Basel: Johann Froben, August 21 1521 - January, 1522.
Folio: 29.5 x 20.2 cm. 12, , 668 (i.e. 670), p. Collation: [alpha]6, π2 (errata), a-z6, A-Z6, Aa-Kk6.
An excellent copy, bound in contemporary half-pigskin and wooden boards with very minor wear, and with the brass clasps and catches perfectly preserved. The paper is very fresh, the margins ample. The outer margin of the title is very slightly frayed, not affecting the woodcut border. There are a few small wormholes in the opening gatherings. A pair of determined worms made their way from the rear board into the middle of the volume, their presence betrayed by single pinprick holes, except in gatherings O and P, where one made a slim, quarter-inch long trail, staying almost perfectly between two lines of text. Small ink stain in upper margin of leaf A2, bifolia Ee3/4 and Gg3/4 lightly toned, a couple of minor blemishes. Excellent.
The binding is enriched by elaborate blind-stamped decoration (sheaves of wheat, shields supported by scrolling vegetation, and medallion portrait heads of Ovid, Cicero, Virgil, and Julius Caesar).
Title page with a fine ‘Humanitas’ historiated woodcut border by Urs Graf enclosing Froben’s printer’s device; two preliminary pages with fine four- and five-piece woodcut borders by Ambrosius Holbein; white-on-black woodcut headpiece, two 10-line woodcut initials and numerous smaller ones, verso of final leaf with large printer’s device enclosed in five-piece woodcut border; some Greek printing.
First edition of this collection of 671 letters, of which 171 are newly printed. The majority of the new letters are from 1519-1521, but some are earlier, the first dated 11 July 1513. The collection is far larger than its predecessors: the ‘Epistolae aliquot’ of January 1518 (52 letters), the ‘Auctarium’ of October 1518 (63 letters), and the ‘Farrago’ of Nov 1519 (333 letters).
Erasmus provides a preface to his correspondence for the first time in this edition. The letter to his editor Beatus Rhenanus (Ep 1206) tells of his dislike of two earlier collections edited by him (Beatus) and published by Froben, the ‘Auctarium’ of October 1518 and the ‘Farrago’ of Nov 1519, and implies that they were published surreptitiously without his consent. After the present edition no further collections were printed until the ‘Opus epistolarum’ of 1529.
The introduction in the Collected Works to Erasmus’ prefatory letter to Beatus Rhenanus illustrates his personal involvement in the production of this collection:
"Even as the Farrago was being printed Erasmus spoke of another edition with new letters added and others revised... The last thing he desired was a straight reprint either by Froben or another publisher. So in the summer of 1520 he was going through all his letters and in November the review of the ‘Farrago’ was apparently completed. Before the middle of January 1521 the revised copy together with a substantial number of new letters had reached Basel. When he sent the first part of the revised New Testament shortly afterwards he apparently asked to have all letters, old and new, back for another review, but was sent none and told instead that a volume of 41 quires (pages 1-490) was set in type, lacking only a preface and an epilogue. So he wrote this preface as well as dispatching more letters to Basel.
“Froben next prepared a preliminary quire containing the title-page (dated 31 August), Epp 1206, 1225, and, to fill some space left over on the last page, Ep. 1239. All was printed and ready to be launched at the Frankfurt autumn fair, but with the certain prospect of Erasmus’ return to Basel a delay was indicated. As Froben now preferred his volume not to reach the public and his rivals until the time of the spring fair of 1522, Erasmus could add more letters including the last in time dated from Basle 22 November 1521, which appears on page 639 but is followed by thirty more pages of letters. Presumably as a result of Erasmus’ review of the printed volume, over three pages of corrigenda were added at the end." (Collected Works , vol. 8, pp. 215/7)
The correspondents for the newly printed letters include Johann Reuchlin, Justus Jonas, Guillaume Bude, Petrus Mosellanus, Polydore Vergil, Pope Leo X, Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg, Thomas More, William Warham, Thomas Wolsey and John Fisher. Among the correspondents of the earlier letters, previously published and again included here, are King Henry VIII, Jean Grolier, Thomas More, Martin Luther, Jacques LeFevre d’Etaples, Thomas Wolsey, King François I, Willibald Pirckheimer, Guillaume Budé, Johann Eck, and Pieter Gillis. Many of the letters reflect Erasmus’ changing stance regarding Luther but, at the same time, continue his attacks on the friars and Louvain theologians.
Thomas More and Erasmus:
The 1521 collection is notable for the wealth of correspondence between Erasmus and Thomas More, comprising 19 letters (7 by More and 12 by Erasmus) and supplemented with letters from More and Erasmus to their mutual friend Peter Gillis, in whose garden More conceived of the “Utopia”. Two other letters, by Erasmus to Ulrich von Hutten and Guillaume Budé (see further below) include Erasmus’ assessment of More.
The earliest letter from More to Erasmus dates to ca. 17 February, 1516. More and Erasmus had become friends in 1499, and this letter, full of warmth and encouragement, gives a sense of the depth and strength of their friendship. It is a long letter, occupying more than three full pages (p. 93-96) in the large folio. In it, More speaks about matters public and private. He explains why he dislikes the role of ambassador; he is dedicated to his position in London, and (as a loving father and husband), he does not want to leave his family in want while he is abroad. More describes his first stay in Antwerp, his delight at having met Peter Gillis, and makes some remarks about Erasmus’s “Praise of Folly” and other books by Erasmus still in the editing phase.
Gifts for an absent friend: The Portraits of Erasmus and Gillis:
The volume also includes Thomas More’s letters to Peter Gillis and Erasmus (p. 143-145), in which he thanks his friends for the portraits of themselves that they had sent to More as gifts. The two men had commissioned the leading Antwerp painter of the day, Quentin Matsys, to paint the two portraits as a dyptich. The idea behind the gift being that, through these portraits, Erasmus and Gillis could always be close to their friend.
More received the paintings in October 1517 at Calais (where he was on embassy for Henry VIII.) “More wrote from Calais to thank each donor, asking each to show his letter to the other. He surely took his new treasure with him when he returned to London in December. More's letter to Erasmus acknowledges receipt of the diptych (tabula duplex), praises the artist's handiwork and rejoices at his own good luck in having such friends. His letter to Gillis encloses a brace of Latin epigrams, one in elegiac couplets and another in hexameters, which he has made in honor of the gift. Gillis is to pass these on to Erasmus if he thinks them fit for such eyes; otherwise he is to burn them. In the first, the diptych is the speaker: ‘I bear witness that Erasmus and Gillis are as dear friends as were Castor and Pollux long ago. More is sad to be parted from them, though affection joins them to him as closely as to himself. In turn they were sad that their absent friend should miss them. An affectionate letter brings More their inward thoughts, but I bring their outward appearance.’
“In the second, longer, epigram More represents himself as speaking. Anyone, he says, will recognize the sitters, even though he has never seen them, for one [Gillis] is holding a letter addressed to himself, and the other [Erasmus] is actually writing his own name. If this did not give Erasmus away, the titles written on the books in the portrait would do so: they are famous the world over. Quentin, the rival of Apelles, ought to have entrusted such images to a medium more enduring than wood, if he wished to make certain that his own name would endure. What a price posterity would pay for such a picture! The letter goes on to praise Matsys for his skill, especially in his accurate imitation, on the letter in Gillis's hand, of More's own handwriting. 'Unless', he says, 'either of you has some other use for the letter, send it back to me. Put up beside the picture it will make it seem more wonderful than ever'. In a later letter to Erasmus, still from Calais, on 25th October, More renews his thanks for the gift and in another of 5th November, to the same from the same city, he mentions the diptych again and retails the judgment of Cuthbert Tunstal, friend, fellow-ambassador and later his Bishop, on his verses.
“Of Thomas More's letter to Gillis with the verses only one manuscript survives. This is not autograph, but a transcript by an amanuensis of Erasmus's ('Hand B') in the contemporary Deventer copybook of Erasmus's correspondence. The text of the letter was soon in circulation in humanist Europe via one of the printed collections of Erasmus's letters, where the epigrams are preceded by a rubric:
‘Verses on a diptych in which Erasmus and Pieter Gillis are depicted together by the skilful artificer Quentin, in such a way that the books [in the background of the portrait of] Erasmus beginning [to write] his Paraphrase of the Epistle to the Romans display their titles; and Pieter holds in his hand a letter of More's addressed to him, which the painter has also delineated.’
“This rubric is clearly an addition, perhaps by Beatus Rhenanus, making More's statement more explicit.”(Lorne Campbell, Margaret Mann Philipps, Hubertus Schulte Herbrüggen, and J. B. Trapp, “Quentin Matsys, Desiderius Erasmus, Pieter Gillis and Thomas More” in The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 120, No. 908, Special Issue Devoted to Portraiture and Britain (Nov., 1978), pp. 716-725)
Erasmus on More’s character and his final meeting with his friend:
Also included in this collection is one of Erasmus’ most famous letters “which will always rank among his finest writing and the great accomplishments of Renaissance literature” (Collected Works, vol. 7, p. xii). Addressed to Ulrich von Hutten in July 1519 (Ep 999), it contains Erasmus’ intimate pen portrait of his close friend Thomas More. It serves as earliest biographical account of More and is the most substantial of three letters (the others Ep 1233 see below & Ep 2750) “which are indispensable for any historical assessment of More’s character” (Contemporaries of Erasmus II, p. 458). It is full of memorable phrases such as, “in a word, if you want a perfect model of friendship, you will find it in no one better than in More” and “no one is less led by the opinions of the crowd, yet no one departs less from common sense”. The friends met for the last time in Bruges in August 1521 and in his letter to Budé (Ep 1233), first printed here, Erasmus writes of the invigorating impact of their meeting and of the shining example set in More’s household for the education of women.
VD16 E-2925. Adams E-852. Allen I, appendix VII, p. 600, no. F. Van der Haegen p. 99. Bezzel Erasmusdrucke no. 1003 Ref: Collected Works of Erasmus, Correspondence vols 7 & 8