit that feels near-infinite, a jigsaw-puzzle where the box has been lost and you are not even sure how much of the picture the remaining but dispersed pieces represent. But it also means that when a solution to a conundrum is discovered, it is all the more rewarding for the scholar and useful for scholarship. At that point, finally, publication would be justified, even required. To reach that, though, can – as the example I am about to give will show – take many years, more than can fit into an arbitrary five-year cycle fond of contemporary policy makers. I propose to you that we should emulate the Slow Food Movement and promote the art and the skills of Slow Study, withstanding the pressure to publish the half-baked, and let our work rest in the oven for as long as it takes.

My intention here, though, is not to give a manifesto, but to present an example of what I mean from my only research. It is a tale that reached something of a denouement just yesterday but it started at least a decade ago, and the journey from then to now had more than its fair share of pauses, frustrations – and luck. The main piece of good fortune that I have had is to have been contacted my friend and colleague, Stefano Baldassarri, asking me to look at a manuscript in Paris of texts by or related to Coluccio Salutati, Florence’s Chancellor at the turn of the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries, and god-father to the first generation of quattrocento humanists. Stefano was, at this point in 2010, in the process of editing a work that appears in the codex; he had noticed that the front flyleaf included an inscription by a seventeenth-century English owner, Richard Smith, a notable collector of both books and people’s death-dates. I did not have chance to go to Paris until 2012 – after Stefano’s fine edition was published (it is entitled La vipera e il giglio) – and then only on microfilm. But, as I looked through it, I saw in the margin of one folio a small, frankly unprepossessing pointing-hand or manicula which took my mind back to some research I had pursued – but (thank God) not published – eight years earlier.  

In the first years of this millennium, interested in fifteenth-century collectors associated with Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, I spent time becoming better acquainted with the manuscripts of the English curialist, Andrew Holes. He gave to Humfrey one important manuscript, the sole copy of Salutati’s last masterpiece, De laboribus Herculis (a book now in the Vatican, but that is another story). The Florentine bookseller and unreliable gossip, Vespasiano da Bisticci, claims that Holes had collected so many books while he was an English representative at the papal curia that he had to hire a ship to carry them home. Whether that is true or not, those that survive number well over a score, with most of them in Oxford as Holes, a Wykhamist, gave his library to New College. Those manuscripts had received some recent attention in an article by that learned historian of the English in Rome, Margaret Harvey; she acknowledged for the palaeographical information the generous assistance of Tilly de la Mare. Margaret Harvey’s 1991 article was only the second to be dedicated to Holes; the first appeared in Speculum during the Second World War and its author, Josephine Bennett, entitled it ‘Andrew Holes: a neglected harbinger of the English Renaissance’. It is fair to say that Holes’s stock has not risen much since Bennett wrote, despite Harvey’s important piece, though, in various contexts in manuscript studies, he does gain a passing mention.

On that March day in 2012, the little pointing-hand in the Paris manuscript acted as a sort of Proustian epiphany taking me back to my work on Holes, for its style was familiar from his manuscripts. But it also reminded me of a problem which I had been forced to leave unresolved for lack of decisive evidence. I noticed that several scholars talked of manuscripts including marginalia by Holes, without ever giving specific folio references, but with the range of codices cited suggesting that two quite different sets of notes were being attributed to him. One was the script that provided the manicula, small, impressionistic, drawn vertically, and sometimes accompanied by words written rapidly in a gothic cursive. The other was much more presentable, a notably spiky gothic bookhand. It seemed to me to be implausible that one reader was moving between the two styles but I could not find any definite proof to identify one as Holes and so I had to designate the two sets of interventions ‘reader I’ and ‘reader II’.

The presence of the manicula – whoever was its author – suggested to me that we might be able to associate the Paris manuscript with the collection of New College and, indeed, in the sixteenth century, the antiquary John Leland saw in that library a volume the description of which corresponds with the manuscript I was studying. Not only that: the inscription by Richard Smith on the flyleaf mentioned that he also owned ‘another MSS of the same Author of the same vellum’. Might this be another manuscript from Holes and New College? Might it too have reached Paris? I could not pursue those questions that day last year – I only had a few hours in the library as I was in the city on other, more official business in the Sorbonne.

And, so, the search had to be put on pause another year. The wait, though, was worth it.  As, I hope, will be the wait to hear the second and final instalment of this tale…

Codicology at Palazzo Rucellai

Posted in Manuscripts, Uncategorized by bonaelitterae on 25 May, 2010

Tomorrow, I set off for a month’s teaching in Florence. It is a new course, organised at the Palazzo Rucellai, intended for high-flying graduate medievalists who want to learn more than is often available about the skills that are core to our subjects: palaeography, philology, codicology. It will be an adventure for everyone — for Stefano Baldassarri, the mastermind behind the project, those of us who are designing the modules for it, and most especially for the students themselves.

The contribution I have been asked to give is on ‘codicology and incunabula’. As those of you will know who have followed this blog with an assiduity that is uncommon and perhaps unwise, my expertise lies in the manuscript world — I am guilty, perhaps, of a little of the disdain that Vespasiano had in spades for the new-fangled culture of print.  But providing a course that ranges across both allows for interesting juxtapositions and reflections on what each subject can learn from the other. And having the course in Florence invites me to consider the differences in national approach to the subjects and in particular to the tradition of manuscript and incunable description.

As both an introduction and a coda to the course, I have concocted a brief bibliography on the topics. It is by no means meant to be full, nor am I anticipating that the students hunt down all of the 100 plus works during their four weeks in Tuscany. I hope rather — and this is why I call it a coda — that they will refer to it long after they have left Alberti’s palace and the winds have blown them, like the Rucellai’s boat, far from their temporary home. I am putting it on-line here, both for their benefit of the students and for the interest of any wandering scholar who might happen upon here and wish to find some intellectual nourishment.