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Reviewed by:
  • L'art de la lettre humaniste
  • Judith Rice Henderson
Guy Gueudet . L'art de la lettre humaniste. Ed. Francine Wild. Bibliothèque littéraire de la Renaissance 60. Paris: Honoré Champion Éditeur, 2004. 724 pp. index. append. bibl. €129. ISBN: 2–7453–1009–7.

Francine Wild's edition of collected, unpublished papers by Guy Gueudet opens with an "In Memoriam" of the late Maître de Conférence of the Université de Nancy 2, written in May 1988 by Gisèle Mathieu-Castellani. A foreword by Catherine Magnien-Simonin describes his study of Guillaume Budé's correspondence against the history of Renaissance letter writing as "cruellement inachevé." Readers who want an accessible, up-to-date overview of the Renaissance theory and practice of letter writing in Latin and French now have, from the same publisher, Luc Vaillancourt's La lettre familière au XVIe siècle: Rhétorique humaniste de l'épistolaire. For those with a special interest in Rabelais's correspondence, Claude La Charité's La rhétorique épistolaire de Rabelais includes a less extensive survey. Both appeared in 2003. Nevertheless, Gueudet's study belongs in research libraries, where serious students of Budé and Erasmus in the humanist Republic of Letters, the history of epistolary rhetoric in Greek (one of Budé's languages of [End Page 592] correspondence), Latin, and French, and the history of class and gender hierarchies and etiquette will be consulting his detailed analysis and extensive quotations from rare fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Latin imprints for decades to come. The devoted friends and colleagues of Gueudet and the publishing house Honoré Champion, who risked editing and publishing a study at least sixteen years after the author's death, deserve our thanks.

Gueudet treats both the theory and practice of letter writing around the chronological center 1516–25, when most of Budé's correspondence was written, and is especially attuned to humanist networks and interaction, notably between Budé and Erasmus. From these dates, his search for understanding moves backward through the Middle Ages to scattered loci classici and forward to Lipsius and other late seventeenth-century innovators. His coverage of epistolary treatises is remarkable, in spite of some gaps. His interest in the material aspects and social contexts of letter writing, especially of its treatment of women, anticipates current scholarship. So does his focus on the letter collection as a genre. Gueudet's grasp of intellectual genealogies includes, for example, recognizing the centrality of the fourteenth-century rhetorician Nicolas Dybinus to an imperial, or at least Central European, school of epistolography and the late fifteenth-century resistance of that school to Italian reform of epistolary conventions. His remarkable clarification of changing practices of dating, addressing, beginning, concluding, and signing letters makes sense of seemingly impenetrable late medieval terminology.

Had this monograph been published in the 1980s, Gueudet's pioneering analysis would have saved my generation much labor. We would have gratefully acknowledged his guidance as we offered sources he had not found, for example, the first edition of Despauterius's Syntaxis (1509). In that case, he would no doubt have accepted graciously our offered modifications to his extensive discussion of excerpts from a manuscript of Erasmus's De conscribendis epistolis (1522), published by Despauterius. Appearing now, his study sometimes debates views subsequently questioned or abandoned by scholars. Unfortunately, in this monograph and others on the topic I can find cited only a few articles — on French letter-writing manuals and on Budé — that Gueudet published before his death.

Thus scholars should now read this book as venerable rather than as new. Gueudet draws richly on his predecessors, especially nineteenth-century German studies not readily available everywhere, but he refers to no scholarship more recent than 1979. Magnien-Simonin remarks that to have updated the bibliography of a manuscript that is itself not up to date would have been absurd. The editorial team has respected Gueudet's text, while supplying dates of Budé's letters from Guy Lavoie's 1977 edition and completing unfinished references. Their generous indices and cross-references will benefit scholars who read this compilation as separate but related studies, perhaps the best way to benefit from the extraordinary learning of a...


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pp. 592-593
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Archived 2009
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