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99 posts categorized "Printed books"

23 August 2019

Raymond Roussel’s strange book

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Where to start with the eccentric French poet Raymond Roussel? He was born into fabulous wealth, which he used to indulge his many idiosyncrasies. He threw lavish banquets just for himself. He more or less invented the modern electrified caravan, in which he travelled the world. Oh, and there’s a childhood photograph of him astride a swan.

Photo of Raymond Roussel, aged 3, sitting astride a swan

Photo of Raymond Roussel, aged 3, with a swan. Picture by Wilhelm Benque (1849-1903) & Cie (Paris) from Wikimedia Commons

He also produced a book with peculiar, unturnable pages, called Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique. There’s a first edition in the British Library’s collections, and it has quite a story attached to it. You can listen to a podcast I made about it here, featuring Dr Dennis Duncan of University College London, and Dr Sophie Defrance, Curator of Romance Collections at the British Library.

Nouvelles Impressions is a long poem written in rhyming couplets, which Roussel published in 1932 after spending over a decade writing it. Convinced it was a masterpiece, he wanted to it to be his lasting literary monument. The problem was that it wasn’t very monumental in length and so, possibly to turn it into a longer, more impressive looking tome, he decided to include some illustrations. But here’s where it starts to get weird: Roussel hired an illustrator using a private detective agency, keeping his own identity a secret and providing only a series of captions or one-sentence instructions. And so the artist, Henri Zo, produced a set of line drawings without ever seeing the actual poem, or even knowing whose book he was illustrating. What’s even weirder is that Roussel then instructed his printer to produce the book in such a way that the illustrations would be partially concealed, hidden in the folds of uncut pages.

Books with uncut (or ‘unopened’) pages used to be very common. They were a by-product of the way books were produced in the era before industrial printing. Handpress production involved printing several pages at a time on a single larger sheet, which was then folded, usually into quarters or eighths, depending on the format and size of the volume. When these folded sheets were then stitched together into a book, some of the pages would still be joined together at the top or along the fore-edge. (Try this with a sheet of paper and you’ll see what I mean). Often the first thing you would need to do as a reader is to slice open the pages in order to read.

Roussel turned this quirk of book production into a feature of his Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique. He made sure that the text and illustrations appeared on alternate leaves, and whereas the text is easily readable by turning the pages conventionally, the images could be seen only with difficulty, by prising apart two pages which are joined at the top. He even seems to have included an instruction to readers in later editions not to slice the pages, but to leave them joined. There’s something not only awkward but quite voyeuristic and intimate about this mode of reading, as Dennis Duncan has observed.

Roussel’s text itself seems well aware of this, and one of the illustrations depicts a man who is reading in exactly this way, looking rather furtive as he prises apart the leaves of an uncut book. It creates a funny kind of regression, placing us in the same position as the man in the illustration, even as we look at him.

Illustration of a man reading an un-opened book

An illustration of the art of reading an unopened book, in Raymond Roussel’s Nouvelles impressions d’Afrique. (Paris, 1932) 

Except that in this British Library copy, it doesn’t work in quite the way Roussel intended. He might have been meticulous in planning what the book would look like, and how readers would have to navigate it, but his plans were derailed once it was out in the world. At some point, possibly as late as 1983, the pages of this edition in the British Library were sliced open and disbound, so that they could be coated in a peculiar protective tissue layer that conservators were once fond of, in a process called lamination, or the ‘technique/process of manufacturing a material in multiple layers, so that the composite material achieves improved strength and stability’. Lamination was used to conserve very fragile or acid paper and was rather a common habit in libraries that cared about conservation from the 1950s to the early 1980s.

Not only were the pages of the British Library edition cut, but it was rebound wrongly, so that Roussel’s masterpiece was interrupted mid way through by the accidental inclusion of some publishers’ blurb and critical endorsements, including a glowing review of one of Roussel’s previous works, La poussière de soleils by the Daily Mail

Pierre Bazantay’s study on Roussel’s aesthetics describes how this booklet, or “cahier” of praises to Roussel was prepared by his editor, Lemerre, in the 1930s (certainly at the request of Roussel himself) and inserted in all the re-editions of his works. For the modern reader, it is ever so slightly poignant to read these reviews, which were not always clearly laudatory, but were cut just the right amount to almost look so. As a point of comparison, the booklet was correctly inserted in a now digitised edition of another of Roussel’s works, Chiquenaude

A promotional booklet produced by Roussel’s publisher, Lemerre, wrongly inserted in the rebound book in Raymond Roussel’s Nouvelles impressions d’Afrique.

La critique et Raymond Roussel, a promotional booklet produced by Roussel’s publisher, Lemerre, wrongly inserted in the rebound book in Raymond Roussel’s Nouvelles impressions d’Afrique. (Paris, 1932)

Poor old Roussel tried so hard to control how his poem would be encountered and read. But the British Library copy is testament to the fact that books just don’t work like that. How they are preserved depends on the vagaries of conservators, collectors and readers. Subsequent publishers have also largely ignored his original design, taking all kinds of liberties with the layout of Nouvelles Impressions, and even bumping all the illustrations to end of the book. Laurent Busine’s study, Raymond Roussel: contemplator enim, described the composition process, Roussel’s relationship with his publisher, and reproduced and discussed the 59 images created by Zo. If you want to read the book as Roussel envisaged, you need to get hold of the 2004 English translation published by Atlas Press. It’s the only edition to scrupulously replicate its unopened pages and give you the original, peculiar reading experience. It even includes a stern warning note to its readers: ‘You are advised to cut only the pages containing the introduction, and to read it before deciding whether to cut the remaining pages’.

Gill Partington, 2018–2019 Munby Fellow in Bibliography at Cambridge University (with Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance collections).

References/further reading

Pierre Bazantay, 'Roussel: une esthétique de la crise?' in Cahiers de l'Association internationale des études françaises, 2004, no. 56. pp. 113-126. W.P.d.475.

Laurent Busine, Raymond Roussel: contemplator enim: sur les «Nouvelles impressions d'Afrique», ouvrage orné de 59 illustrations d’Henri-Achille Zo. (Brussels, 1995). YA.1996.a.1668.

Raymond Roussel, La poussière de soleils. Pièce en cinq actes et vingt-quatre tableaux. (Paris, 1926) C.104.dd.30.

Raymond Roussel, New impressions of Africa; with 59 illustrations by H.-A. Zo; translated & introduced by Ian Monk with the assistance of Henry Matthews. (London, 2004). YK.2007.a.15117.

20 August 2019

Learning to read Cyrillic from 13th century Novgorod to the USSR

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We do not know much about how children learned to read and write Slavonic languages in Cyrillic script in the 11th-15th centuries. The most popular teaching method was learning Psalms and copying manuscripts. Near the Russian city of Novgorod, among birch bark manuscripts, archaeologists found a tablet with a wax surface for writing on the right and the Cyrillic alphabet carved on the left.

Novgorod tablet, 13th - early 14th century

Novgorod tablet, 13th - early 14th century. Reproduced in A.F Medvedev, Drevnerusskie pisala X-XV vv., in Sovetskaia arkheologiia, 1960, issue 2

It definitely looks like a school exercise book, but who keeps their jotters? Children learning to read Cyrillic did not, and nor did they even care much about their textbooks, passing them from one to another until the books disintegrated. That is why only two copies of the first Eastern Slavonic printed primer, published in Lviv by Ivan Fedorov in 1574, are known. The copy held at the British Library has been digitised and is freely available. 

The first page of the 1574 Azbuka

The first page of Ivan Fedorov’s primer (Lviv, 1574). C.104.dd.11(1)

It starts with listing Cyrillic letters three times: in the direct and reverse order, and in columns rather than lines. Then the book suggests that learners could put together consonants and vowels. As Russian is primarily a phonetic language, where written symbols directly correspond to spoken sounds, it is quite an easy exercise. Try it yourself: M+A=MA, B+A=BA, etc. Elementary grammar and texts for reading were also included.

Such books were called Azbuka, for the first two letters of the Cyrillic alphabet: A – was called Az and B – Buki. Another name for them was Bukvar’, from the word ‘bukva’ – letter. Soon, educators started separating such alphabet books from more advanced grammars. Also, the power of images in teaching and learning was recognised and more educators started to include pictures in their textbooks.

The most remarkable example of an illustrated primer was created by Karion Istomin, one of the first Muscovite enlighteners, who was editor of the Moscow Printing House, court poet and tutor to the royal children. The book was published in Moscow in 1694, but previously two manuscript copies had been presented to the royals for Peter the Great’s son and two young nieces.

The book opens with a short introduction illustrated by an engraving showing Christ teaching schoolchildren. Each page is devoted to one letter, which is drawn symbolically as a picture, and then in various other ways – print and shorthand. Istomin also wrote short poems that would help learners remember the letter, and included images of objects and animals whose names started with that letter. The book was too complex to be printed with moveable type and therefore was engraved by Leontii Bunin. He seems to have worked on it for about two years, between 1692 and 1694.

First page of Karion Istomin's Bukvar

Letter A from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter A.

Letter Zh from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter Zh.

Letter O from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter O.

Letter S from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter S.

First page, letter A, Zh, O, S. Images from the facsimile edition: Bukvar’ sostavlen Kariononm Istominym; gravirovan Leontiem Buinym; otpechatan v 1694 godu v Moskve. Leningrad: Avrora, 1981. X.955/980.

Although most scholars agree that so many variations in the letter shapes could confuse rather than help learners, this primer set up a tradition of illustrated textbooks for learners.

By the beginning of the 19th century, textbooks and learning materials were in demand by a network of various educational establishments and private tutors. Not only royal children could get books with pictures (although of course not so lavishly printed!). An Azbuka published in 1818 for public schools, was called Dragotsennyi podarok detiam (‘A Precious Present for Children’). It also introduced the alphabet in various types and shorthand, illustrating it with pictures, elementary reading exercises and texts for further reading, such as moral instructions and prayers.

As part of our Google Books project the British Library’s copy of the fourth edition of Dragotsennyi podarok detiam published without changes from the 1818 edition was digitised

Title-page of 1830 Azbuka

Title-page of the fourth edition of Dragotsennyi podarok detiam, ili novaia i polnaia rossiiskaia azbuka (Moscow, 1830) RB.23.a.23374

The cheap popular editions that mushroomed at the end of the 19th century could not afford many pictures, but at least tried to include some under colourful and attractive paper covers.

Collage of late 19th century Azbuka covers

Collage of late 19th century Azbuka covers

Most of the reading materials were still prayers, adaptations from the Gospels, and some simple statements and proverbs. Leo Tolstoy, who established a school for village children, was also concerned with education. He wrote his own Azbuka, where he aimed to offer exercises suitable for any learning method, including the ‘word method’ (reading not syllable by syllable, but memorising whole words), which, as he wrote in the introduction, was popular in England and America. It is interesting to note that Tolstoy thought pictures to be a luxury feature that could only distract pupils.

Cover of L. Tolstoy's Novaia Azbuka

L. Tolstoy. Novaia Azbuka . 25th edition (Moscow, 1908) 12975.m.33

In the new Soviet state this idea of Tolstoy’s was definitely not accepted. Primers illustrated with new communist propaganda became quite popular and were issued for adult learners. In 1921 Dmitrii Moor illustrated an Alphabet for a Red Army Soldier where he applied the same principle as in standard textbooks – introducing letters with a two-line verse and a picture. For example, letter ‘B’ showed a miserable bourgeois, begging for mercy.

Letter B from Dmitrii Moor's Red Army Alphabet. The illustration shows a worker, a peasant and a Red Army soldier standing over a 'bourgeois capitalist'.

Dmitrii Moor, Azbuka krasnoarmeitsa, (Moscow, 1921) Cup.401.g.25.

The campaign “Down with illiteracy!”, which started almost immediately after the October revolution in 1917, also required new textbooks, where learners’ first texts would be citations from Lenin and Trotsky instead of prayers.

Cover of a textbook for adults with an image of adults learning

Doloi negramotnost’. Bukvar’ dlia vzroslykh, (Moscow, 1920). 12975.n.15.

The Soviet primary school textbook had Lenin and a map of the USSR as the first pictures that children would see when they started learning to read and write. This is what the last Soviet edition of primer looked like; it was reproduced in more or less the same way for decades, so I also recognise the cover as my first schoolbook.

Last Soviet bukvar' with an image of Lenin and map of the USSR

Bukvar’. 9th edition (Moscow, 1989). YA.1996.a.6783.

Meanwhile, Russian-speaking children abroad also needed primers. Their parents, who had fled the Soviet regime, wanted them to keep their heritage language. It is interesting to see how old fashioned the YMCA-Press edition of 1957 looks. Children born in the early 1950s were introduced to reading through pictures of a 10 kopeks coin of 1911, a samovar, a horse-drawn carriage, and birch-bark shoes. As well as modern Russian, émigré children were also supposed to learn Church Slavonic so that they could read Christian Orthodox books.

Double-page spread from the 1957 reading book for Russian émigré children

V.P.Vakhterov. Russkii Bukvar’ dlia obucheniia pis’mu I chteniiu russkomu i tserkovno-slavianskomu. (Paris, 1957). 12993.w.1

To learn more about reading and writing in various countries, languages, alphabets, and societies, visit our exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark which is still open until 27th August.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References/further reading:

Christine Thomas, ‘The East Slavonic Primers: Lvov, 1574 and Moscow 1637,’ The British Library Journal, 10 (1984), 32-47.

E. Rogatchevskaia, ‘“A Beautiful, Tremendous Russian Book, and Other Things Too”: An Overview of Rare Russian Books from the Diaghilev-Lifar Collection in the British Library’, Canadian-American Slavic Studies, Volume 51 (2017) Issue 2-3, 376-397.

Ivan the Terrible, primers, ballet and the joys of curatorship

13 June 2019

‘The Father of German Calligraphy’: Johann Neudörffer

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In an earlier post I wrote about the use and long survival of ‘gothic’ typefaces and handwriting in the German-Speaking countries. It was surely no coincidence that, at the time when the printing press and the influence of humanist thought and teaching were beginning to popularise ‘Roman’ printing and writing styles, the first printed writing manuals for German scripts also began to appear.

One of the first and most influential creators of such manuals was the Nuremberg writing and mathematics teacher Johann Neudörffer (1497-1563), who published his first collection of alphabets, designed for his own students and usually referred to as the Fundament, in 1519 (1267.g.24.(3)). His major work, Ein gute Ordnung und kurtze Unterricht der furnemsten Grunde aus denen die Jungen zierlichs schreybens begirlich, mit besonderer Kunst und Behendigkeyt unterricht und geubt mögen werden, appeared 19 years later.

Title-page  of Johann Neudörffer, Ein gute Ordnung und kurtze Unterricht 
Title-page  of Johann Neudörffer, Ein gute Ordnung und kurtze Unterricht (Nuremberg, 1538).  C.69.aa.18.

The Gute Ordnung contains not just alphabets and examples of how to form and join letters, but also models for the kinds of  documents his students would need to prepare in their later careers as court or civic scribes.

Practical guidance on points and lines from Ein gute Ordnung
Practical guidance on points and lines from Ein gute Ordnung

An alphabet in capitals from Ein gute Ordnung
An alphabet in capitals from Ein gute Ordnung

There are also models of scripts using prayers, Biblical quotations and educational maxims. Most are in German hands, although there are some samples of Roman and italic lettering. There are large and elaborate capitals, and texts in script almost too tiny to read, practical scripts for everyday work and decorative ones for special occasions.

An inscription in outline script
An outline script from Ein gute Ordnung

Decorative flourishes
Decorative flourishes from Ein gute Ordnung

Perhaps the most complex model is a prayer presented as a labyrinth pattern.

A prayer written out in a labyrinth pattern

Because of the method of reproduction used, many of the plates also appear in reverse, which were often bound in with the others. This, together with the fact that Neudörffer produced more plates in later years which were bound into some copies, makes the work a bit of a bibliographical challenge.

A page with a handwriting sample
A page (above) and its reverse (below) from Ein gute Ordnung

A page with a handwriting sample reproduced in mirror image

The British Library holds two copies, one (C.69.aa.18.) with 103 leaves of which 46 are accompanied by the reverse, and one (1256.kk.31.) with 101 leaves of which 45 are accompanied by the reverse and one appears in reverse only. Both copies show evidence of being owned by contemporary scribes. The first copy has an ownership inscription by a Hanns Lebzelter dated 1549, and the second has 18 manuscript leaves bound in, one of them signed by Veit Stoss (1533-1576) a grandson and namesake of the sculptor.

Ownership inscription 'Hannes Lebzelters Kunstbuch Anno 1549
Ownership evidence: Hanns Lebzelter (above, C.69.aa.18) and Veit Stoss (below, 1256.kk.31.)

Handwritten text and ownership inscription by Veit Stoss, 1550

The 1519 Fundament and Ein gute Ordnung are copy-books with little or no explanatory text, but in 1549 Neudörffer published what was more of a descriptive textbook. Ein Gesprechbüchlein zweyer schüler, wie einer den andern im zierlichen schreyben untherweyst takes the familiar pedagogical form of a dialogue between instructor and learner, although rather than the more familiar model of a teacher or parent in the role of instructor, Neudörffer’s dialogue is between fellow students of a similar age. Stephan is keen to improve his calligraphy skills with the help of the more experienced Johann (based on Neudörffer’s own son). “I’m ashamed to let you see my handwriting,” Stephan explains at the start of the first lesson, but Johann reassures him, “It isn’t so very bad, at least one can read it,” and goes on to explain how to cut and hold a quill, how to make basic lines, points and letter-shapes, how to form and join up letters and so on.

A diagram of a perfectly-cut quill pen
Above: A perfectly cut quill pen, from Ein Gesprechbüchlein zweyer schüler (Nuremberg, 1549) 1267.g.24.(1).  Below: Guidance on how to hold a pen, from a 1601 reissue of the work under the title Schreibkunst (Nuremberg, 1601) 1477.dd.52.(1)

Diagrams and an explanation of how to hold a quill pen

Under the title Schreibkunst, Neudörffer’s grandson Anton reissued the Gesprechbüchlein in 1601 with an additional collection of letters and alphabets, some of them so elaborate that it becomes almost impossible to decipher the basic letter-forms beneath the flourishes.

Decorative letters A-L
Decorative letters A-L (above) and R-S (below) from  Schreibkunst

Heavily decorated letters R and S

Neudörffer helped to shape the style of both German handwriting and German printing types in the 16th century, and thus to influence German writing and printing styles for four centuries. Today he is recognised as the father of German calligraphy, and has inspired modern designers of gothic typefaces who have given his name to their fonts.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

Oliver Linke, Christine Sauer, Zierlich schreiben: der Schreibmeister Johann Neudörffer d. Ä. und seine Nachfolger in Nürnberg (Nuremberg, 2007) YF.2011.a.17762

Werner Doede, Bibliographie deutscher Schreibmeisterbücher von Neudoörffer bis 1800 (Hamburg, 1958) 2739.c.6.

08 May 2019

A Spanish pioneer of deaf education and his early English readers

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For Deaf Awareness Week we recall the groundbreaking work of Juan Pablo Bonet (dates unknown) and his Reducción de las letras y arte para enseñar a ablar los mudos [‘Simplification of letters and art of teaching the dumb to speak’].

Title-page of Bonet’s Reducción de las letras
Title-page of Bonet’s Reducción de las letras … (Madrid, 1620) 71.a.18.

The engraved title page by Diego de Astor shows the mottoes: ‘Sic natura vincula solvit artis’ and ‘Ita ars naturae vincula solvit’ (‘As Nature loosens the chains of Art [we might say, ‘invention’] so Art loosens the chains of Nature] and an emblem of a hand of art picking the lock which nature has placed on the tongue of a dumb man. In another emblem a mother bird (nature) has undone the grille which ‘art’ had put over the entrance to her nest.

Bonet’s method was first to teach the written letters; then teach the hand signs for the letters; then teach the pronunciation of the letters. Bonet comments that the pupil learns to lip-read by himself and the teacher must not take credit for this.

Bonet was of the first teachers to devise and record in print a sign alphabet, and his system has had some influence on modern sign languages. However, he was also typical of his age in believing that signing was only a step towards an ideal of oralism rather than a valid form of communication in itself.

Sign for the letter A in Bonet's alphabet Signs for the letters B,C and D in Bonet's alphabet
The first four letters of Bonet’s sign alphabet, from Reducción de las letras…

There was only one edition of the Reducción in its time and bibliographically speaking it’s striking to me that various English-speakers are known to have owned copies of this first and only edition.

In the British Library we have three copies:

One (71.a.18) is from the King’s Library and therefore can’t be traced back before George III (1738-1820).

Another (556.b.20.(1.) probably belonged to Sir Hans Sloane (see the Sloane Database), and a third (1043.l.5.) to Sir Paul Methuen (c. 1672-1757).

Samuel Pepys had a copy (now in Cambridge, 1396(2)) (Gaselee 16; Knighton p. 136).

And not far away from the BL, in Gordon Square, Dr Williams’s Library has had a copy since 1727 (1038.H.11; Catalogus 1727, p. 46). I maintain that this copy belonged to Dr William Bates (1625-99), owner of 97 Spanish books. He was a contemporary of Pepys but they don’t seem to have known each other.

Bates didn’t write his name in this copy, but he did sign a similar work in English, John Bulwer’s Philocophus: or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend, Exhibiting the Philosophicall verity of that subtile art, which may inable one with an observant eie, to heare what any man speaks by the moving of the lips ...(London, 1648) [Dr William’s Library 1064.R.13]

Title-page of John Bulwer’s 'Philocophus'
Engraved title-page from the BL copy of Bulwer’s Philocophus  1041.c.23

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance collections

References/Further reading

Stephen Gaselee, The Spanish Books in the Library of Samuel Pepys (Supplement to the Bibliographical Society’s Transactions ; no. 2 ) ([London], 1921). Ac.9670.bba.

Catalogue of the Pepys Library, Supplementary series, I, Census of Printed Books, ed. C. S. Knighton (Cambridge, 2004) YC.2005.b.109

Simplification of the Letters of the Alphabet and Method of teaching Deaf-Mutes to speak ... Translated from the original Spanish by H. N. Dixon ... with a historical introduction by A. Farrar. ([Harrogate], 1890).

Bibliothecae quam vir doctus, & admodum Reverendus, Daniel Williams, S.T.P. Bono publico legavit, catalogus (London, 1727). 125.d.8.

Barry Taylor, ‘Los libros españoles del Dr. William Bates (1625-1699) en la Dr. Williams’s Library de Londres’, in El libro español en Londres: la visión de España en Inglaterra (siglos XVI al XIX), ed. Nicolás Bas and Barry Taylor (Valencia, 2016), pp. 13-60. YF.2017.a.19281

26 April 2019

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages

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The annual Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place on Monday 3 June 2019 in the Bronte Room of the British Library Knowledge Centre (formerly Conference Centre). The programme is:

11.00 Registration and Coffee

11.15 ALISON ADAMS (Glasgow), Claude de Seyssel’s La grand monarchie de France, Paris, Denis Janot, 1541: proof corrections

12.00 IAN MAGEDERA and ANDREW BOWHAY (Liverpool), French Books on India: Recent Developments

12.15 Lunch (Own arrangements).

1.30 LAURA CARNELOS (Reading), Choice or Mistake? Printing Defects in Italian Early Modern Books

2.15 JEREMY POTTER (Brighton), How to survive for 200 years: textbook lessons for book historians

3.00 Tea

3.30 ALEXANDRA WINGATE (London), ‘Prosigue la librería’: Analyzing the bookstore of Lorenzo Coroneu in seventeenth-century Pamplona

4.15 IAN CHRISTIE-MILLER, Lithuania, 1547, to Russia. Béarn, 1583, to Kralice with Watermarks

The Seminar will end at 5 pm.

The Seminar is free and all are welcome, but if you are planning to attend, please let the organisers, Susan Reed and Barry Taylor, know.

Printers's device showing  workers in a printing house
Printer’s device from  Wolfgang Kilian, Serenissimorum Saxoniæ Electorum et quorundam ducum agnatorum genuinæ effigies... (Augsburg, 1621)  551.e.22.(3)

23 April 2019

English Recusants in Portugal, 1638

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A recent acquisition recalls the dark times of the religious conflicts of the 17th century.

Sermao RB.23.a.38272

 Thomás Aranha, Sermão que pregou o Muito Reverendo Padre Presentado Frey Thomas Aranha da Ordem dos Prégadores, Lente de Theologia no Real Collegio de S. Thomas de Coimbra, na festa, que celebrou ao glorioso martyr S. Iorge seu padroeiro a nobilissima naçaõ inglesa em S. Domingos de Lisboa no anno de 638 (Lisbon, [1638]). RB.23.a.38272

This sermon was preached at Lisbon on St George’s Day in 1638 to the community of English Catholic recusant exiles, “these gentlemen who have lived among us for so many years, and every year celebrate their patron saint” (fol. 12v). As a gesture of Anglo-Portuguese solidarity, he points out that in battle the Portuguese, like the English, used to invoke St George, unlike the Spaniards who called on St James (fol. 11v).

St George was of obvious appeal to the English. Of obvious relevance too was his status as a martyr at a time when Catholics were being martyred in England. Aranha says explicitly that England had once been as industrious and courageous in its faith, as those who still profess their Catholicism today (fols 11-12). Indeed, the English recusants in Portugal have made such sacrifices in being cut off from friends and family that they too may be called martyrs (fol. 13r). (This may not be as exaggerated as it sounds: a martyr is one who bears witness to his or her faith, not necessarily unto death.)

Eight of Fr Thomás’s sermons are recorded in the Tipografia portuguesa do século XVII: Letras A e B, pp. 130-32

Like many a preacher, he was also a poet. We have his poems on the occasion of the coronation of John IV.

Poesias Compostas

Poesias compostas na Universidade de Coimbra na occasiaõ da felicissima, & milagrosa acclamaçaõ, & coroaçåo d'el Rei nosso Senhor Dom Ioaõ o quarto de Portugal, que se não ofereceraõ no Certamen Poetico, que na dita Vniveridade ouve nem andão no livro dos seus aplausos. (Lisbon, 1645). 1560/808.(1.) []]

King John won back Portuguese independence from the ‘Philippine Domination’ by Philips II-IV of Spain from 1580 to 1640. Aranha is not named in the book, but Innocêncio Francisco da Silva in his dictionary of Portuguese biography gives him authorship.

His book of 1645 is a belated supplement to the poetic celebrations dedicated by the University of Coimbra to the new king:

Invictissimo Regi Invictissimo Regi Lusitaniæ Joanni. IV. Academia Conimbricensis libellum dicat in felicissima sua aclamatione .. (Coimbra, 1641). Cup.408.ww.8

Thus like many a Baroque author Fr Thomás wrote for the moment.

An indication of this little book’s rarity is that A. F. Allison and D. M. Rogers didn’t include it in their classic bibliography, The contemporary printed literature of the English Counter-Reformation between 1558 and 1640 : an annotated catalogue, Vol. 1, Works in languages other than English; with the collaboration of W. Lottes (Aldershot, 1989). RAR 230.242

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections


Tipografia portuguesa do século XVII: Letras A e B (Lisbon, 1999), RAR 094.209469 LI.

Innocêncio Francisco da Silva, Diccionario bibliographico portuguez, VII (Lisbon, 1872). HLR 011.269


02 April 2019

John Bull, or the English People in their Great Peculiarity

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It’s English Tourism Week and what better to guide prospective visitors to these shores than an anonymous compilation of English customs published nearly 200 years ago in Stockholm. John Bull eller Engleska folket i sin stora Besynnerlighet was recently acquired by the British Library and appears to be a translation from multiple contemporary sources of anecdotes and summaries of Englishness. It contains all manner of veritable traditions, half-truths and fake news that you might expect.

Title Page of ohn Bull eller Engleska folket i sin stora Besynnerlighet
Title page from John Bull eller Engleska folket i sin stora Besynnerlighet (Stockholm, 1826) RB.23.a.28622

In no seeming order, the book takes us from Charles I to the Lord Mayor’s Day via brief glimpses at the Fairlop Fair, ‘Riding the Stang’, football and funeral ceremonies, and anecdotes that illuminate British attitudes under titles such as ‘The Compassionate Traveller’, ‘Paternal Tenderness’, or ‘Exceptional Orderliness’, all in just over 50 pages.

List of contents from 'John Bull, eller Engelska folket...'
Contents from John Bull, eller Engelska folket...

One possible source for the work is Popular Pastimes, being a selection of picturesque representations of the customs & amusements of Great Britain, in ancient and modern times (London, 1816; 785.h.8), which includes drawings by F. P. Stephanoff and historical descriptions by Edward Wedlake Brayley. A second source could be the less structured but equally enjoyable John Bull ou Londresiana, attributed to a ‘C.D’

Engraving showing a giant punch-bowl at an outdoor party
Engraving from
John Bull ou Londresiana, Recueil d’originalités et de singularités anglaises, avec les anecdotes, bons mots, plaisanteries, sarcasmes, et railleries particulières à ce peuple (Paris, [1820?]) 12314.df.4.

Both the French and Swedish John Bull refer to the peculiarity of their subject and understandably so given the stories they recount. In ‘En besynnerlig Ursäkt’ (‘A peculiar excuse’) we read a dark tale about a day-labourer who twice tried to drown himself but was twice saved by a peasant. He waits for his moment and on the third occasion hangs himself off a barn door. When the owner of the farm questions the peasant, who had in fact seen the whole thing, the peasant says that, since the labourer had been thoroughly soaked in the first two plunges, he thought he was hanging himself out to dry.

The book shares a chapter with Popular Pastimes on what the English publication calls the practice of ‘Selling a Wife’ and the Swedish more modestly refers to as ‘Åktenskaps-handel’ (‘Marriage trade’). Both condemn the activity, which is said to prevail among the ‘lower classes’ (John Bull) or ‘the illiterate and vulgar’ (Popular Pastimes). Our English historian finds space however to celebrate the songs that have been derived from the practice: ‘this practice, immoral and shameful as it is, has given rise to various pleasant Jeu d’esprits […]’. The examples they give differ, possibly exposing the fact that John Bull was paraphrased from various sources.

Other chapters shared between the two books include ‘Milk Maids’ Garland‘ (‘Mjölkflickans Krans‘), ‘Riding the Stang’ (‘Rida på Stången‘) and ‘St. Valentine’s Day’, which our Swedish observers tell us ‘is quite extraordinary in England. The youth yearn for it [längtar otåligt efter det] every year.’ ‘Rida på Stången’ is more or less a direct translation from its source in Popular Pastimes, which describes a practice of vigilante justice, referred to otherwise as ‘charivari’ or ‘skimmington’. The accused is forced onto a long pole, or stang, and carried through the streets to expose his dishonour. The criminal associated with this treatment was traditionally  ‘a man who had debauched his neighbour’s wife’, but not exclusively so, as ‘the virago who had beaten her husband was also subjected to riding the Stang’ (Popular Pastimes, p. 17). The method was also used in Westmoreland and Cumberland, we read, to deter anyone from conducting any business at all on New Year’s Day. While, Popular Pastimes does not delve deeper, John Bull interrogates this Cumbrian variation:

Man hwart taga dessa böter wägen? Jo, man super upp dem, man fyller sig, wältrar sig i sanden, öfwerlastad af Öl, Rumm, Win och Brännwin. — Det är ett nöjsamt tidsfordrif for Engelska folkshopen. (p. 38)
Where do the fines go? Yes, they guzzle it up, they have their fill, roll about in the mud, full of beer, rum, wine and brandy. It is a pleasurable pastime for the English crowds.

I wonder how different today’s portrait of John Bull and the peculiar English would be…

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Studies

19 February 2019

It All Adds Up: a Quick Look at Chronograms

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For centuries writers and printers have enjoyed using words on a page to make patterns and puzzles. Acrostics, rebuses and pattern poems are all examples of this. Another is the chronogram.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a chronogram as “a phrase, sentence, or inscription, in which certain letters (usually distinguished by size or otherwise from the rest) express by their numerical values a date or epoch.” Chronograms exist in many different writing traditions, including Arabic and Hebrew where each letter of the alphabet has a different numerical value. In Europe they enjoyed their greatest popularity from the 16th to the 18th centuries, particularly in the territories of the Holy Roman Empire and in the Low Countries, where they appeared in commemorative or dedicatory inscriptions, on coins and medals, and in print.

In these European chronograms the date is expressed with the letters used as Roman numerals: I, V, X, L, C, D and M (for 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1000). Most of us are familiar with dates in this form from inscriptions or from the closing credits of films and TV programmes. Some chronograms give the letters in the order that they appear in the full written date, for example an epitaph for Queen Elizabeth I reading “My Day Closed Is In Immortality”, where the initial letters represent MDCIII (1603) the year of her death. However, most of them require more mathematical dexterity in both writer and reader, since they involve identifying the numeral letters in a phrase and adding them together to give the date.

Let’s look at some examples. Here’s a fairly easy one to start, with the chronogram highlighted:

Title page with a chronogram for the year 1714
Antonius Kalckstein, Theses theologicae ex universa theologia Scotistica ex littera Scoti deductae authoritate Sacrae Scripturae et SS. Patrum ac Conciliorum firmatae et rationibus comprobatae ...  (Wrocław, 1714) RB.23.a.28370

On the title-page of this dissertation, the chronogram for the year is cleverly tucked into the information about the day and month when it was publicly defended: “Anno CVrrente ab ortV ChrIstI DIe 12 SepteMbrIs” (“In the current year after the birth of Christ on the 12th day of September”). This gives us C+V+V+C+I+I+D+I+M+I = 100+5+5+100+1+1+500+1+1000+1 = 1714. (Note the use of a v where we would generally use a u in written Latin today; the ancient Roman alphabet did not distinguish between the two.)

In the next example, the year is similarly encoded in the statement of publication: “IohannIs RhaMbae typI eXCVDebant” (“Johann Rambau’s types printed [this]”), giving I+I+M+I+X+C+V+D = 1+1+1000+1+10+5+500 = 1618:

Title page in Latin with a chronogram for the year 1618
Elias Cüchler, Ἀνθολογια διαφορων Ἐπιγραμματων παλαιων = Florilegium diversorum epigrammatum veterum in centurias distributum ... (Görlitz, 1618) 11409.f.37

The author of this book of astrological predictions for the year 1602 came up with two different chronograms to give the publication year of 1601:

Title page in German with two Latin chronograms for the year 1601
Georgius Caesius, Prognosticon astrologicum, oder Teutsche Practick: auff das Jahr ... M.DCII ... (Nuremberg 1601)  1609/748.(10.)

Relying as they do on Roman numerals, Chronograms can be made to work most easily with a Latin text, but they appear in vernacular languages too, as we saw in the Elizabeth I example. Here’s one in German in a work describing various celestial phenomena seen in 1622. The German chronogram, “NVn Ist In Vnsern LanDen groß EnDerUng baLD zV besorgen” suggests that these, and by implication the very date of 1622, are heralds of “great change”.

Link to a German title page with an image of celestial phenomena and a chronogram on the year 1622
Jacob Bartsch, Himmlische zeiterinnernde Wunder-Sonn- vnd WeckVhr, das ist ... Bericht von den NebenSonnen vnd Regenbogen ... (Strassburg, 1622)  Cup.409.c.2 

Again, a v is used here where we would expect a u to make the chronogram work. The same is true of this 1632 broadside commemorating the entry of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus into Nuremberg during the Thirty Years’ War: both ‘vu’ and ‘w’ are transcribed as two v’s: “GVstaVVs ADolphVs MIt Gott erVVehLter KönIg”.

Link to a broadside with an image of a triumphal procession entering Nuremberg and a chronogram on the year 1632
Andeutliche kurtze Beschreibung und Figurliche entwerffung, welcher gestalt, der  ... Herr Gustavus Adolphus, der Schweden, Gothen und Wenden König, ... Neben andern bey sich gehabten Christlichen hohen Potentaten ... zu Nürnberg, am 21. Tag Monats Martii, dieses lauffenden 1632. Jahrs ... eingeritten  (Nuremberg, 1632) 1750.b.29(54)

In all these examples, the letters doubling as numerals are highlighted by being capitalised, but here’s a relatively late example, from 1856 (as I’m sure you can all work out by now), where they have been printed in red:

Link to a Latin title page with a chronongram on the year 1856 highlighted in red type
Istrograni templi auspiciis. augusto poli festive adstat augusta Austriæ aula prona gens, et venerati prælati (Trnava, 1856)  Hung.1.f.3.(22)

To finish, here’s a broadside containing an impressive 20 chronograms on various significant dates in the life of Martin Luther. It comes from an album compiled by James Hilton, an avid collector and chronicler of chronograms. His collection, particularly strong in German examples, was bequeathed to the British Museum Library in 1931, and offers hours of fascination for lovers of the genre.

Link to a broadside with a portrait of Martin Luther surrounded by Latin Chronograms
Johannes Stolsius, Reverendi viri Dn. Martinus Lutheri ... vita atque res gestae viginti eteostichis docte comprehensa ... (Bremen, 1617)  From a collection of engravings and single printed leaves containing chronograms, made by James Hilton. L.R.22.c.18

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading:

James Hilton, Chronograms, 5000 and more in number, excerpted out of various authors, and collected at many places … (London, 1882-1895) 011899.k.54.

Alastair Fowler, The Mind of the Book: Pictorial Title Pages (Oxford, 2017) YC.2018.a.3272 (pp. 49-51)

Veronika Marschall, Das Chronogramm: eine Studie zu Formen und Funktionen einer literarischen Kunstform, dargestellt am Beispiel von Gelegenheitsgedichten des 16. bis 18. Jahrhunderts aus den Beständen der Staatsbibliothek Bamberg (Frankfurt am Main, 1997) YA.2000.a.16760


12 February 2019

The Archbishop and the Rogue: William Laud’s copy of ‘Guzmán de Alfarache’

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William Laud (1573-1645) is best known for his role in English religious and political history. He also amassed a considerable library which he presented to the Bodleian Library. The 1000-odd manuscripts have been well studied. His printed books less so, and one at least of them is in the British Library, purchased in 1859.

Laud Guzman tp

 Title-page of Mateo Alemán, Primera parte de Guzman de Alfarache … (Madrid, 1600) 12491.e.12

The catalogue states confidently: “Ms. notes [by Archbishop Laud]”. His signature is perfectly clear on the title page. Compare another sample:

Laud signature Hurd library
A book with Laud’s signature, from the Hurd Library in the former Bishop’s Palace at Hartlebury Castle, Worcestershire.

The copy of Guzmán, or more correctly the first part of it (from ch 1 to the beginning of ch 8 (fol. 50v) out of 207), is full of interlinear manuscript notes which supply English translations of certain phrases. I’m not qualified to judge whether the hand is Laud’s, but the annotations certainly seem early.

Was Guzmán suitable reading for a clergyman? It’s a picaresque novel which recounts in the first person the vicissitudes of a protagonist of the criminal classes. It can be placed with fiction which teaches a moral. It’s interesting that Lincoln Cathedral Library also has Guzmán in Spanish, and in Italian, and also the apocryphal Second Part (Shaw A384, A385, M481). They’re thought to have belonged to another man of the church, Dean Michael Honywood (1597-1681) (Hurst ix-xi). Dr Williams’s Library in Gordon Square also has two parts of Guzmán in Spanish, which likely belonged to ejected minister Dr William Bates (Taylor 37).

Guzmán isn’t easy reading, and it’s perfectly understandable why our annotator felt the need for some glosses. But as with pretty much all such annotations, it’s hard to divine why he translates some words and not others. He seems not to have concentrated on hard words: is it because he didn’t understand them? By the way, I didn’t find any match with James Mabbe’s translation, The Rogue, of 1622 (12489.m.8.).

Laud Guzman f.1 The opening of Guzmán in Laud’s copy, with annotations. A transcription follows below:

El deseo que tenía, curioso lector, de contarte mi vida me daba tanta priesa \haste/ para engolfarte \thee/ en ella sin prevenir algunas cosas que, como primer principio, es bien dejarlas entendidas -- porque siendo esenciales a este discurso también te serán de no pequeño gusto - -, que me olvidaba de cerrar un portillo \little back door/ por donde me pudiera entrar acusando cualquier terminista de mal latín, redarguyéndome de pecado, porque no procedí de la difinición a lo difinido, y antes de contarla \my life/ no dejé dicho \I did not leave it said/ quiénes y cuáles fueron mis padres y confuso nacimiento; que en su tanto, \in as much as it contaynes/ si dellos hubiera \one hadd/ de escribirse, fuera sin duda más agradable y bien recibida que esta mía. Tomaré por mayor lo más importante, dejando lo que no me es lícito, para que otro haga la baza.
Y aunque a ninguno conviene tener la propiedad de la hiena, que se sustenta desenterrando cuerpos muertos, yo aseguro, según hoy hay en el mundo censores, que no les falten coronistas. Y no es de maravillar que aun esta pequeña sombra \shadow/ querrás della inferir que les corto de tijera \that I cutt or pare with shears/ y temerariamente me darás mil atributos, que será el menor dellos tonto o necio, porque, no guardando mis faltas, mejor descubriré las ajenas. Alabo tu razón por buena; pero quiérote advertir que, aunque me tendrás por malo, no lo quisiera parecer -- que es peor serlo y honrarse dello \with it/--, y que, contraviniendo a un tan santo precepto como el cuarto, del honor y reverencia que les debo, quisiera cubrir mis flaquezas con las de mis mayores; pues nace \proceeds/ de viles y bajos pensamientos tratar de honrarse con afrentas ajenas, según de ordinario se acostumbra: lo cual condeno por necedad \folly/ solemne de siete capas \seven fold/ como fiesta doble. Y no lo puede ser mayor, pues descubro \since I discover/mi punto, no salva mi yerro \the error/ el de mi vecino o deudo \kinsman/, y siempre vemos vituperado el maldiciente. Mas a mí \as for me/ no me sucede así, porque, adornando la historia, siéndome necesario \as I shall have cause/, todos dirán \all will say/: “bien haya el \blessed be he/ que a los suyos parece \is like/”, llevándome estas bendiciones de camino.

Laud obviously cast his linguistic net wide. He promoted Hebrew and Arabic studies, and owned a pre-Colombian Mexican screenfold ms, Codex Laud (in the Bodleian, MS. Laud Misc. 678). Unfortunately it’s not known where he got it from.

Archbishop Laud 1762.a.1.Portrait of Laud, from a collection of 279 coloured portraits engraved by Baltasar Moncornet (Paris [1650-1660]) 1762.a.1.

Whether or not owner and annotator are the same, this book is a witness to the possession and reading of a Spanish classic when it was hot off the press.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Languages

References/further reading

David J. Shaw (gen. ed.), The Cathedral Libraries Catalogue, Vol. 2, Books printed on the continent of Europe, before 1701 in the libraries of the Anglican cathedrals of England and Wales (London, 1998). 2725.g.310

Clive Hurst, Catalogue of the Wren Library of Lincoln Cathedral: books printed before 1801 (Cambridge, 1982). 2725.p.47

Barry Taylor, ‘Los libros españoles del Dr. William Bates (1625-1699) en la Dr. Williams’s Library de Londres’, in El libro español en Londres: la visión de España en Inglaterra (siglos XVI al XIX), ed. Nicolás Bas and Barry Taylor (Valencia, 2016), pp. 13-60. YF.2017.a.19281

On Laud’s oriental mss in Bodleian:

01 February 2019

Unlocking Access to Ancient Science in Renaissance Italy: the vernacularization of Pliny’s ‘Historia Naturalis’

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In most cases, literary works which have marked a turning point, a watershed moment in the history of literature, are new and original creations. However, in some cases, a similar literary outburst has come from a translation rather than the original text. It will suffice to recall the Latin version of the Bible by St. Jerome at the end of the 4th century, the so-called Vulgate and the enormous historical and cultural impact it had on Western Europe at the time.

A less known case, but no less historically important in its impact on the formation of the European Renaissance culture, is the vulgarization of the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder published in 1476 by the Florentine humanist Cristoforo Landino, on which new light has been shed from the recent study of the Italian philologist Antonino Antonazzo in his Il volgarizzamento pliniano di Cristoforo Landino. (Messina, 2018; YF.2019.b.21).

Landino study

In a period which witnessed the rediscovery of classical literature, through the revival of Greek and Latin authors fallen into oblivion during the Middle Ages, the translation of Pliny’s text truly marked an epochal event: Landino’s great historical merit was to make a grandiose 37-volume encyclopedia of Greek-Roman antiquity accessible in the vernacular for the first time: the editio princeps of the translation is a monumental 830-page folio volume.

The British Library holds two copies at shelfmarks IC.19693 and C.3.d.2.

Pliny IC.19693 Dedication Translator’s dedication (f.2) from Historia naturale di C. Plinio Secondo tradocta di lingua Latina in Fiorentina per Christophoro Landino (Venice, 1476) Above: IC.19693 ; below: C.3.d2.

Pliny C.3.d.2

Landino’s laborious work filled an important cultural void that could no longer wait. Many readers from different backgrounds benefited from it: poets, such as Luigi Pulci; artists – to name one, Leonardo da Vinci; and even explorers such as Christopher Columbus. The aftermath was so great throughout Europe, that Landino’s translation remained the only vernacular translation of Naturalis historia for almost a century: the first French translation was published in 1562 (Antoine du Pinet), the English was published in 1601 (Philemon Holland ), the Spanish in 1624 (Gerónimo de Huerta) and a complete German translation as late as 1764 (Johann Daniel Denso).

Pliny IC.19693 Preface
Opening of Pliny’s preface from Historia Naturale (IC.19693)

The Florentine vernacularization became a key work because it placed itself at the confluence of many questions until then unanswered: was it acceptable to translate classical literary works into the very vernacular used in everyday life by common people? How to translate a peculiar lexicon of scientific disciplines, such as astronomy, meteorology, zoology, botany, medicine and mineralogy?

And, among the many vernaculars spoken in the regions of Italy, which one was the most suitable? The debate around this last question was in fact now centuries old: it had been a burning one since the origins of Italian literature in the 13th century and had left many conflicting theories; Dante Alighieri in his unfinished De Vulgari Eloquentia (1303-04) reviewed 14 Italian vernaculars in order to identify the most ‘illustrious’ and suitable for poetry, and ended up discarding them all, including the Florentine itself – which is the reason why scholars believe he interrupted the work, the theory conflicting with the practice, as the Divine Comedy would demonstrate.


 Portrait of Cristoforo Landino from a fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, ca 1486-90. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Landino’s translation answered all these questions, and even though it did not please some humanists, it was received with enthusiasm by the general public. A significant example of this is its success with a female public, as we read in Giovanni Sabadino degli Arienti’s description of his wife with her books in Gynevera de le clare donne.

...havea piacere assai in audire legere li versi de Virgilio; legea lei voluntiera Plinio de naturali hystoria, posto in materna lingua, et de li libri spirituali et sancti.
[...she very much enjoyed having Virgil’s verses read to her; she gladly read Pliny’s Naturalis Historia in her mother tongue, and holy and spiritual books...]

The relevance of this testimony is reinforced by the reaction of Francesco Florido Sabino, who, 60 years later, in his Apologia in Marci Actii Plauti aliorumque poetarum et linguae Latinae calumniatores, cursed Landino for allowing not just anybody access to Pliny’s work, but even to women. (See Antonazzo’s study p. 50)

Landino’s intention to reach a wide audicence is expressed in his dedicatory letter to the King of Naples Ferrante d’Aragona, which begins with these words:

Essendo gli animi nostri per loro natura di tanta celerità quanta né mia né altra lingua exprimere non poterebbe, né essendo altro cibo che gli pasca et nutrisca se non la cognitione, chi non vede che nessuna più grata chosa può alloro adivenire che havere vera scientia di tutte le cose?
[Our soul in its nature being as rapid as neither mine nor any other language can express, and there being no other nourishment that satisfies and feeds as cognition does, how can anyone not see that there is nothing that makes it happier than the true knowledge of all things?]

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator Romance Collections


Dante Alighieri, De vulgari eloquentia, a cura di Enrico Fenzi, con la collaborazione di Luciano Formisano e Francesco Montuori (Rome, 2012) YF.2013.a.25815

Sabadino Degli Arienti, Gynevera de le clare donne (Bologna, 1888).

Francesco Florido Sabino, In M. Actii Plauti aliorumque Scriptorum calumniatores apologia ... (Basle, 1540) C.81.i.9.