5.10 A View from Outside

The Jesuits, of course, suffered ongoing criticism from outside the order, on matters educational as on doctrine and discipline. (48) Alvares' textbook was the focus of one such controversy at Verona at the very end of the sixteenth century when it had already proved to be the best selling Latin grammar of the age. It seems unlikely that the attack was motivated by the strengths or weaknesses of the grammar alone; rather, it represented a small part of a larger critique of the Jesuits' educational success at Verona at the expense of established teachers. Still it offers us a remarkably thorough critique of Alvares' successful book.

The protagonist of this Veronese controversy was Orlando Pescetti (1556?-1624?), a school teacher of local reputation much engaged in academy affairs in the Veneto but little studied today. He published defenses of Tasso and Battista Guarini and a spirited essay on the correct use of letter Z in Tuscan. His only enduring contribution was to assemble two collections of Italian proverbs, one in Italian offered as a literary commonplace book and model of vernacular eloquence, and the other in Italian and Latin expressly for use in Latin classrooms. He taught school for many years and seems to have gradually acquired a conviction that presenting boys with vernacular models could help motivate their study of Latin. This stance probably developed from another, more consistent position he took in defense of Catholic lay piety. For Pescetti, as for many other teachers of the period, language study and religious education were deeply entwined. He was convinced that contemporary schools, whether municipal, private, or run by religious orders, too often failed in this primary mission. (49)

The Jesuits had established a college at Verona in 1577 at the request of the local bishop, with the patronage of Carlo Borromeo, and with the permission of the city council, though this last did not come without considerable dissent. Pescetti was too young to have had a useful opinion at the time but he later sided with the dissenters, feeling as they did that the city should take responsibility for elementary education and supervise it closely. The Jesuits, of course, tolerated no such local interference. (50)

Pescetti launched an opening salvo in his anti-Jesuit campaign in 1592 with the publication of a lengthy Oration on the reform of the grammar schools The piece was utopian, but presented as the fruit of long, practical experience and offered as a real proposal to a city official, Count Giulio Cesare Nogarola. (51) The oration develops in an interesting way, both logically and in terms of rhetorical strategies. Pescetti seems at first totally incapable of irony, even though both his rhetoric and his ideas are writ improbably large. He proposed a radical school reform aimed at making Verona over into a Platonic philosopher's realm where there are no idle or irreligious youths. Universal education, required of all able citizens (males only, of course), would create a common commitment to the Catholic faith, a common sense of civic purpose, and a new flowering of Veronese culture. Specifically, he recommended that the city fathers construct a single, central, enormous school (ten halls, each able to seat one hundred students), hire a corps of teachers based on merit examinations, and offer schooling to all comers A detailed curriculum is prescribed, apparently based on specific textbooks; and twenty one rigorous rules of conduct for teachers are offered. (52)

Concurrently with establishing this great school, Pescetti continued, the city council should forbid all other instruction, whether by tutors or in schools. Teachers not on the central-school faculty would be banned from practicing in Veronese territory. This last provision would enforce the universality of the proposed schooling. It would ensure that poor but able students would have equal opportunity with the rich, and that aristocratic parents would not distract their children from the urban educational experience by taking them off to the country for long parts of the year. And it would put all non-certified teachers, including the Jesuits, out of business in Verona.

Pescetti did eventually grow ironic. He pretended to imagine all possible objections to such a program, both on theoretical and practical grounds, and rebutted them point by point. He rejected all theoretical objections, claiming they are overridden by the religious and moral-educational value of his new program. Logistical matters he referred to the wisdom of the city fathers and to their proven ability to get things done. Practical opposition by the numerous existing teachers of grammar he dismissed by saying that those private teachers who were any good would compete successfully for places in the new school. He admitted that the Jesuits might be expected to object too, but, since the good fathers were always known to act in the common interest, surely they would see the value of the new school at Verona and acquiesce. They would take their own school elsewhere, where they were better needed, that is, to a place where the city authorities were not so diligent on behalf of civic education. Indeed, the Jesuits would have no substantial objections at all, so their opposition offered Pescetti, he said, the least concern of all the possible complaints.

The subsequent stages in Pescetti's campaign against the Jesuits are obscure because he was largely unsuccessful until political events overtook the educational question; but he continued to be preoccupied by the presence of the Jesuit college at Verona through the fifteen nineties and into the next century. Perhaps needless to say, however, the city council never did create the school he envisioned, nor did they ban other schools. (53) Pescetti went on with his academic publishing. As far as we know, he also continued to teach in his own grammar school. He published a small booklet in 1599 entitled The Teacher, or How Boys Should Be Taught, A Poem. The 327 verses limp, but they offer a unique portrait of the ideal Counter-Reformation schoolmaster. This figure is decidedly not a Jesuit. Indeed the ideal teacher is a layman whose principal duty is to offer an example of lay piety and virtue. His first and most important subject was religion, his real goal to build moral character, religious fervor, and obedience to ecclesiastical authority. The Latin language and love of Latin eloquence were to be learned by "singing Virgil," but Latin's principal value was in the service of the faith, both for inculcating Christian values and also as a discipline. Loose, ill-learned, and unregulated speech led directly to bad morals. The Latin teacher should concentrate on good authors and good examples of classical usage. He should employ Tuscan at every stage so as to improve the overall level of vernacular learning. Good students should able to complete such a course in three years.

Although there was no direct mention of the Jesuits, this portrait of the pious lay schoolmaster implicitly criticized certain elements of their program, specifically residential colleges with long courses of study and the technique of Latin immersion to the exclusion of the vernacular in the classroom. More fundamentally, it opposed the Jesuit's highly instrumental view of Latin as a communicative technology devoid of intrinsic moral content. Pescetti spoke for a much older humanist ideal, that of Latin as a morally normative language. For over two centuries, humanists had defended their preoccupation with classical authors, subjects, and style by claiming (following medieval monastic models) that Latin was also tied intimately to the Christian faith and to the fully realized morality of the free, adult, male citizen. For the Jesuits, Latin was a skills course; morality and piety were learned in other forums. (54)


  • Open Bibliography
  • (48) Ballerini 1985, 226-236; Lucchi 1985, 30-35.
  • (49) Further on these themes among other pedagogues, Turchini 1996, 314 -329.
  • (50) On the welcome of the Jesuits, here and elsewhere: Farrell 1938, 99-100; Tacchi-Venturi 1961, 397-410, 482-88; Scaduto 1964, 410-435; Marchi 1979, 53; Brizzi 1984, 157-159; O'Malley 1993, 228-232; Brizzi 1995, 40-42; Rurale, 1998, 94-98, 104-106; Sangalli 1999, 91-103, 292-295; Grendler 2002, 479-483; Carlsmith 2002, 226-233.
  • (51) Pescetti 1592; there is no modern edition but extensive extracts are offered by Secco 1973, 195-201 and Sani 1999, 98-107. See also Marchi 1979, 50-54.
  • (52) On the matter of textbooks, only the orthography of Aldo Manuzio is named, but Pescetti also specifies a seven-book grammar that divides conveniently among the nine classes in his school. I know of no published grammar book that divides exactly this way, but Pescetti might have had Pellisson's Contextus universae grammatices Despauterianae in mind, since as usually published in Italy it included six books of Despauterian exercises plus the Rudimenta of Pellisson. Another possible candidate would be the six books plus Epitome of Lucio Giovanni Scoppa. Pescetti's nine classes may also have been modeled on the nine-book grammar of the Veronese humanist Bernardino Donato.
  • (53) Marchi 1979, 53-54.
  • (54) Brizzi 1984, 160-170.
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