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Reviewed by:
  • Letters and Letter Fragments
  • Hervé-Thomas Campangne
Jean de Pins . Letters and Letter Fragments.Travaux d' Humanisme et Renaissance 433. Ed. Jan N. Pendergrass. Geneva: Librairie Droz S.A., 2007. 392 pp. index. illus. chron. bibl. CHF 150. ISBN: 978–2–600–01101–3.

Jan Pendergrass's edition of the correspondence of Jean de Pins is evidence of the multifaceted and complex nature of Renaissance epistolarity. As a magistrate at the parliament of Toulouse and a diplomat, de Pins was witness to some of the most important political and military events of the early sixteenth century. Through his duties as senator at the parliament of Milan under French rule, as a negotiator at the papal court of Leo X, and later on as resident ambassador in Venice, he interacted with the most powerful leaders of his time in his capacity of orator. His official dispatches, written primarily in French and addressed to recipients that include Louise of Savoy, Francis I, and Chancellor Antoine Duprat, constitute valuable historical documents that chronicle the complex diplomatic maneuvers of the French and Spanish at the court of Leo X, the papacy's 1521 defensive alliance with Emperor Charles V, and the rise of Giulio de Medici.

The diplomatic persona that emerges from these official letters is complemented by a more intimate portrait in the private letters the editor has collected. A student of the great masters Filipo Beroaldo and Marcus Musurus, and the author of a Life of Saint Catherine and a Life of Filipo Beroaldo, de Pins was also a reputed scholar and patron. After his return to Toulouse in the 1530s, his residence was well known as a place of welcome among local humanist circles. It is this figure of early French Renaissance humanism that is revealed throughout a Latin correspondence that involves a distinguished network of Hellenists, educators, poets, and philosophers, including Jean Lascaris, Claude de Seyssel, Robert Gaguin, and a mysterious "Maior" whom Jan Pendergrass convincingly identifies as Jean Lemaire de Belges.

De Pins's Ciceronian approach, as the editor rightfully points out, allows for a variety of tones and styles. While his personal letters are often a literary exercise and a playful display of humanist erudition, they do not exclude more serious concerns and topics. In his exchanges with Erasmus concerning a Greek manuscript of Flavius Josephus's Jewish Wars, de Pins explains that one of the Dutch [End Page 894] humanist's letters has fallen into the hand of officials who "question his integrity," and he is in turn informed of Luther's recent vitriolic attack on Erasmus. While his correspondence with Etienne Dolet first concerns the young man's classical Latin style and great erudition, it soon leads de Pins to write a letter in defense of a man who has been taken to jail and accused of contempt of parliament. "Res tam multiplex propeque ad infinitum varia": de Pins's letters are an excellent illustration of the Erasmian concept of the letter as belonging to the genus familiare, comparable to a conversation free of overly rhetorical constraints. Occasional remarks on style and rhetoric throughout his correspondence reveal a point of view that evokes the De conscribendis. Although de Pins condemns stylistic excess and formalism, as well as the antiquated speech of the cacozelos, his spontaneous style is emblematic of a thorough rhetorical culture, exemplified by the pleasure he derives from rereading the Orator and the De institutione oratoria, imagining their authors as "gladiators in an arena."

Jan Pendergrass has also included a series of dedicatory epistles in these Letters and Fragments: some were written by de Pins to influential figures —some appear in his Allobrogicae narrationis libellus, as well as in the edition of poet Antonio Urceo's collected works —others show that his work as a scholar and diplomat had earned him the respect of Gianfrancesco Torresani, Alain de Varènesa, and other well-known scholars of his time.

Throughout this well-researched edition, Jan Pendergrass provides abundant notes on de Pin's Neo-Latin style, as well as useful biographical sketches on his correspondents. This is a welcome edition that enriches our understanding of the practice and function of humanist letter writing...


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Archived 2009
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