8.03 Real and Rhetorical Innovations

Around mid-century the claims to innovation became more insistent and the reforms more substantial. Perhaps the truest advertising was that of Francesco Priscianese, who advocated the thoroughgoing use of vernacular in the classroom. Other radicals were abbreviators who cut the course content to a minimum needed for reading comprehension and jettisoned the ideal of a fully realized classical Latinity. Still other reformers expunged pagan sample texts altogether or used Cicero to critique the established Roman church. None of these late-century reformers succeeded in supplanting the traditional early humanist pedagogy or the reformed one of the Despauterians which had meanwhile become well entrenched. It would take the universalizing mission and influence of the Jesuits to effect a more thoroughgoing reform.

Seen in this broad context, Manuel Alvares, S.J. must be considered one of the radical reformers. His reform of the Latin course was fully classicizing, Romanizing, and motivated by the larger Jesuit program of studies. He was radical in that he truly realized the antiquarian aims of earlier humanists. He propounded pure Latinity, rejection of all post-classical forms, a rigorous system of rules and exceptions, even abandoning mnemonic verses. In this last innovation his fellow Jesuits deserted him; they restored the mnemonic verses almost as soon as Alvares was in his grave. But his grammar achieved another radical goal that had not been part of the humanist program, divorcing Latin from Christian literature and from the long-held idea that Latin grammar was a moral art in itself. The Jesuits had their own, more philosophical approach to morals and they were willing to make Latin over into a tool without intrinsic moral power.

In this regard, the Jesuits were thoroughly modern and forward-looking, for most language textbooks of the future would do the same. Slowly across the long sixteenth century a new market emerged for teaching and learning tools in vernacular languages. We have seen that at first these books too emphasized morality as the proper context of learning. Indeed they did so stridently and defensively, probably because their authors feared that they were putting powerful intellectual tools once an elite monopoly into the hands of relatively unschooled commoners. But the expanding vernacular market slowly demanded more instrumental textbooks -- simplified, skills-oriented, unburdened with philosophical or moral goals. Early modern textbooks never achieved anything like the twentieth-century ideal of value-free content, but they did move gradually in the direction of skills-based education. Moreover, whether Latin or vernacular, a textbook with no pretensions to higher values was a mere commodity. It was easier to buy and sell and more broadly palatable in a Europe increasingly riven by nationalistic and religious rivalries.

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