4.11 Late-Century Readings

Although Pellisson never made a direct address to his Italian audience, we may attempt a late-century Italian reading of his earlier prefaces. In his brief prefatory letter to the Contextus, addressed to a fellow school teacher, Pellisson proclaimed that De Spauter had invented a highly productive method for teaching. The printed versions of De Spauter's grammars, however, were prolix and difficult for students to digest. Hence the need Pellisson felt for a simpler version. Pellisson was anxious to seem to be De Spauter's devoted follower, even his heir. So he insisted in this preface that if De Spauter had lived longer, he would have undertaken an abbreviation just like this one. This was cunning advertising, and successful too, for Pellisson's Contextus became the standard Despauterian grammar in Italy.

As a coda to his preface, Pellisson complained of the continuing popularity of the barbarous verse grammar of Alexander of Villa Dei, the Doctrinale. He was repeating De Spauter who had decried Alexander in detail in his own prefaces and also within his grammar books. (50) For Pellisson, this commonplace lament served primarily to consolidate the reputation of De Spauter as the greatest modern grammar master. Contemporary teachers sometimes denigrated De Spauter, he wrote, but only because they were servile followers of Alexander. In this preface, Pellisson was working hard both to attach himself to De Spauter's reputation and also to belittle the opinions of enemies the Flemish master had made. He did not for a minute adopt the conciliatory tone of Josse Bade, nor did he accept Bade's notion that the Doctrinale could still be useful. The popularity of the Contextus in Italy after 1560 may have something to do with the fact that by then the controversies over De Spauter's negative opinions of other grammarians had died down. Mancinelli in 1500, as we noted in sections 3.10 and 3.11), was attacked as insufficiently devoted to the memory of Valla. But by 1560 neither Pellisson nor De Spauter were alive to cause further scandal and there were few Italian scholars or school masters who felt it was necessary to defend Valla (or Calepino, or other Italian masters) against all comers. Alexander, too, was largely out of use in Italian schools in this period, but the attack on the Doctrinale was a commonplace that might still resonate as advertising an author's humanist bona fides.

Patterns of annotation also give us some clues as to the manner in which Pellisson's De Spauter was used in Italian classrooms. As with most textbooks, the most frequent kinds of annotations are indexing marks, aimed either at identifying specific contents for a subsequent use of the text or else at clarifying the typographical cues as to content already present on the printed page. The Italian annotator of a 1541 Lyon edition was typical. He began by clarifying the layout, marking each "rule" and "exception" as such in the margin. After forty pages of such notes, however, he changed his strategy and started to make true subject-index notes, either by underlining the index term and putting Nota in the margin or by transcribing the term itself. His indexing is completely systematic for certain parts of the course (nouns and irregular verbs) and thin or absent for others (regular verbs, figures of speech, prosody), indicating that he had different levels of need for indexing. The Rudimenta bound together in this volume is not indexed at all. Perhaps its layout (with clear chapter heads to serve as subject guides) suggested that annotation was unnecessary. Even more likely, the Rudimenta in this copy was never used at all, since it is not only unmarked but generally fresh and little thumbed. (51) This copy of the Contextus, at least, was well and thoroughly used by a serious student or teacher of elementary grammar who largely ignored the shorter grammar of Pellisson.


  • Open Bibliography
  • (50) Ford 2000, 163-166; Jensen 1996b, 36.
  • (51) Pellisson 1541a and 1541b bound together, copy at the Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa.
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