4.03 Despauterian Grammar

We can consider this largely negative phenomenon by examining the fate in Italy of three grammatical authors of the early sixteenth century who were extremely popular in Northern Europe but whose works had only limited success south of the Alps. Jan de Spauter (ca 1460 -1520), Josse Bade Ascensius (1463-1535), and Jean Pellisson (ca. 1500-1567) were all connected in one or another degree with Erasmus or Erasmianism, but none of them was personally suspect of heterodoxy. Their grammatical works were rather conservative pedagogically (at least by comparison to Italian contemporaries) because they took over a great deal from the medieval grammatical tradition. (9) All three saw their own works or each other's through multiple editions in several countries of the North. All had teaching reputations sufficient to ensure that their elementary grammar books remained in print for a half century and more after their deaths. Italian publishers attempted to trade on their fame with textbooks issued under their names; but their works met varying and limited success in Italy. (10)

For the purposes of this chapter, I will discuss these three grammarians separately, starting with the eldest and ending with the youngest, but it should be kept in mind that the three were at work across an overlapping period of about seventy-five years. Their careers were inextricably linked, largely through the vicissitudes of the press at Paris between 1508 and 1540. Bade was both publisher and scholar, and he was one of De Spauter's editors and printers at Paris from 1508 until the latter's death in 1520. Bade was so prolific a publisher of the schoolbooks of others like De Spauter that his own elementary grammar book was relatively little known even to faithful customers of his press. An ambitious young Pellisson edited and reworked De Spauter in the late 1520's for another Paris publisher. De Spauter, Bade, and Pellisson, then, were all part of a lively and influential humanist milieu of the early sixteenth century which the youngest of them vaunted in 1529 as "the schools of Paris, which own the reputation of authority throughout the world for teaching and forming youths in good letters." (11) Italians at that date, needless to say, would not have agreed.

Most editions of De Spauter that appeared in Italy derived from and were accompanied by work of Bade or Pellisson or both, and many of the editions of Pellisson's original schoolbooks were merely add-ons to his adaptation of De Spauter's better-known work. To borrow a term from one of Pellisson's titles, all three of them (and many other Northern teachers of the period) were "Despauterian" grammar masters, by sharp distinction to native Italian traditions of teaching and publishing. Of the three, De Spauter had by far the largest reputation, in Italy as elsewhere, because his innovative teaching methods were claimed by many who published him or who rewrote his work for new markets. The other two pedagogues sold in Italy largely as editors of De Spauter or of other humanist authors. We might view them, therefore, as parasitical in Italian publishing terms, no matter how great their personal reputations for learning and teaching were at home. A reading of the printing history of these three renowned grammar masters will offer an index of the degree to which the textbook markets of Italy were open to foreigners.


  • Open Bibliography
  • (9) Colombat 1993, 99; Colombat 1999, 38; Crane 2005, 76-89.
  • (10) Some portions of this chapter that concern the marketing of Pellisson's textbooks have already appeared in Gehl 2008c. On the circle of Erasmus, see the important treatment of Jardine 1993, esp. 17-23, 102-122, 175-189; with reference to De Spauter, Henderson 1988, 181-185; for Bade and Erasmus, Crane 2005, 153-159; Vanautgaerden 2008, 89-111, 200-213.
  • (11) Rudimenta, preface of 1529, cited here from Pellisson 1562a. The reputation of the Paris humanist schools would make them the model for the Jesuit colleges in the fifteen forties and fifties; see Codina Mir 1968, 50-150.
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