Roland H. Bainton and Delio Cantimori. The Correspondence of Roland H. Bainton and Delio Cantimori 1932-1966: An Enduring Transatlantic Friendship between Two Historians of Religious Toleration.
An age has surely ended when its historians have themselves become objects of history. Such has happened with twentieth-century historians. The celebrated Italian Reformation scholar Delio Cantimori died in 1966 (b. 1904). As would be expected, memorials and tributes followed in the years immediately after. Time, however, allows greater perspective--not to mention the appearance of evidence not previously available; and at least since the 1990s a series of works have sought to place Cantimori's life and writings in a more critical historical context. Roland Bainton, just as celebrated in his own way as Cantimori, died in 1984 (b. 1894). His historical Nachleben, one might say, is still in phase one. A full bibliography, by Cynthia Wales Lund, appeared only in 2000; but in compensation we have Bainton's delightful posthumously-published autobiography, Roly: Chronicle of a Stubborn Non-Conformist (1988), spiced with a generous helping of Bainton's caricatures of friends and notables who came within the ken of his artist eye.
John Tedeschi has made a major contribution to our understanding of both men and of much else besides. For the ninety-two letters he edits (sixty-five between Cantimori and Bainton, twenty-seven more between one of the principals and others) bring us into contact not only with Cantimori's and Bainton's work on Italian and northern Protestantism, but also with a range of twentieth-century figures, from leading Italian Fascists such as Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile to scholars who were already then or who would in the future become prominent: Frederic Corss Cross, Elisabeth Feist Hirsch, Hajo Holborn, Hubert Jedin, Werner Kaegi, Walther Koehler, Stanislaw Kot, Gerhard Ritter, Earl Morse Wilbur, and, most especially, Paul Oskar Kristeller.
The Bainton-Cantimori friendship was almost exclusively epistolary. They met, briefly, for the first time in London in 1956, and then again for the second and last time in New Haven in 1966. The first of the letters is Cantimori's to Bainton from Basel on 28 April 1932 after Cantimori had read Bainton's article on Sebastian Castellio in the Festschrift for George Lincoln Burr of 1931. The last is Bainton's to Cantimori on 6 May 1966 announcing that "On Sunday last, my dear wife crossed the ultimate frontier. The body failed. The spirit never flagged. God grant that I may be as valiant." As Tedeschi rightly points out, Bainton and Cantimori were in many ways very different. On one side was the ebullient Bainton, Congregational minister and pacifist, brilliant lecturer, spry and physically active well into old age, and someone who wrote quickly and easily scholarly and popular works. On the other was the reticent Cantimori, a convinced Fascist in the 1930s, then a believing Communist until the invasion of Hungary in 1956, sedentary by nature and decidedly overweight as he got older, and who, despite the success of his classic Eretici italiani del Cinquecento of 1939, wrote only slowly and laboriously. Nonetheless, their common interest in the religious rebels of the sixteenth century and their mutual respect for each other's scholarship created a friendship that overcame these differences from the very start and endured for over thirty years
Tedeschi's lengthy introduction and dense annotation are models of their kind. For almost every topic or figure that he touches, his treatment either casts new light or serves as an excellent jumping-off point for anyone who wishes to investigate further. These characteristics shine through on the subject of Paul Oskar Kristeller (1904-99).
On 25 September 1938, in the fifth of his extant letters to Bainton, Cantimori asked his American friend to help a certain "giovane ebreo tedesco" teaching at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa who needed to escape Italy because of the racial laws Mussolini had promulgated that summer. Bainton responded that to his surprise an amazing number of scholars at Yale knew and respected this young nobody. Thus began a correspondence that resulted in Kristeller arriving in New York harbor on 23 February 1939 on a non-quota visa acquired on the pretext of his teaching a short seminar at Yale. Many letters had been dispatched to various agencies, institutions, and individuals in England and America, but in the end, it was Bainton who played the critical role in rescuing and bringing to America Paul Oskar Kristellet, a man he had never heard of before receiving Cantimori's letter. Mirabile dictu, because he could collate sources that Kristeller himself never saw, Tedeschi's account of this dramatic story is in several respects superior to Kristeller's own published and unpublished accounts.
More editions and critical studies on Cantimori, Bainton, Kristeller, and some of the other individuals who figure in this book will doubtlessly appear in the coming decades. If they maintain the scholarly standard set by John Tedeschi, both the scholarly community and the twentieth-century historians who are the object of these studies will be well served. Tedeschi's work is a superb contribution to twentieth-century historiography and proof that common scholarly and moral ideals transcend politics.
The University at Albany, State University of New York
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2003|
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