5.13 Conservative Alternatives

Pescetti was not the only school master to take exception to the triumphal march of Alvares's grammar. When the Barnabite and Somaschi fathers opened religious schools with humanities curricula toward the end of the sixteenth century, they at first adopted the standard Jesuit textbook. But by the second decade of the seventeenth century, they began to devise grammars, rhetoric manuals, and even arithmetic books better suited to the needs of their urban, non-residential schools. Most of these schools were made possible by bequests from civic-minded laymen. The municipalities that hosted them retained considerable control over the curricula and required that the fathers accept students from all ranks of society. They found Alvares' grammar too detailed for use in non-residential schools. (63)

Alvares was explicitly and implicitly criticized by still other educators, especially in the Veneto and Lombardy, where anti-Jesuit feeling ran high through much of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. In one curious Milanese example, even a writer who died long before Alvares wrote was made to criticize him. This is the case of Giovanni Alberto Bossi (ca. 1450-ca. 1518), a humanist priest at the court of Gian Galeazzo Sforza and his cultured wife Isabella d'Aragona. Bossi published an elementary grammar entitled Epitoma, seu regulae constructionis in 1503, about the time he retired from court to teach school in his home town of Busto Arsizio. It is a compilation from other, earlier works, but it clearly embodied Bossi's own take on what pedagogy should be. The book was printed a second time in 1521 and then apparently did not see print again until the age of the Jesuits. Its popularity was largely limited to the Lombard capital. It seems to have been proposed, then, as a local product on the local market, much as grammar books had always been published before the Jesuits made international marketing a norm. (64)

Bossi's preface was generic enough to fit the market of 1566 (the third recorded edition) as easily as that of 1503. He complained that contemporary textbooks are either too long and detailed for beginners (he may have had Perotti's grammar in mind, but by 1566 the remark would have more naturally been taken to mean De Spauter's), or else ill-suited to teaching correct and beautiful usage (which describes the Doctrinale of Alexander of Villa Dei). His own plan was to produce something of middling length but fully correct. At fifty-six pages in print, he has clearly achieved the first goal. The text is in two parts, about twenty pages of very basic material in question-and-answer form, followed by Additiones including some rules stated and exemplified and several bits of advice to teachers and students. This second part is more miscellaneous, but very self-conscious about pedagogy. It contains introductory concepts for explication of texts and composition, together with admonitions on teaching method. He titles the final chapters "The Duties of Teachers and Students," "On the Order of Examinations and What is to be Done Daily and Weekly," and "How to Construe" (that is, recite paradigms).

The mid- and late-century editions of Bossi's work are entitled Institutiones Grammaticae and have a second brief preface by Bartolomeo Moirani (active 1550-1570), whom the title page identifies as the editor of the work. Moirani spoke rather more directly to the market and teaching situation of the fifteen sixties. He lamented the lack of good Latin writing, ascribing it (in fairly conventional terms) to the venality and greed of teachers at all levels. Behind the conventional phases, however, we can discern a definite dissatisfaction with the educational institutions of the period, especially in Milan. He presented Bossi's grammar as one from the good old days, unjustly neglected by printers. (65)


  • Open Bibliography
  • (63) Bianchi 1993, 74-92; Bianchi 1995, 772-784, 795-806. On the Barnabite textbooks of Vincenzo Gallo, see Boffito 1933, vol. 2, 117-119.
  • (64) The early editions are so rare that I was unaware of their existence when I wrote about Bossi in Gehl 2003, 456. Balsamo 1993, 74 describes the first edition in full from the only surviving copy, now at Modena; on it, Ceriotti, 1998, 104-109. Ceriotti also discusses the later editions, 126 n. 28 and 134 n. 117. That of 1521 also survives in a single copy but must have been printed in fairly large numbers since over 600 copies are listed in an inventory of 1537, Ganda 1988, 135. Further on Bossi, Bondioli 1927; Ballestrieri 1971, 307-309; Grendler 1989, 420; Marzorati et al. 2003, 21-45.
  • (65) On Moirani, Ceriotti 1998, 126-128.
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