PREPARING FOR DEATH
Desiderius Erasmus, De praeparatione ad mortem, Paris, Chr. Wechel, 1534, in-8°.
“For the wordes of theym that we are wōt to be snatched vp somdele gre∣dyly, and to be printed more depely in the myndes of the hearers, partly that no man is thought to fayne in that ieopardy, partly that the mynd whā it beginneth to be pluc∣ked from the body, wherwith it is combred, oftentymes vttereth a glymmerynge, and a profe of that lybertie and knowlege, wher∣vnto it goth.”
(The words of the dying are wont to be snatched up greedily and are printed more deeply in the minds of the hearers, partly because it is thought that no-one feints in that final moment and partly because the mind that begins to be plucked from the body with which it is encumbered often utters a glimmer and a proof of the liberty and knowledge toward which it goes.)*
This small volume, which is one of Erasmus’s last texts, attests to a time when death was not taboo. On the contrary, people spoke about it and prepared for it, both materially and spiritually. So, Erasmus’s text is part and parcel of the very deeply-rooted mediaeval tradition of “dying a good death” as codified in the 15th century Latin texts Ars moriendi (The Art of Dying). As a good pastor, Erasmus encouraged his readers to detach themselves from earthly goods (wealth, youth, health, etc.) so as to welcome eternal rest serenely, with their gazes fixed upon Christ.
As the text advances, Erasmus adds a few more personal considerations here and there. He believes that, in the absence of a priest, the dying may confess to God directly, without an intermediary. Farther on, he ridicules a woman “of noble birth and of high prudence” who bequeathed a large sum of money to a priest to go say masses for her in Rome, “as though the masses at Rome were of more holynes than the masses of Englande”*! He warns against calling too many physicians to an ill person’s bedside, for their rivalry often causes the patient’s death, as each one tries to demonstrate the extent of his knowledge, to the peril of the very patient.
The work was published by Froben in Basel in late December 1533 and was an immediate hit, as attested by this 1534 Paris edition and a score of re-editions that were published in Cologne, Paris, Krakow, Antwerp and Lyons before 1440.
Reference for the quotes: Erasmus, Desiderius, Preparation to deathe A booke as deuout as eloquent, compiled by Erasmus Roterodame, Londini: In aedibus Thomae Bertheleti regii impressoris. excus., 1538, unnumbered pages.
* Free translation into modern English.
THE BOY BISHOP
Desiderius Erasmus, Concio de puero Iesu, Cologne, Eucharius Cervicornus, April 1525, in-8°.
In Concio de puero Iesu or Sermon of the child Jesus, a child preaches like a priest. This work is connected to a mediaeval tradition still current in the 16th century, namely, the tradition of the Boy Bishop. Each year on Saint Nicholas’s Day (6 December), the Roman Catholic cathedral choirboys elected one of them to be bishop. He was dressed in a replica bishop’s robe, with staff and ring, whilst the other boys, wearing priests’ habits, took possession of the church and led all the ecclesiastic processions and ceremonies save mass. This power reversal lasted until the Feast of the Holy Innocents (Childermas or Innocents’ Day), 28 December.
Erasmus wrote this sermon in 1511, at the request of his friend, John Colet, dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. The sermon was supposed to be read aloud by a Boy Bishop to inaugurate the new St Paul’s Cathedral School.
This tradition existed in France as well, albeit in a more extravagant, carnivalesque form. Erasmus’s sermon, however, is no piece of buffoonery. It is a sincerely pious work: “...[M]ay my speech have his flavour, reflect and breathe Him who is the word of the Father, who alone possesses the words of life, whose dynamic effective speech cuts more deeply than the double-edged word to reach the deepest hidden recesses of the heart…”
Desiderius Erasmus, Spongia Erasmi adversus aspergines hutteni, Cologne?, Hero Fuchs?, 1523, in-8°.p
Sponge to wash away Hutten’s splashes: With this somewhat strange title Erasmus responded to his adversary Ulrich von Hutten’s Expostulation, reducing Hutten’s objections to ordinary splashes. A generation separated young von Hutten, 26 at the time, and the Prince of Humanists, who was twenty years older. And yet, before their relationship foundered, the two men had been friends. Both were passionate lovers of the classics and driven by the same desire to reform the Church.
We are overjoyed to have acquired a copy of this work for our library, as we had as yet no old edition of it in our holdings. This edition, which contains neither date nor place of publication, was probably published the same year as the princeps edition (Basel, Froben, summer 1523). The title page is inspired – with a few modifications – by a border designed by Holbein (see Frank Hieronymus, Oberrheinische Buchillustration, p. 607, No. 3).
An English translation of the two texts exists in book format and online: Polemics of Erasmus of Rotterdam and Ulrich von Hutten, Translation of Expostulation cum Erasmo, by U. v. Hutten, and of Spongia Erasmi adversus aspergines Hutteni, by Erasmus, Randolph J. Klawiter, (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Notre Dame Press), 1977. And there is good news for those wishing to discover this epic piece of humanist literature in French, with the recent Ulrich von Hutten, Sommation, suivie de Érasme, Éponge à laver les éclaboussures de Hutten et de Othon Brunfels, Réponses à Érasme. Translated by Danielle Sonnier, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 2019, “Le miroir des humanistes” Collection, 19.
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SAINT AMBROSE OF MILAN
Sanctus Ambrosius, Desiderius Erasmus (Ed.), Divi Ambrosii Episcopi Mediolanensis omnia opera, per eruditos viros ex accurata diuersorum codicum collatione emendata (…), Paris, Claude Chevallon, 1529, in-folio.
This imposing volume is a compendium of the complete works of Saint Ambrose of Milan, one of the Fathers of the Western Church, who lived in the 4th century CE. This Paris edition follows the text of the princeps, published by Froben in Basel in 1527.
Erasmus edited and published, with his erudite colleagues, the writings of no fewer than twelve Church Fathers, including Jerome (1516), Ambrose (1527), Augustine (1527-1529), and Origen (1536). These editions gave access to holy knowledge, for the Church Fathers helped to understand and interpret the Bible, shaped the ecclesiastic traditions of the first centuries of the Christian Church, and also personally incarnated the ideals of a responsible Christian life.
Erasmus’s philological work on these ancient texts was not limited to restoring them in their purest form. Erasmus and the Humanists of his time revealed the topicality of the texts that they gave their readers. They guided the reader’s interpretations by underlining the ideas that they deemed to be the most important. What is more, in assessing the authenticity of many dubious texts, they promoted a critical attitude towards ecclesiastic tradition.
ORTELIUS’S WORLD MAP
Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum orbis terrarum, 1579
34 x 49.5 cm
Coll. MEH 673
This engraving comes from Abraham Ortelius’s Theatrum orbis terrarum (Theatre of the Orb of the World), the first editions of which were published in Antwerp. This work is considered by cartographers to be the first modern atlas. It was first published on 20 May 1570 in Antwerp. Thereafter, the author regularly revised and augmented the atlas in a series of later editions until his death in 1598.
The Theatrum, which was dedicated to King Philip II of Spain, contains a total of fifty-three maps. To produce this world map, Ortelius drew upon Mercator’s map of 1569, Giacomo Gastaldi’s map of 1561, and Diego Gutierrez’s 1562 portolan chart of the Atlantic coast.
Coloured by hand.
Desiderius Erasmus, In epistolam Pauli apostoli ad Romanos paraphrasis, Leuven, Dirk Martens, 1517, in-8°, MEH E1598.
The work retains its original binding. Printed in large Roman characters. With the double anchor cachet of the printer Thierry Martens.
This edition from Louvain, where Erasmus was living at the time, was of particular importance in the context of the Protestant Reformation.
On 31st October, 1517, Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg church, and by so doing, set in motion the basis of Protestantism.
At the back of the book is a message from Martens to the reader: “We are trying, with our meagre means and through our modest print house, to help Louvain Academy, which flourishes thanks to the wide-ranging studies it provides; and we are endeavouring, with the utmost care, to only offer you books possessing a dual advantage, firstly being both moral and instructive and secondly, printed as accurately as possible. Those, who motivated by greed, publish books riddled with errors are blameworthy on two accounts, first towards authors whose works they spoil and vilify and then towards readers, who, instead of a book, find only a cross and torment beside them.”
IN MEMORIAM ERASMI
Friedrich Nausea, In magnum illum laudatae felicisque memoriae Erasmum Roterodamum, nuper vita functum Monodia. Eiusdem uita ex Beati Rhenani Epistola ad Archiepiscopum Coloniensem, Paris, Chrestien Wechel, 1536, in-8°, MEH E1586.
A reverent “In memoriam” composed for Erasmus by his friend Friedrich Nausea (1496-1552), Bishop of Vienna. In this text, Nausea credits Erasmus with a divine mission and compares him to Christ. The book also contains the celebrated biography of Erasmus by Beatus Rhenanus (1485-1547), written in the form of a letter (Allen 3139).
This first Parisian edition (issued after the Cologne edition, which had appeared a few months earlier) is very rare. Our volume belonged to Étienne Baluze (1630-1718), a philologist, French lawyer and celebrated librarian of Colbert, the Minister of Louis XIV.
Henricus Glareanus, De Geographia liber unus, Basel, Johann Faber Emmeus, 1528, in-4°, MEH E1591.
Glareanus, real name Heinrich Loris, was a Swiss humanist (1488-1563). A man of many talents, he was by turns mathematician, geographer, musician, musical theorist, historian, philologist and poet. A friend of Erasmus and Myconius, he was sketched by the Holbein brothers in their illustrations in the margins of Erasmus’s “In Praise of Folly”. This geographical and mathematical treatise includes some chapters on the construction of globes and these remained a benchmark on the subject until the XVIIth century. He mentions America and “Amerigus Vesputius”, in his final chapter “De regionibus extra Ptolemaeum”.
Erasmus himself was interested in geography: he played an active role, in the last years of his life, in the production of the editio princeps of Ptolemy’s original Greek text on geography.
FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY
Desiderius Erasmus, Liber de sarcienda Ecclesiae concordia, Antwerpen, Michael Hillen, 1533, in-8°, MEH E1584.
A rare Antwerp edition, printed the same year as the editio princeps (Basel, Froben & Episcopius) of Erasmus’s plea for reconciliation in the heart of the Christian Church.
PAYING HIM BACK IN HIS OWN COIN
Silver testoon with the effigy of King Francis I (1515-1547)
First half of the XVIth century
Testoons were French silver coins, depicting the effigy of the sovereign. The Sforza family, in Milan (around 1450), came up with the idea of depicting the portrait of the sovereign on coinage, thereby re-establishing the custom initiated in ancient Rome. When he became Duke of Milan in 1504, Louis XII re-adopted this custom for French coinage.