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Reviewed by:
  • Érasme et le pouvoir de l'imprimerie
  • John J. Bateman
Karine Crousaz . Érasme et le pouvoir de l'imprimerie. Histoire Moderne. Lausanne: Éditions Antipodes, 2005. 200 pp. append. illus. gloss. chron. bibl. €21. ISBN: 2–940146–59–4.

The present work is a revision of a dissertation submitted in June 2001 to the University of Lausanne, where Crousaz is currently an assistant and candidate for a doctorate in history, for a licentiate in Letters. There is a preface by Jean-François Gilmont, who calls, justifiably, Crousaz's study a captivating chapter in the history of the book. Crousaz focuses almost exclusively on statements about editing and printing found in Erasmus's correspondence and in the adage Festina lente.

Crousaz divides her study into two parts. The first is concerned with discovering the extent to which Erasmus understood the printing press and its power to disseminate knowledge and ideas, both good and bad. The latter possibility leads to the second part in which she explores the ways Erasmus sought to control the publication of his own work as well as that of others. Crousaz begins with a brief survey of Erasmus's contacts with the main printers with whom he worked: Josse Bade in Paris, Aldus Manutius in Venice, Dirk Martens in Louvain, and, above all, Johann Froben and his successors in Basel. Little is said about Erasmus's five-year cooperation with Dirk Martens, though useful information may be found in the prefaces of some of the books printed by Martens. Other printers are only mentioned in passing.

After this brief survey, Crousaz organizes her material in part 1 into a series of topics designed to show Erasmus's mastery of the printing business: the diffusion of books and their various readerships, correction of the text, aesthetic qualities, contracts between author and printer, publicity, press-runs, the spring and autumn book fairs at Frankfurt am Main, Erasmus's weapons in his quarrels with critics, and the circulation of manuscripts prior to printing. Part 2 covers intellectual property (authors' rights, plagiarism, publication rights), printing and philology (a somewhat skimpy treatment), and, in the longest and most original chapter, Erasmus's efforts to control other men's publications. Crousaz sums up her findings in a conclusion and, as a good conclusion should, raises several new questions for investigation. There are two appendices: a chronology of select events and publications in Erasmus's life, and a glossary of Latin terms pertinent to printing. There is a detailed bibliography but no index.

The lack of an index is partially ameliorated by the detailed table of contents that allows one to locate the treatment of a given topic. There are, however, a few subjects which for some reason are scattered here and there. Mention is made of the controversy with Edward Lee in at least four different places, but there is no comprehensive discussion, not even in the long chapter on "censorship." The Lee case, though limited in time and space, offers the most detailed account we have of Erasmus's efforts, for the most part underhanded, to deal with a pesky critic. Crousaz has apparently not seen the new edition of Erasmus's Apologia and other Responses in the Amsterdam Opera Omnia (ix–4). The concentration on the Letters leads to other omissions. Erasmus's observations on printers can turn up in unexpected places. For example, the Dialogue on the Pronunciation of Latin and [End Page 590] Greek contains an exchange devoted to punctuation and spelling, which, as Erasmus says, is the province of the printers (they still are). He wished they could agree on a standard system. Other major subjects such as the examination of printer's copy (quite a bit survives), the bibliographic analysis of Erasmus's printed works, and his editorial activities are passed over. There is a certain disconnect between what Erasmus says about printing and what he himself actually did. There is little evidence that Erasmus actually proofread his own publications though he harps on the author's need to do so. There is some evidence for stop-press correction but in the absence of bibliographic examination it is difficult, if not impossible, to surmise whether...


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pp. 590-591
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Archived 2009
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