4.12 Textbook Packages

Pellisson's Contextus succeeded on its own merits. Pellisson really did package a better De Spauter, more compact and easier for teachers and students to use. Pellisson omitted a few of De Spauter's verses and rearranged others, but he achieved his abbreviation primarily by reducing the explanatory notes by as much as two thirds. Printers in Paris, Lyon, and later Venice forwarded this project by preserving the clarity of De Spauter's typographically accented verses and sometimes improving upon them. In Italy, the couplets De Spauter intended his students to memorize were typically presented in a large roman or italic type and followed by explanatory material in smaller type, often contrasting italic to roman. (52) Alternatively, contrast was achieved by using two similarly sized types, a roman for the verses set off with spaces above and below, and italic in the same size set into tight blocks. (53)

When presented in the typical Italian quarto or octavo page, these typographical arrangements could be quite pretty, and they were practical. A given rule could be located easily, even when referring to the book casually. When a class worked through the text in order, the students could easily see which parts of the next lesson they would be expected to memorize. These formats did not foresee (and did not allow for) much if any additional annotation, but the Contextus together with the Rudimenta offered a fairly complete set of rules and enough examples to get the student started reading serious literary texts, all in a compact package. As Pellisson made clear in the introduction, he omitted De Spauter's lengthy notes and examples because he expected extensive vocabulary study to be undertaken when Terence and Cicero were read, not as an independent drill.

The late sixteenth-century package in which Italian schoolboys would most likely have met our Northern grammarians was a small octavo volume simply bound in paper or parchment. The book they owned either combined the Contextus of De Spauter/Pellisson and the Rudimenta of Pellisson behind one title page, or else it presented the two works as matching booklets bound together but with separate title pages and page numbering. A particularly handsome example of this second form is the graceful pair of octavos printed by Antonio Bellone at Genoa in 1563 and 1566. (54) Both booklets are presented as the work of Pellisson. The title page of the Contextus referred to De Spauter merely as the inspiration for this kind of grammar ("Despauterian") and the preface, as we have already noted, provided a back story of sorts, in which De Spauter did not finish the work of writing the perfect textbook. (55) The two title pages might induce the student to see them as separate texts to master, but they occur together in one volume so regularly in modern collections that it seems likely that they were often if not almost always presented to students as a pair. Bellone followed a house style for these books, one that gave schoolbooks a decorous, humanist look. He arranged the text using types in two sizes and a relatively spacious layout, with the result that the Contextus runs to 268 pages and the Rudimenta to 164. Bound together the volume was substantial but not weighty, handsome but not pretentious. (56)

When more tightly packaged behind a single title page, the student would purchase the two works together and consider them as one textbook. In these cases, the shorter and in some ways more basic Rudimenta always followed the Contextus. (This was the usual order in composite volumes with two title pages too.) Unless the instructor made a point of it, the student might even overlook the fact that there were two works in his textbook. The order was no doubt dictated by the way in which the package was used. The Despauterian method emphasized the memorization of verse rules and the Contextus proceeded in this fashion. Some masters may have wanted to use only the Despauterian method and so for them the Rudimenta was a mere add-on, useful for reference but not drilled. Pellisson probably understood the exercises in the Rudimenta in this way too; its rules in prose could be dipped into as needed when drilling the canonical Despauterian doggerel.

A typical combined edition is that printed by Francesco Lorenzini at Venice in 1562. It is an altogether homelier and less spacious production than the Bellone editions. The types are tiny, the layout ungenerous, and the volume is foliated continuously through both works. The design is notable for its economy, not for its beauty. De Spauter's verses are set off on separate lines, centered on the page and presented in a small italic type. The indentations around them provide the only white space on the page except the narrow margins, for the remaining explanatory notes are set very tightly in a roman of the same size as the italic. At least one student reader marked his copy to make the verses he was required to memorize even easier to find on the crowded page; he framed some of the verse rules in ink but marked none of the prose passages. Clearly, his interest was not in the fine points; he merely wanted to get through the course. (57)

Lorenzini's printing of the Contextus was so tightly set that it runs to a mere 207 pages, ending at the bottom of a recto page with a simple Finis. The Rudimenta are introduced with a modest caption title at the top the next, verso page. Pellisson's preface to the Rudimenta is presented in full; and if the teacher made the students work through it they would have understood the point that this is a separate work. In fact prefatory letters were often read in class as examples of good prose, so it is not out of the question that the students were introduced to the personality and pedagogical principles of Pellisson this way. Lorenzini gave relatively generous space to the paraphrases of prayers that constituted Pellisson's first stage of learning.

A great variety of packages were devised for Pellisson's Despauterian textbooks. In addition to the combined and separate editions that appeared at Venice from the 1560s onward, there was a distinct tradition of printing Pellisson in Piedmont -- at Ivrea, Turin, and Mondovì -- and at Genoa. These editions seem to have taken their starting point, not from Paris or Venice originals but from the editions that had come off the presses of Lyon in the fifteen thirties and forties. Piedmont was always more susceptible to direct influence from France than other Italian regions. It was a natural and nearby market for Lyon printers.

A revision of the Despauterian grammar by the German humanist Sebastian Novimola (1500?-1579) was proposed in 1553 by the Venetian printing firm "At the Sign of Hope." Novimola claimed to have corrected De Spauter's work using the author's own notes, to have revised the examples to make them more enjoyable and more conducive to good morals, and to have clarified the prose explanations of the verse rules. The Venetian printer took these pedagogical claims to heart and provided the text with a particularly clear if unlovely typographical dress. This publisher not infrequently imported texts from the suspiciously Protestant north, and this version of De Spauter included several references to Erasmus which at least one Jesuit censor carefully blotted out. (58)

Still another version of the Contextus with Rudimenta specialized for the Italian market appeared at Venice in 1568 from the press of Giorgio Cavalli. It is characterized on the title page as "now also enlarged and explained in many places in the Italian language." This practice reverted to that of De Spauter's early publishers, who had provided vernacular equivalents (in Dutch or French) in some of his original textbooks. Most Italian editions preserved Pellisson's intermediate work, which had deliberately dispensed with vernacular aids to consultation. The Sessa and Guerra firms at Venice picked up Cavalli's version and reprinted it several times in the 1570s and 1580s. The Sessa title page characterized it, perhaps a little more defensively than Cavalli and Guerra, as a Contextus of Pellisson, "which we have explained in the Italian vernacular wherever it seemed necessary."


  • Open Bibliography
  • (52) De Spauter 1563, 1579.
  • (53) De Spauter 1597.
  • (54) Reprinted in slightly more compact form by his grandson Marcantonio Bellone in 1578; an earlier Bellone edition of the Contextus, 1555, survives in a single copy which I have not seen.
  • (55) This is the usual Italian way of presenting this work. Only one sixteenth-century edition of the Contextus names De Spauter as author, that printed by Niccolò Carpi at Mondovì in 1584; there was also one late Torino edition of De Spauter's Institutiones edited not by Pellisson but by Sebstiano Arpino, rector of the seminary at Torino, i.e. Spauter 1592.
  • (56) Bellone used the same sort of layout for the elementary grammar by Lucio Vitruvio Rossi he printed in 1545. On Rossi, Gerini 1897, 160-173.
  • (57) Spauter 1562a, copy at the Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia.
  • (58) Spauter 1553; the copy now at the Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia was censored at the Jesuit college there.
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