Unknown Authors, historical artefact.—THE REVIVAL OF LEARNING

This text below is copied from ‘The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book [Odhams Press]’ , seemingly published in 1933. (Authors/editors unknown).

I will give more precise details of the reference book I am copying from in future parts of this series of posts. And I will try to discover who was involved in  compiling this book I am studying:



The Early Humanists.


Michelet once said that the Sibyl of the Renaissance kept offering her books in vain to feudal Europe. It was not until the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries—the period of transition from the mediaeval to the modern world—that the time began to ripen. Then there came a great wave of enthusiasm for antiquity and for study of the Greek and Latin classics.


The scholar Poggio searched all the convent libraries he could in Germany and Italy and brought to light many lost and forgotten manuscripts, including the text of Quintilian’s “Institutions.” Great libraries were formed, notably by the Medici, by the Renaissance popes (see https://broadhurst.vivaldi.net/?p=2402) and by Duke Federigo da Montefeltro at Urbino. Federigo collected a magnificent library; “he spared neither cost nor labour,” and spent 30,000 ducats on his manuscripts, all of which were sumptuously bound in crimson and silver. “Manuscripts were worshipped by these men, just as the reliques of the Holy Land had been adored by their great-grandfathers.”

It is often stated, with only partial accuracy, that the Renaissance movement was stimulated by, and the revived interest in Greek literature due to, the flight of Greek scholars from Byzantium when the Turks captured that city in 1453. Interest in Greek was far older than this. Boccaccio (d. 1375) spent his declining years in studying the language, and the Greeks Chrysolaras and Argyropoulos were staying in Italy as honoured guests and revered teachers some years before the Greek Empire fell. No doubt the scholars fleeing before the Turks did in many cases take refuge in Italy and support themselves by teaching and lecturing, and this would tend to widen the interest taken in Greek studies, but they were supplying, not creating the demand.

Poggio Bracciolini (d. 1459) and Lorenzo Valla (d. 1457) represent the earlier stages of Renaissance scholarship, which reached its full height with Angelo Poliziano, Filelfo and Marsilio Ficino. Valla was daring enough to criticize the Apostles’ Creed, and he it was who exposed the forgery of the alleged “Donation of Constantine” on which many of the more extravagant Papal claims had been based. All these scholars, it may be noticed, were either Florentines by birth, or spent a great part of their active life in that city under the patronage of Cosimo de Medici and his son Lorenzo “Il Magnifico.”



In no sphere are the new ideas of the period more clearly shown than in that of education. Gone for ever are the arid scholastic arguments, and the university courses of “Trivium” and “quadrivium” are laid aside in favour of humanistic study. At first all the universities were strongly opposed to the “new learning” and formed against it a united front, but they were gradually forced to open their doors to it. One of the earliest to show a comparatively favourable attitude was the university of Padua, and hither students of all nations flocked to hear the lectures of the great humanist Guarino da Verona (d. 1460). When the University of Ferrara, too, was founded in 1436, Guarino was made Professor of Rhetoric.

Guarino’s son, Battista, compared his father’s pupils to the Trojan horse of Homer, for “as from the Trojan Horse of old the Greek heroes spread over the captured city, so from that famous academy of my father has proceeded the greater number of those scholars who have carried learning, not merely throughout Italy, but far beyond her borders.”

Most famous of all Renaissance schoolmasters was Vittorino da Feltre (d. 1446), who entered the service of the Gonzaga family at Mantua in 1423, and stayed there until his death, as tutor to the young princes. Gian Francesco Gonzaga and his charming wife made much of Vittorino and allowed him a free hand in educating their children, and in choosing their companions. Vittorino formed a school of carefully chosen boys, not necessarily of noble birth, although he said that in his opinion thoroughbred colts were best worth training. The fees paid by the wealthy covered the necessities of poor but promising scholars, and Vittorino made no distinctions between them. All his pupils loved him.

Vittorino would not develop the minds of his pupils at the expense of their bodies; he made them take exercise, forbade lounging, and supervised their diet. He trained them in athletics, riding, wrestling, swimming, tennis and archery. He taught them to suffer hardship, he insisted on neatness and cleanliness and forbade the use of scent and discouraged foppery in dress. He taught his boys to dance and sing and educated them in all social graces.

Study of each boy’s natural talents showed Vittorino his capacities, and he encouraged his pupils to study those things in which they most delighted, instead of forcing boys’ minds into the conventional moulds. He brough Greek masters to the school so that the boys should learn the language accurately, and he gave them all a thorough training in the classics and history as well as in mathematics and music. He was a firm disciplinarian, but seldom found it necessary to punish his pupils, unlike mediaeval schoolmasters who believed flogging the only means of fixing Latin grammar in their pupils’ minds, and who could not take the degree of M.A. until they had established their ability to beat a boy with thoroughness and efficiency. The boy on whom they demonstrated was given a penny for his pains.

Girls were not entirely omitted from the humanistic scheme of education; indeed, they were permitted to study the classics and history, and some achieved fame in scholarship, but they were not expected to take too deep an interest in mathematics and astrology, nor must they fail to respect the conventions. Little Cecilia Gonzaga, who was learning Greek grammar at the age of seven, was quite the equal of her brothers, and two of Guarino’s most promising pupils were young girls, but humanistic education was by no means general among Renaissance women. Most of the wives and daughters even of leading families were still preoccupied with household and domestic questions, although many of them were strikingly intelligent.


The Art of Printing.

 In his celebrated description of the library at Urbino, Vespasiano writes: “Had there been one printed book, it would have been ashamed in such company,” Vespasiano da Bisticci (d. 1498), was an old man, and from his shop in Florence had come many of the most beautiful and artistic manuscripts the world has ever seen. He was “a prince among booksellers,” and it is not surprising to find that he resented and hated and despised the art of printing, then in its infancy.

The use of movable types had been known to the Chinese centuries before. but as Chinese characters are so many and so elaborate, it had never been worth their while to exploit the discovery, and the invention of movable type was made in the West about the middle of the fifteenth century. The wooden blocks cut for printing each page of a “block-book” may have given the idea to the inventor of moveable type, but these books were quite different, and the demand for them continued in spite of the new invention.

The earliest known specimen of printing from moveable type, probably by John Gutenberg (d. 1468), was produced at Mainz in 1454. Two years later, Gutenberg finished, with the help of Fust and Schoeffer, the famous 42-line Bible known as the Mazarine Bible. In 1457 Schoeffer produced his Psalter, a beautiful book, and the first book to bear a printed date. Printing was beginning to pay its way, and buyers began to realize the great advantages of printed books over manuscripts. By 1469 Schoeffer was able to issue a catalogue of books for sale, to the number of twenty-one; this was in the form of a single sheet advertisement to be fixed up in different towns, showing where the books might be bought.

From Germany the art of printing spread to all countries of Europe, and soon Sweynheym and Pannartz were printing at Subiaco, Colard Mansion in Bruges, and William Caxton at Westminster. Later in the century the most elegant of early printers, Jenson, began to print the classics, and then came the greatest of them all—Aldus Manutius at Venice, where he set up his press in 1494. The Aldine editions of both Greek and Latin classics are things of the greatest beauty, and an inestimable boon to scholars.

Apart from the greatest reduction in price, which commended printed books to buyers, printing made it possible an infinitely higher standard of accuracy. Even the most perfect manuscripts abounded in mistakes, and although writers did their best to look over and correct from the “archetype” all the copies of their work they could, it was not humanly possible to avoid occasional error. The far-reaching results of this invention were not immediately appreciated at the time, and men like Vespasiano might scoff, and as late as 1492 the scholar Trithemius might write a Treatise “In Praise of Scribes,” but the importance of the art of printing cannot be over-estimated in the history of civilization.

The Renaissance North of the Alps.

 In the early days of the Renaissance, it was the custom of Italian scholars to despise and mock at the scholarship of the “Ultramontanes” who climbed the Alps and descended into Italy in search of learning. Vespasiano describes a certain German bishop, who became absorbed in the volume of Plotinus he was reading, and “he . . . sat over it for three hours without stirring, and never lifted his eyes from the book; not like other ultramontanes, who have as a rule no taste for close study.”

Moreover, when an English ambassador to Rome made an elegant Latin speech before Pious II (1458-1464), the Pope burst into tears of joy to think that such eloquence could come form the lips of an Englishman, for England beyond all other countries was believed to be the home of barbarism. The “barbarian” ultramontanes, however, continued to visit Italy in ever-increasing numbers, and to collect manuscripts, and take them home to their northern libraries. One English collector bought so many books in Florence that he had to charter a special ship to take them back to England. It is sad to reflect that all save three of these books are now lost.

The art of Renaissance Italy made little general impression upon the northern nations. Here and there an artist, like Durer, came under its influence, only to develop a style of his own. The great contribution of Germany to the Renaissance movement was the critical spirit which gave to scholarship the quality it has lacked hitherto, The German humanists were preoccupied with Christian rather than pagan philosophy, they were less likely than the Italians to become intoxicated with the beauty of words or style. they supplied wit and satire, and with these were their shafts barbed, rather than winged with elegance.

Chief of all is the great scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam (d. 1536). It was the aim of his life to increase the sum of human knowledge; he is often claimed as a reformer, and it is true that he did expose and mock at abuses—for instance, in his satire “In Praise of Folly”—but he believed that if ignorance and superstition could be dissipated, then reform would come naturally and without violence. His Enlgish friends, Colet of St. Paul’s, and Sir Thomas More, welcomed him when he visited England, and tried to put his theories into practice. The greatest work of Erasmus, for which his name will always be famous, is his edition of the New Testament and the Letters of Jerome. He settled in Basel to see the great work through the press (for it was printed there by John Froben) and in 1516 his Greek Testament appeared and made a profound stir in the world of letters.

In France, Francois Rabelais (d. 1553) was sharpening his wits at the expense of the clergy, in his entertaining books describing the adventures of Gargantua (printed at Lyons in 1532), and Pantagruel. “Laughter,” he declared, “belongs to man alone,” and to prove his thesis, the books sold at an amazing rate, for all the world enjoys being made to laugh. Rabelais sounded a note of mirth which made a chord with the philosophical utterances of Montaigne (d. 1592) and Nicholas Bacon (d. 1626) and the shrewd criticism of Desiderius Erasmus. The Renaissance had been slow to cross the Alps, but by the seventeenth century it had gained more than it had lost by its transference form Italy, where the first impulse had died away.



Office clerk.

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