The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism.
The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism is a collection of fourteen articles on the history of humanism and its interrelationships with, and influence on, various disciplines and the arts, with some good illustrations and maps. In this form of presentation, it greatly differs from the Oxford Companions which are arranged like dictionaries or encylopaedias, with short descriptions of persons and topics in alphabetical order. The Cambridge Companion is not designed for quick reference like its Oxford cousins. It compensates for this by providing a comprehensive biographical index listing the persons mentioned in the work with brief bibliographical data and guide to the further reading in English; bibliographical references in other languages and in English are supplied in the notes following the chapters. Together, these provide a valuable guide to the work done, including the most recent research, in the fields covered by the Companion. It would have been helpful to students and readers in general if titles of some basic older works, like that of Jacob Burckhardt (whose name is notably absent) could have been provided.
The work is directed primarily to English-speaking readers and places its emphasis on Italian and English humanism. There are chapters on "Humanism and Italian Literature" (M.L. McLaughlin), on "Humanism and English Literature in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries" (Clare Carroll), and "Humanism and Seventeenth-Century English Literature" (Joseph Loewenstein), but no specific chapters devoted to humanism in other countries. While continuous accounts are not provided, its history and influence in other parts are Europe are dealt with in the chapters devoted to specific subjects. Thus, "Vernacular Humanism in the Sixteenth Century" (Warren Boutcher), while mainly concerned with English literature, discusses Montaigne but not other French humanists. In "The Humanist Reform of Latin and Latin Teaching" (Kristian Jensen), the relevant work of Melanchthon and other German humanists is mentioned, as is that of Erasmus and Colet.
The essential value of this work, as compared with a more lexicographical approach, lies in its up-to-date presentation of the results of recent scholarship in articles, written by specialists in their fields, which frequently also contain new research by their authors. This occasionally leads to a special emphasis on, and elaboration of, their particular subjects of research, but it does present the reader with a comprehensive survey of present knowledge of humanism and its ramifications that is not otherwise available. The period covered goes back to classical antiquity, as in "The Origins of Humanism" (Nicholas Mann); in two of the chapters, it is extended into the seventeenth century: "The New Science and the Traditions of Humanism" (Anthony Grafton) and in "Humanism in Seventeenth-Century English Literature." In the latter, Francis Bacon's attack on humanism is also described.
It is possible here to comment on a few of the chapters only. In "Artists and Humanists," Charles Hope and Elizabeth McGrath challenge traditional views on the correlation of humanism with the development of the arts: they find that, before 1500, artists and humanists did not regard themselves as sharing common goals. The notion of an unified movement of scholars, writers, and artists is, in their view, partially valid only in the period thereafter, when Erasmus had portraits of his humanistic friends and himself by Durer and Massys in his study in Basel. An interest in artists and their work was found mainly among the humanists of northern Europe. Leon Battista's work on architecture is seen as the only fifteenth-century Italian humanist text in the arts.
In his chapter on "Classical Scholarship," Michael D. Reeve specifically derives the origin of the term "humanism" from Petrarch's note on Cicero's Pro Archia where he speaks "de studiis humanitatis ac litterarum"; he demonstrates the importance attached to this work by Petrarch. In "Reform of Latin and Latin Teaching," Kristian Jensen finds that the syllabus provided for St. Paul's School in London by Colet and praised by Erasmus was, in fact, still largely mediaeval. He connects Erasmus's later opposition to excessive "Ciceronianism" with an attack on the worldliness of the Papacy which favored the style as a link between the Church and ancient Rome. In "Humanism and Modern Political Thought," James Hankins describes the adaptation of Leonardo Bruni's originally republican thought to the development of oligarchy in Florence and calls him "the Rudyard Kipling of the Florentine empire." He cites Brandolini's (almost unknown) dialogue for its devastating critique of Florentine republicanism. Machiavelli, on the other hand, is seen as the "first humanist to defend popular government." Hankins's treatment of English political thought is confined to Thomas More. Clare Carroll deals with Thomas More in her contribution, as well as with Thomas Elyot. Neither mentions Thomas Starkey who, although virtually unknown in his day, wrote an important humanistic dialogue. Martin Davies, in "Humanism in Script and Print," provides a succinct account of the humanistic reform of script by Petrarch. While pointing out the great importance of the new art of printing for the spread of humanism, he makes clear that the invention of printing had no connection with humanism.
Great scholars like Leonardo Bruni and Erasmus are treated in several chapters; others, like John Cheke, the first Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge, are only mentioned. It is almost inevitable that overlaps and omissions should occur in a cooperative work like the Companion, but they are limited in number. The editor, Jill Kraye, has brought together a comprehensive, careful and balanced survey from scholars in many fields. The result should prove of great value as an up-to-date aid to scholars, students and others interested in Renaissance humanism.
FRITZ CASPARI University of Cologne
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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