The conventions of humanist writing derived from ancient sources. Textbook prefaces like Mancinelli's were almost universally modeled on the familiar letters of Cicero, which were entirely adequate to such pedagogical commonplaces as patron/client relations, discipleship, the moral value of elementary education, and affection between teacher and student. Cicero, however, offered no models for discussing mechanical text production. There was little else in ancient literature to suggest that authors should address the mundane facts of publication. Mancinelli's contemporary Agnolo Poliziano (1454-1494) imitated Martial when describing copies of his works corrected by the author in contrast to uncorrected ones. But Martial wrote about fans who demanded personal, autograph copies, not stationer's products, so Poliziano's citation was a deliberate anachronism rather than a thoughtful address to printing. (4) Similarly, humanists sometimes moralized correct texts. They used martial, judicial, and above all Christian confessional terms to present printed texts personally, as if both texts and authors were in need of moral self-correction. (5)

On the other hand, humanists often feigned surprise at the effects printing had on their works or reputation. (6) The French grammarian Jean Pellisson (ca. 1500-1557), for example, treated publication as a mildly unpleasant and sometimes burdensome by-product of composition. In the 1529 preface he wrote:


Seven years ago or so, I allowed some Progymnasmata on Grammar to be published under my name, something I now wholly regret and acknowledge I did wrongly because I did not assemble very much material in that volume. … But when I finally saw these books widely distributed daily, with copies printed many times at Lyon, and later at Poitiers and Rouen, and when the printers of Paris were again making preparations to publish the work, I revised it wholly without delay. … This I did willingly, for even at the schools of Paris (which own a reputation of authority throughout the world for teaching and forming youths in good letters) one is wary of that ubiquitous carelessness into which I had unwisely fallen in publishing those Progymnasmata. (7)

Of course, if Pellisson had really been embarrassed about the imperfections of his work, he would hardly have included the fact of its frequent publication in the preface to the revised edition. His remarks, however, do imply that he felt it was necessary to differentiate the fame that followed publication from the true worth of his teaching. (8)

We will return in a later chapter (see section 4.09) to the marketing strategy embodied in such claims. For the present, Pellisson's fussiness need concern us only by contrast to Antonio Mancinelli's straightforward addresses to the vicissitudes of publication, including the potential circulation of highly imperfect texts. Only a few years separate Mancinelli's last works from Pellisson's first ones, but Mancinelli, in the first generation of teachers to know print, had already accepted the instability of the printed text and the concomitant need to revise and correct constantly. His insistence on this point is explicit, and it impressed itself on his students, admirers, and even his imperfect printers. Consider the preface to a second edition of his Better Donat: "Concerning an earlier edition of the Better Donat: Certain printers had corrupted the text, as happens. And so, when they finally decided to go to print again, whatever was damaged by them seemed to be about to be corrected." (9)


We might contrast this easy-going optimism with the prose of some of his publishers, who insisted strenuously on the correctness of their texts. Mancinelli's Roman printer Euchario Silber severely criticized Venetian editions by Giovanni Tacuino as totally unreliable. (10) Subsequently Tacuino insisted that Mancinelli himself had corrected the texts for new reprints shortly before he died. Upon examination, however, Tacuino's claim proves to have been copied in part from one by Pietro Martire Mantegazza who had reprinted some of the same works in Milan in the previous year, saying Mancinelli was present during the printing. There is no way of verifying either claim. (11)

Josse Bade Ascensius took up Mancinelli's texts again. Most of his prefaces simply repeat the Mantegazza/Tacuino statement that the work was corrected by Mancinelli's own hand shortly before his death. In one case, however, Bade made a more specific advertising claim:

In recent days, I have reread the several small works on Latin language by Antonio Mancinelli, whether collected by him or corrected. There I noted some few things that it seemed should be marked with asterisks and fewer still with daggers. The passages that seemed obscure are marked with asterisks or stars; with daggers or darts are labeled those which, either through the carelessness of the printer or his own haste, seemed corrupt; and things to be cancelled are indicated with a sideways stroke of the pen as with the darts. (12)

Bade implied, then, that he had access to autograph corrections by Mancinelli, which he intended to take into account in his own revision of the text. This kind of remark was also a commonplace in humanist descriptions of problematic manuscripts. (13) We need not doubt the truth of Bade's account, but we should also recognize it for the advertisement it was.

Open Bibliography (330 KB pdf)
(4)   Dane 1999, 20-22; further on Poliziano's ambiguous attitude toward publication, Godman 1998, 90-96.
(5)   Lerer 2002, 24-41; West 2006, 253-261.
(6)   Richardson 1999, 82-83.
(7)  Translated from Pellisson 1562 and 1566: Nam quae Progymnasmata in grammaticen, ante septem plus minus annos, nomine meo sum passus edi, horum omnino  me quidem poenitet, et peccasse fateor, qui tam multa non in loco congesterim…. Sed nunc tandem cum viderim latius in dies evulgari, impressis toties exemplis Lugduni, ac demum Pictavis et Rhotomagi, iamque Lutetiae accingentibus se ad id typographis, non amplius cessandum ratus, opus deintegro reconcinnavi ... Hoc enim feci libentius, quod ne apud Parisiorum quidam Gymnasia, quorum est tanta per universum orbem auctoritas, inter erudiendum formandumque aduluscentulos ad bonas litteras, ab eo vitio cavetur ubique in quo ad imprudens emitendis Progymnasmatis illis incurreram. The preface is dated 1529 but there is no recorded edition before 1538.
(8)   On distrust of the permanence of print, McKenzie 1989, 98-103.
(9)   Mancinelli 1500b, fol. c5r: Donati Melioris superiori editione: quidam ut evenit impressores corrumperant. Itaque ubi denuo impremendum constituere; quicquid ab eis olim fuerat deprevatum visum est emendatum iri. Similarly, he characterized another second edition thus: "... I am in the habit of adding on here and there. On which account the second, present edition of this Lima includes many more things than the first one did; for the newest  editions] are always better and richer than the first ones."  Mancinelli 1494a: Attamen passim addere soleo. Quod et praesens limae huius secunda editio indicat plura enim quam prior habet; hinc ultima primis et meliora sunt fecundiora semper.
(10)   Mancinelli 1503b; nullam illis fidem adhibeat, corrupta enim maxima parte, presumably referring to Mancinelli 1498a-f.
(11)   Mancinelli 1506a, following Mancinelli 1505b. The claims seem unlikely, since there is no evidence Mancinelli visited either Milan or Venice this late in his life; in fact both these editions seem to depend on Silber's texts, which might have been corrected by Mancinelli.
(12)  Mancinelli 1519: Relegi his diebus Antonii Mancinelli Veliterni varia de latino sermone opuscula vel ab eo collecta vel castigata; quorum pauca asteriscis pauciora obelis signanda visa sunt. Asteriscis quidem id est stellis quae sub obscura lucem desiderare, obelis vero id est verubus quae aut incuria calchographorum aut praeciitatione authoris depravatus, transverso calamo quasi verubus transfigenda visa sunt. EDIT16 online now provides facsimile title pages for all the parts of this collected edition: http://edit16.iccu.smn.it/web-iccu/main.htm
(13)  Jardine 1993, 102, 123, 125; Richardson 1994, 10-12.

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Tags: Chapter Three

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Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 6:

On Mancinelli’s self-advertisements and his forthright rhetoric in addressing his public, see McLellan, “Spreading the Word,” cit. at section 3.01/para. 9, p. 295.

May 11, 2015 4:55 pm
Stephanie on paragraph 1:

Your point about the relation between text, the author, and moral character is intriguing and essential to the study of humanism. This triadic relation shows to what extent humanists tried to produce perfected works. This idealistic view places a lot of pressure on the humanist individual. It seems somewhat ironic because literature at this time was supposed to be a source of free thinking and an outlet for thinkers to come and express views that were opposing the Church. Relating Christian moral values to such works seems contrary to the goal of humanism: to focus on how aspects such as intelligence and nature influences the individual as opposed to how God influences the individual.

February 4, 2016 1:30 pm
Paul F. Gehl :

The opposition was never quite as sharp as this, Stephanie. Historical scholarship on the importance of the religious dimension of Renaissance humanism has varied a lot over the years, but in recent decades we have come to realize that many humanists were pretty content with traditional religious values and even strictures. I think the essential novelty of humanism was not to judge truth or human value solely on religious grounds, but to admit to other sources of truth and to argue for a kind of natural morality that does not depend on religion for validation or even guidance. This is not to say there were no more radical and even anti-religious humanists, merely that there were many who did not see much conflict at all between humanist and religious morality. Mancinelli clearly stands at this, more conservative end of the spectrum.

February 4, 2016 1:42 pm
juliaschaller44 on paragraph 3:

This is an interesting anecdote. It is important to acknowledge life before the printing press and the true impact it had on people. It’s interesting that Jean Pellisson did not realize the grand implications of allowing his work to be published. The fact that he regretted that decision because he felt insecure about his content now that a larger population would be reading his work is significant. Are there many other sources/anecdotes of writers during this time who felt similarly? Did other writers feel more insecure about their area of expertise now that more of the world would be reading if their works was to be published?

February 4, 2016 1:38 pm
Paul F. Gehl :

I think it is interesting too, Julia, not only because it does reflect fairly widespread complaints about printers and publishers who hijack an author’s intent or misrepresnt his text, but also in this case because Pellisson is writing in the 1520s, when the benefits and dangers of going to press should have been obvious to most authors. It is speculation on my part, but I suspect that in this case Pellisson (still in his 20s) was flattered that a printer would want to publsih his text and let it go to press without careful supervision.

February 4, 2016 1:50 pm
Paul Gehl on whole page :

I enlarged considerably on the theme of this section in Gehl, “Advertising or Fama? Local Markets for Schoolbooks in Sixteenth-Century Italy.” In Print Culture and Peripheries in Early Modern Europe: A Contribution to the History of Printing in Small European and Spanish Cities, edited by Benito Rial-Costas, Leiden, Brill, 2013, pp. 69-99.

April 14, 2017 6:23 am

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