- Itineraria (Carnets de Voyage); Correspondance. Œuvres complètes 5
Johannes Secundus merits greater attention. Thanks to Roland Guillot, sound critical editions of Secundus's texts are becoming readily accessible. As a jurist-poet [End Page 997] appointed Latin secretary to Emperor Charles V, Secundus was hardly a "famous unknown" in humanist circles. His collection of love lyrics, the Basia, epigrams, funeral odes, and epithalamium denote his literary range and productivity, and have stimulated comparative studies with Latin elegists and contemporary Neo-Latin, Italian, Pléiade, and English lyric poets. Earlier editions and English, French, and German translations testify to the significance of his poetry. Secundus's lyric verse, though, is hardly the sum of his opera. Thus, the latest volume of this edition that includes his journeys and correspondence provides insights into early sixteenth-century daily life and the complexity of European humanist relations.
The Itineraria details Secundus's travel from Mechlin to Bourges where he studied law with Alciati (1532), his return home (1533), and his journey to Spain (1533). In establishing the text, Guillot works from the respective manuscripts, noting variants from editions by Heinsius, Bosscha, and Martyn. Informative commentary notes explain relevant allusions and elucidate the context; the French translation is accurate; and indices of persons and places, as well as a bibliography, enhance its usefulness. In spite of previous editions and of earlier French, Spanish, English, and Dutch translations, Guillot refines the work of his predecessors, enabling critics to define more fully the originality and cultural framework of these texts.
In this account, Secundus records the challenges of travel, conditions of the roads, divergent degrees of hospitality, the fellowship of travelers, the architectural splendor of cathedrals, and the charm and sordid conditions of urban life. Descriptions of his encounters with merchants, pilgrims, nuns, brigands, and gatekeepers of cities—the last of whom deny entrance to travelers possibly spreading infectious diseases—give glimpses into the exhilaration, difficulties, and dangers of these journeys. Authorial perspective often shifts from empirical description to personal comment. In speculating on the motivation of pilgrims who appear more superstitious than theological, Secundus suggests reformed attitudes toward religious practice. This critical stance combines with humanist interests. In traveling to Bourges, he describes the genial and invigorating company of the humanists Joachim Politès, Balthazar de Künring, and Bartholomaeus Latomus and the sculptor Jan Swarts, thereby indicating his place in these intellectual groups. The twelve letters that comprise the Correspondance (1531–35) affirm his humanist interests. As a resident of Mechlin, he was undoubtedly aware of the stays and visits of Jean Molinet, Jean Lemaire de Belges, Juan Vives, Cornelius Agrippa, Erasmus, and Thomas More at the court of Margaret of Austria. These letters expand the context of the Itineraria; the second, third, and sixth letters addressed to the Polish humanist Johannes Dantiscus reveal insights into his views on poetry, historical happenings, and humanist politics.
Narrative structure, imagery, and rhetorical techniques enliven Secundus's observations. The reality of death commingles with the exuberance of life. In the first journey, for example, Secundus mixes genres, employing poetry to vary narration: a bucolic poem opens the text; two elegies present a contemplation of the [End Page 998] transience of life and the inevitability of death; and a concluding lyric celebrates his arrival in Bourges. During his visits to Paris and Saint Denis, moreover, he considers human actions, rebuking abuse of power, and paying homage to heroic leaders who, though dead, continue to speak through the transcendence of history and poetry. Like ancient heroes' journeys to the underworld, he learns from the past, recognizing the constancy of virtue and the fortunes of fame, hardship, profit, and pain. In blending the particular with the universal, he relates the poetic with the chronological, creating a personal but historical account.
The significance of Secundus's writings should not be underestimated. Certainly, he did not invent historical or imaginative travel literature. However, these three journeys encourage comparative...