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  • Erasmus and the Renaissance Republic of Letters ed. by Stephen Ryle
  • Laurel Carrington
Erasmus and the Renaissance Republic of Letters. Edited by Stephen Ryle. Foreword by Lisa Jardine. (Turnhout: Brepols. 2014. Pp xviii, 474. €110,00. ISBN 978-2-503-53030-7.)

This collection of essays represents the proceedings of a conference held at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, on September 5–7, 2006, to celebrate the centenary of the first volume of P. S. Allen’s masterful edition of Erasmi Epistolae. The [End Page 637] topics are grouped under five headings: P. S. Allen and Current Erasmus Scholarship, Erasmus and His Contemporaries, Literature and Philosophy in the Renaissance Republic of Letters, Erasmus and His Spiritual Legacy, and Erasmus and Literary Tradition. No one who has worked with Desiderius Erasmus beyond the most casual of readings is ignorant of Allen’s edition. Not only have scholars all benefitted enormously from a critical edition of this quality and scope, but much of twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholarship is inconceivable without it. What this volume offers, especially taken as a whole, is an opportunity for readers to revisit Allen’s work with fresh eyes.

Stephen Ryle’s introduction emphasizes what was new at the outset about Allen’s approach: presenting the letters not grouped together as literary works, but organized chronologically, with extensive notes documenting the people and events that were their historical context. His introduction and the last essay, by Mark Vessey, function as bookends to the collection. Vessey, whose essay is the entirety of the final section (“Erasmus and Literary Tradition”), examines the work of G. E. B. Saintsbury, a literary scholar of a generation prior to Allen’s. Although modern scholars tend to be casual in their treatment of disciplinary boundaries, Saintsbury is rigorous in what he regards as true literature. This is the setting against which we can contrast Allen’s historical Erasmus.

The essays within these bookends range from discussions of Erasmus’s epistolary relationships with individuals such as Juan Luis Vives (Charles Fantazzi) and Wolfgang Capito (Erika Rummel), to more general discussions of Erasmus as an editor and translator, and as a citizen in the Republic of Letters, in company with his contemporaries and expanding on the legacy of his predecessors. Throughout the volume, a reader is invited to consider the ways in which Erasmus as scholar, religious reformer, and man of letters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is brought into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by Allen, who himself becomes an object of study to those building on his work in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In the first section, James McConica’s essay, “The Englishing of P. S. Allen,” describes the relationship between the Allen edition and the “Collected Works of Erasmus” translation, prompting an appreciation for what has been involved in both utilizing and building upon Allen’s scholarship. The two other essays in that section (by Michel Magnien and Christine Bénévent) offer examples of amendments to Allen. Magnien has recovered a previously unknown preface to a significant letter to Erasmus from the French humanist Germaine de Brie, whereas Bénévent presents revisions to Allen’s chronology as well as newly discovered letters to include.

In the fourth section, “Erasmus and His Spiritual Legacy,” Jane Phillips illustrates St. Jerome’s influence on Erasmus’s Paraphrase on Luke, whereas Gregory Dodd shows the continued importance of Erasmus’s call for concord in the work of seventeenth-century English Calvinists Joseph Hall and Thomas Fuller. In all of the essays, readers can appreciate Erasmus in conversation with distant and more recent predecessors, contemporaries, and descendants, as a source of illumination [End Page 638] into his own context as well as an invitation to stimulating scholarship in our own time.

Laurel Carrington
St. Olaf College


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