- The Correspondence of Roland H. Bainton and Delio Cantimori 1932–1966: An Enduring Transatlantic Friendship between Two Historians of Religious Toleration
This beautifully produced and meticulously edited volume contains sixty-seven letters between Bainton and Cantimori. Apart from their correspondence they hardly knew each other. During the course of the thirty-three years of their friendship, they met only twice for a brief few hours. Cantimori, the younger of the two, opened the correspondence by congratulating Bainton on his book on Sebastian Castellio and telling him that he was working on riformatori italianisuch as Bernardo Ochino and Lelio Socino. Bainton responded, and the exchange began. It was intermittent. Many letters have been lost. The correspondence ends sadly in 1966 with Bainton telling Cantimori of the death of his wife. Just a few months later Cantimori died unexpectedly from an accident in his home.
As John Tedeschi observes in his excellent introduction, on most levels the two men could not have been more different. Bainton was outgoing and gregarious, a devout Christian, a fine speaker, a good stylist who wrote with seeming ease. Among his many publications was one that became almost a best-seller, Here I Stand, his biography of Luther. Cantimori was his opposite in all those respects. He produced only one monograph, on which his reputation was made, Eretici italiani del Cinquecento (1939). When Harvard University [End Page 300] Press attempted in the mid-1970's to publish an English translation, the project had to be abandoned at the galleys' stage "because the nuances, subtleties and complexities of Cantimori's exposition could not be adequately rendered" (p.44).
Two things bound these scholars together: their interest in the same historical figures and phenomena, viz., the Italian heretics or non-conformists of the sixteenth century and their place in the history of toleration, and, secondly, their own contrary stance to the status-quo. Bainton was a conscientious objector in World War I, and he consistently voted the Socialist ticket as a protest against the two major parties. Cantimori explained to Bainton in 1957 when he broke with the Communist Party that his actions did not mean he abandoned his conviction that Italy needed a profound change (p. 184). When Bainton earlier asked him why he was a Communist, he replied that the party was the only one in Italy that "will not make a deal with the church" (p. 34).
The correspondence only rarely rises to such big issues. For the most part it is like our own correspondence with colleagues—what are you working on, when will your book or my book be published, how can I get hold of certain materials I need for my research, what are our friends (or our enemies) writing about or doing. In that last regard, however, this correspondence is special because the friends were often scholars of great distinction or great promise, especially German Jews who in the 1930's were lucky enough to escape to England or the United States. Among them was un giovane ebreo tedesco (p.90), Paul Oskar Kristeller, who appears frequently in these pages. I was not aware until reading this book of the important role that Cantimori and Bainton played in getting him out of Italy and of the help and support Bainton gave him once he got here. Peeking out from this often mundane correspondence, therefore, is a wonderful humanity. Especially touching are the letters just after the end of World War II, in which we read of the food and clothing that Bainton and his wife sent to Cantimori and his.
The book will interest scholars dealing with sixteenth-century Italian religious history and historiography. Beyond that, I see the book as symbolic of a great cultural divide between the worlds of Italian and American scholarship. I cannot imagine an American press publishing this...