- The Renaissance Reform of the Book and Britain: The English Quattrocento by David Rundle
Renaissance, periodization, manuscript studies, humanism
David Rundle's The Renaissance Reform of the Book and Britain challenges the notion that England's was a belated engagement with Renaissance humanism. The book thereby problematizes existing conceptions of "medieval" and "Renaissance" in Britain.While scholars have become increasingly comfortable upsetting traditional period divisions and questioning grand narratives about England's Renaissance, Rundle adds to such work through his particular focus on scribes, scripts, and manuscripts. This work thus supplements and enriches such existing studies as Daniel Wakelin's Humanism, Reading, and English Literature (2007) and David R. Carlson's English Humanist Books (1993).
While Rundle's paleographical work is the book's methodological backbone, he uses this bibliographical focus to support several case studies centered around particular characters—the book's "heroes," as Rundle sometimes calls them. The reader encounters such well-known figures as Pieter Meghen and Poggio Bracciolini alongside understudied personages like George of Kynninmonth, whom Rundle deems Scotland's first humanist, and Petrus Lomer, a humanist scribe active in England in the early fifteenth century. Rundle's "heroes" originate om and migrate between such locales as Venice, Oxford, Scotland, Rome, Westminster, and the Low Countries, weaving together a story of humanism in which Italy is one node among many in the spread of humanist practices.
Indeed, the cosmopolitan nature of humanist scribes and their influences is one of several interrelated themes in Rundle's book. The humanist reform of the book, Rundle argues, was not a case of Italians spreading their scribal practices unidirectionally; instead, non-Italians had considerable agency in the development of humanist scripts and manuscript designs. [End Page 350] Moreover, in addition to the geographic mobility of scribes, Rundle emphasizes their "graphic mobility," their ability to incorporate elements of humanist scripts but not abandon other forms entirely. That a scribe could shift between a variety of modes with ease is a claim central to the book's arguments about periodization. The rise of humanist bookhands in England is not a starting point for inevitable progress away om the "medieval." Rather, humanist scripts became an additional tool in the scribe's existing retinue.
Rundle develops these claims across six main chapters and a conclusion, all of which merge careful paleographical study with historical contextualization to revise existing narratives about the Renaissance in England. Chapter 1 sets up the rest of the book, as Rundle describes the key features of littera antiqua and humanist scribal practices. Here, and throughout the book, Rundle centers humanist work occurring in England and by non- Italians, turning om Poggio Bracciolini and Niccolò Niccoli to Tito Livio Frulovisi, whose four years of work in England influenced English practices. Next, Chapter 2's argument is primarily temporal, showing that England's engagements with the humanist scripts was not belated but instead began well before the Tudors. In Rundle's words, the "earlier decades of the fifteenth century provide not a prelude but the defining first acts" of humanism's story in England (51). To show this, Rundle traces networks of influence, what he calls "palaeographical prosopography," demonstrating how the scripts of Italians in England shaped their non-Italian associates' works.
Where Chapter 2 examines humanist scripts produced in England, Chapter 3 looks to British scribes abroad. While Rundle finds records of relatively large numbers of non-Italians at work as scribes in Italy, British copyists are more difficult to track down with certainty. Still, George of Kynninmonth, "Scotland's first humanist," proves a fascinating non-English case study and further demonstrates the polygraphism central to Rundle's claims. In Chapter 4, focus shifts to the Low Countries, and Rundle demonstrates how scribes om the Netherlands, including Theodric Werken and Pieter Meghen, were significant in shaping humanist work in England. The chapter also includes an intriguing section about the effects of printed books on the scribes featured, suggesting that...