5.11 Adversus Emmanuelis Alvari

In 1609, ten years after the The Teacher and nearly twenty years after his utopian Oration, Pescetti decided to take on the Jesuits again, this time in the form of a highly specific pamphlet attacking the grammar book of Manuel Alvares. He may have been emboldened to do so by the fact that the Jesuits had closed their college in Verona and, indeed, had been expelled from the entire Venetian state after they supported the failed papal interdict of 1606-1607. The whole later period of Pescetti's career and especially the early decades of the seventeenth century were an age of intense anti-papal and anti-Jesuit sentiment in the Veneto, but we should not imagine that most of this feeling was irreligious or even anti-clerical. Instead, the Counter-Reformation had created a vigorous lay piety that often centered on local cults and local churches. Its mirror in the political realm was the cultural activism of urban lay elites and the local governments they dominated. In such a climate, even the performance of preachers was a matter for public, often political discussion. In 1607, concurrently with the closing of the Jesuit school at the time of the interdict, the city council actually took up one of the recommendations Pescetti had made in his 1592 Oration, setting up a municipal school board. The aim was to create municipal schools to take the part of the absent Jesuits in the service of true religion. The city fathers felt well rid of the Jesuits, but this did not mean that they wanted to encourage irreligion or, worse, Protestantism. (55)

I have not been able to find a copy of Pescetti's 1609 pamphlet against Alvares (it probably ran to 32 pages), but the title, text, and colophon were completely reprinted in 1616 as part of a 500-page refutation of it published by a Jesuit teacher at the Collegio Romano, Sebastiano Berettari (1543-1622), writing under the pseudonym "Jacobus à Fossa." (56) This reprint claims to give Pescetti's text word for word and spelling error for spelling error. If it does so, Pescetti would seem to have prepared a set of notes intended to refute specific points in Alvares' grammar as a brief against its use in Verona. It may be that with the closing of the Jesuit college, it had been proposed for use in other schools. The notes Pescetti provides could be read merely as suggestions for revising or correcting a text in common use, but more likely they were intended as an argument against adopting it in local classrooms. Alvares's Libri tres had been printed frequently in Rome and Venice in the fifteen seventies and eighties; more locally sponsored and printed editions also appeared elsewhere in Italy. There were editions (of the student grammar) at Genoa in 1588 and at Padua in 1591, for example. The first Verona edition of Alvares was a student edition of the De constructione in 1578, apparently intended for the new Jesuit college at a moment when there were not enough copies of the Libri tres to supply the rapidly expanding schools of the order. The Jesuits at Verona commissioned a full teacher's edition in 1592, again, probably because reprints of the Venetian edition of 1575 were not still to be had. This was followed by a small booklet with Alvares's rules on prosody in 1593 and yet another full-dress teacher's edition in 1597. This publishing record implies a popularity at Verona that must have alarmed Pescetti, who saw many flaws in Alvares' grammatical terminology and teaching methods. After the closing of the Jesuit college at Verona, all these textbooks were presumably on the market and in the hands of alumni of the college. We may imagine some pressure on the part of booksellers and parents, among them influential people who had sent their sons to study with the Jesuits, to see these by-now standard grammar books put to use. (57)

Pescetti's brief critique of Alvares survives only in the context of the extensive defense by the Jesuits, a fact which presents us with some interpretive problems. Clearly the original pamphlet was intended for a local audience. It could not have been widely influential. Pescetti probably only wanted to strike a small, anti-Jesuit blow in Verona, taking advantage of the fact that the order was temporarily banned. Many of his criticisms repeat those voiced earlier by teachers within the Jesuit order, though Pescetti cannot have had access to such internal documents. The Jesuits, however, saw Pescetti's as a challenge from outside the order, and almost surely viewed the small booklet as part of a larger anti-Jesuit campaign in the region. Someone at the Collegio Romano, whether Sebastiano Berettari alone or a group of his colleagues, decided to squelch what they derided as Pescetti's "dust up." (They titled their refutation "A Puff of Dust Against Manuel Alvares, S.J." -- Efflatio pulveris adversus Emmanuelis Alvari e Societate Jesu.) They meant both to say that Pescetti's critique was of little substance and to note that it was directed at Alvares (now dead) and at the Jesuits' broader program. That Berettari expended 530 pages on such a nominally trivial challenge is due in part to his fulsome invective style, but it also suggests that someone in the order took Pescetti's challenge seriously.


  • Open Bibliography
  • (55) Calò 1940, 83-90; Pirri 1959, 168-189; Rurale 1998, 220-225; Pavone 2000, 227-235; De Vivo 2001, 179-190.
  • (56) BCJ 1:247; on the existence of the pamphlet, Gehl 2003, 445-458.
  • (57) This is admittedly a speculative scenario; but we do know there was a secondary market for Alvares's texbook, as for other grammars, witness the Milan inventory of 1594 (Stevens 1992, 411-412) with three used copies of a "Grammatica Manuello" and one new copy.
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