5.12 Reviewing and Defending a Textbook

No fewer than three prefaces to the Efflatio (thirty pages) made fun of Pescetti's learning and impugned his motives. No doubt, the Jesuits asserted, this poor school teacher was just trying to make a name for himself by criticizing the most learned grammarian of the age, "our Alvares." In keeping with the overall satirical tone, Berettari characterized himself too. He was a short, greasy, hirsute provincial who serves as a teacher's aide at the Collegio Romano and who collected these refutations of Pescetti from among the waste paper that the elementary pupils were forever throwing onto the classroom floors.

The full text of Pescetti's critique is provided on pages 31-64, exactly as it appeared in 1609 we are told, except that Pescetti's 170 criticisms (reprehensiones, a term that apparently came from Pescetti's title page) are numbered for easier cross-reference with the refutations that follow on 464 separately-numbered pages. Marginal citations to Alvares by chapter and title are also given. Though his voice is almost lost within the scurrilous literary frame, we can hear Pescetti reasonably well and judge the substance of his critique.

Pescetti drew up his pamphlet on the basis of the short, student form of the Alvares grammar, exactly the one which was getting such wide distribution in the fifteen nineties. But Sebastiano Berettari mounted his defense of Alvares by explicitly citing the longer, teacher's edition by page and line number. He knew that this standardized version would be in the hands of Jesuit grammar masters throughout Europe, and by citing it, he tells us that his principal audience was the Jesuits themselves. There is a certain disjunction from the start between a public critique of one, student-level book and an in-house defense based on another, more scholarly text. The confusion is further exaggerated by the furious invective of the Jesuit author. He pulled Pescetti's notes apart, literally, into small morsels of criticism that could be pounded to dust under the weight of a nasty-minded refutation.

A few examples will serve to show the nature of the original notes and the refutations. Pescetti made three kinds of reprehensiones. He complained about teaching practices embodied in Alvares' work, usually editorial and design elements that imply classroom practices to which he objected. More seriously, he took issue with the highly detailed grammatical analyses, a problem the Jesuits themselves had worried when they repeatedly complained that the text was too prolix for beginners. And occasionally, he disputed specific points of grammatical teaching. Consistently, however, Pescetti's remarks had to do with the classroom value of the book. He spoke as an experienced teacher with strong opinions about what works in the classroom. As such, Pescetti's notes may be the most thorough critique to survive of any single printed textbook of the period.

It is striking, for example, to find specific exception taken to the layout of the conjugational paradigms: "Since it is essential to teach boys the persons of the pronouns, and it is hardly possible to do so unless these precede the verbs which they modify, it is not a good idea to omit them in speaking [i.e. drilling]." (58) This was a criticism of the formatting of the paradigms in student editions of Alvares, where the Latin verb forms were given without pronouns. The last phrase, though clumsy, suggests that Pescetti had drilling in mind. He wanted the students to drill by saying the Latin pronoun before each inflected verb and not without the pronouns, as would be the case if they followed the text of Alvares' book literally. Berettari, entirely typically, picked up first on the clumsy phrasing, complaining that Pescetti is a poor Latinist. On the substantive point, whether students should drill with the pronoun or not, Berettari was less clear, perhaps because he had both models in front of him in various editions of Alvares. He felt the need to defend what Pescetti criticized, however, so he said that including the pronoun detracts from recognizing the inflectional changes and that students would be better advised to concentrate on the markers for person embodied in the verb endings rather than on the apposite pronouns. On this small point, at least, there was room for genuine disagreement among teachers.

Pescetti mounted a more sustained critique of Alvares's detailed rules and paradigms for imperatives. These occupy reprehensiones 10 through 23 as chopped up and numbered by Berettari. In fact the original probably criticized in one paragraph the whole schema by which Alvares described a number of different future senses of the imperative and imperative senses of the future. Alvares, for example, described a "Command or Constitutional Mode" (modus mandativus, sive legitimus) for verbs when precepts, laws and the like were stated either in the future or in the imperative. His example is amato tu, uel amabis ...amato ille, uel amabit which he translates with the single command form, "thou shalt love ...he shall love." Pescetti complained laconically that "these two forms, amato and amabis .... amato and ama are not equivalent." (59) He made similar observations for other of Alvares's terms that describe the various future senses of imperatives. Pescetti probably objected to the whole complicated series, which multiplied the terms to be learned and at the same time made imperatives and futures seem virtually equivalent. This is not a clear way to get usage across to students, he was saying. Berettari countered that Alvares knew perfectly well that the two forms are not the same and in fact provided additional rules and examples elsewhere in the book for the future without imperative force. On the face of it, of course, this defense actually proved Pescetti's basic point, that the grammar is too complicated for beginners. Berettari ignored this cavil and defended Alvares first on the technical, terminological point and then by multiplying the classical passages cited to support the concept. To do this, he had to cite the teacher's edition with its full apparatus, not the student edition Pescetti was criticizing. (60)

Elsewhere, Pescetti specifically objected not to faulty or overcomplicated pedagogical practice but to grammatical doctrine. Reprehensio 32 (again, Berrettari's numbering) concerned the "potential mode." Pescetti simply said, "The potential mode is a superfluous rule." (61) Pescetti did not say it is unhelpful in the classroom, merely that it is an unnecessary category of analysis because formally it is identical to the subjunctive. Berettari did not argue the theoretical point since he knew (as Pescetti did and as Alvares specifically said in the teacher's editions) that the term does not appear in the authoritative late ancient grammars which were Alvares' ostensible sources. Berettari merely claimed that it is a useful way to explicate some complex classical passages; and then he marshaled examples drawn from Alvares' teacher's manual.

Repeatedly, then, Berettari's strategy was first to belittle Pescetti's learning (he even compares Pescetti to Alexander of Villa Dei, the ultimate humanist insult (62)), then to praise the erudition of Alvares, and finally to address the substantial criticism with whatever defense is to hand whether apposite or not. This pattern holds through much of the book. Obviously, neither Pescetti nor Berettari were giving a comprehensive or systematic account of the virtues of Alvares' grammar. Each had an agenda over and above that of discussing the book. Pescetti, ostensibly at least, was merely making notes of flaws observable. He wrote a book review, though with a clear intent to recommend against using the book in Verona classrooms. In the context of his long career, it is clear that he was also attacking the Jesuits more broadly. Pescetti concerned himself with the textbook as evidence of specific failures of Jesuit elementary education. For Berettari these arguments involved two distinct issues, first Alvares' authority as learned grammarian and with it the scholarly reputation of the Jesuits, and only then the utility of the standard textbook. The Jesuits were not about to give up the book, which was already a proven publishing success. Their defense was of their reputation as learned and effective teachers.

Even more important than the fact that Pescetti should use Alvares' grammar to indict the order is the manner in which the Jesuits apparently concurred, or at least participated to the degree of publishing so furious and lengthy a defense. After their own long and sometimes unhappy experience with the Alvares grammar, the Jesuits were more than a little defensive of it. The Collegio Romano in particular had worked hard to secure the text from Alvares and had revised it repeatedly in the face of criticism from elsewhere within the order. The Jesuit teachers at Rome may even have welcomed the opportunity provided by Pescetti's pamphlet to solidify their claims on behalf of Alvares and to reframe its use as a defense of a Jesuit product against outside criticism. This new frame, born in the crisis of the Jesuit expulsion from the Veneto, might also have worked to mitigate lingering opposition within the order to using Alvares in Jesuit classrooms.


  • Open Bibliography
  • (58) Berettari 1616, 42: Cum necesse sit pueros doceri cuius personae sunt pronomina, vixque, nisi, ea praecedant verborum personas dignoscant, non recte iubentur in loquendo omittere.
  • (59) Berettari 1616, 44.
  • (60) Berettari 1616, 44-80.
  • (61) Berettari 1616, 37: Modi potentialis supervacanea prorsus est praeceptio.
  • (62) Berettari 1616, 106.
Switch to Dark Mode
Show Comments