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  • Challenging Humanism: Essays in Honor of Dominic Baker-Smith
  • Daniel Wakelin
Ton Hoenselaars and Arthur F. Kinney , eds. Challenging Humanism: Essays in Honor of Dominic Baker-Smith. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2005. 335 pp. index. illus. bibl. $60. ISBN: 0-87413-920-1.

This collection of essays honors Dominic Baker-Smith, scholar of Renaissance literature. Like any festschrift it gains a focus from the interests of the dedicatee, and like any festschrift keeping that focus is not easy. What is most valuable in this book is that several contributors do pursue the pun in the title quite closely. They pursue how events and intellectual currents, whether in the sixteenth century or the twentieth, have been challenging or undermining humanist literature, and how humanist literature is itself challenging or provocative. The editors in their introductions launch the paradox and the first three essays probe the works of More with it. Kinney, in a wide-ranging and fast-moving essay, suggests that More's Utopia offers different things to different readers, provoking rather than fixing ideas. Weiner tackles the eternal dilemma of how seriously the reader should treat Utopia and, with some hostility to recent critics, warns that the form disrupts any attempt to find in Utopia a coherent manifesto. McCutcheon sees More's epigrams as similarly "provisional" and, again, doubts the recent critics who find coherence in them. All three contributors see More as an evasive figure and all the more rewarding for that.

Other contributors trace the complexities of humanist studies in later years. Meerhoff traces the interest in reading as a critical activity shared by Melanchthon, Latomus, and Ramus. Stump traces in the revisions of Sidney's Arcadia a growing doubt not about the aims and methods of humanism but about their attainability [End Page 957] and efficacy. Warkentin, in an essay that well fits the theme and yet delivers perhaps the most original research in the book, traces the survival of humanist studies in the seventeenth century. She finds Robert Sidney, second Earl of Leicester, retreating from the active life but still finding moral lessons in his humanist reading, while his contemporaries turned more and more to practical knowledge. Two essays on twentieth-century culture reveal the persistence of humanist ideas and of challenges to them. Hoenselaars delightfully introduces a defense of cinema, modeled on Sidney's Defence, by two writers who later rejected humanist ideas for the paranoid attitudes of the postwar West. Wilcox suggests how humanist ideas about music were tested by Thomas Whythorne in the 1570s and Rose Tremain in the 1990s. In all of these case studies, then, the contributors explore the precise title through precise examples.

Two more essays, similarly detailed, throw clear light on the triumphs of humanism, if not quite the challenges to it. Lyall usefully traces the influence of humanism on a vernacular poet in sixteenth-century Scotland. Spies traces the composition of paradoxical encomia as part of the training in argument and reason of sixteenth-century Dutch civil society. Two more essays place the challenges of humanism within the broader challenges of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century culture; these essays offer bold ideas rather than detailed studies. Sessions explores cleverly how writers responded to the temporal and social ruptures of the Reformation; he could perhaps cite Simpson's Reform and Cultural Revolution, a recent book on this theme. Skretkowicz considers Shakespeare's doubts about a classicizing style; yet, on his ambitious broad canvas, he must leave unsketched some of the ambivalence and complexity in the works themselves. Overall, this book just remains more focused and challenging than many festchriften manage to be. Two more essays by Todd on Donne and Neubauer on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature are extremely scholarly and elegantly argued in themselves, although they are more tenuously linked to humanism. (Donne has been one of the dedicatee's other interests, though.)

The dedicatee receives a book generally well-produced. There are only a few tiny typographical slips ("ad fonts," 19; "Ailquis," 35; "1955" for "1995," 88, sharply aging David Rundle and his work; "hexemeral" for "hexameral," 209). One slip of substance is the conflation of Thomas Lupset (ca. 1495–1530), the addressee of a...


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Archived 2009
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