Vivat Germania latina, Vivat Latinitas teutonica!

Lee Piepho

German Literary Humanism in Elizabethan England

The Case of Edmund Spenser



"Vernacular languages were replacing Latin even in scholarly publishing." In England "Latin itself was increasingly seen as a 'dead' language, an adjective first applied to it [in English] in 1570." So William Bouwsma writes in his new study of the "waning of the Renaissance." [1] His claim is puzzling, if for no other reason that that it overlooks the immense and diverse body of Latin literature that J. W. Binns has chronicled in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. [2] For the purposes of this conference Bouwsma's claim also perpetuates an underestimation of a major way in which German culture entered sixteenth-century England. By the second half of the century the poetry of Germania Latina was recognized as among the finest contemporary Latin literature in western Europe. And a volume previously unrecognized as having been owned by Edmund Spenser, [3] the foremost non-dramatic poet in Queen Elizabeth's court, strikingly testifies to the presence of Germania Latina in the culture of Tudor England.

Writing to Spenser in 1579, his good friend Gabriel Harvey describes him playfully as a "young Italianate signor and French monsieur," [4] a phrase intended to describe the figure he cut at the English court but which has also been commonly understood as referring to his literary interests at that time. It is therefore important to stress that among the very few books owned by Spenser that are known to have survived [5] the only poetry is not by Italian or French writers but by two poets of Germania Latina.

These are Georgius Sabinus and Petrus Lotichius Secundus, collections of whose works were bound together in a volume now in the collections at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. Some time ago Peter Beal called attention to this volume when he confirmed that a manuscript at the end of the Sabinus collection was in fact an autograph by Spenser. That the English poet at one time owned the collection was obscured by Beal's assumption that the manuscript did not belong to the original volume but had been tipped in by a later owner. [6] But this was not the case, a concluding note inserted by Giles Dawson, late director of the Folger Library, affirming that the manuscript had been copied on the last blank leaf of the Sabinus text. [7]

Dawson's note was added in 1960 when the Sabinus collection was rebound, and this rebinding has obscured Spenser's probable ownership of the second text, a copy of Petrus Lotichius' Poemata. Now bound separately, the Sabinus and Lotichius collections came into the Folger Library bound together in an eighteenth-century plain sheep binding. It may be the case that they were brought together by a collector at that time. But it is far more probable that the two texts existed in one volume when Spenser owned them in the sixteenth century. Binding texts on similar subjects was of course common at the time. Indeed copies of sixteenth century editions of Sabinus and Lotichius' poems are bound together in contemporary vellum in a volume now in the British Library (Brit. Lib. 11403. aaa. 6.). Beyond this, the texts that Spenser chose to copy out on the last leaf of the Sabinus collection strongly suggest that it was bound at the time with Lotichius' Poemata. These are a letter by Erhard Stibar, Lotichius' pupil and the nephew of his patron, [8] partly concerning him and two short poems, one by "Artifex Athensis" [9] and the other by Joannes de Silva (Jean du Bois), [10] praising Lotichius' poetry. The Sabinus collection contains a number of letters by Erasmus, Pietro Bembo, and other writers that praise Sabinus or are otherwise associated with the German poet. The editor of the Lotichius volume likewise included a short appendix of letters by him. And it is this background material that Spenser would seem to have been interested in supplementing when he copied the letter and poems onto the last leaf of the volume that immediately preceded it in the original binding.

That Spenser owned copies of the Sabinus and Lotichius collections has important immediate consequences for our understanding of the English poet. First of all, it specifies our understanding of his familiarity with the international Latinate culture that continued to flourish in Europe during the sixteenth century. The Sabinus volume in particular chronicles the relations of the German poet with some of the most distinguished humanists and Protestant reformers in Europe during the first half of the sixteenth century. There are letters and poems to and from Philip Melanchthon, for instance, who was also Sabinus' father-in-law. And there is an interesting series of elegies addressed to the Italian humanist Pietro Bembo as well as a lengthy, detailed verse chronicle of a journey made by Sabinus through Italy in the 1530s.

Beyond this link with international Latinate culture the Sabinus and Lotichius collections greatly broaden our understanding of the range of literary options open to Spenser when he was composing his poems. The example of his Shepheardes Calender will specifically suggest how this broadening of options might work. In his preface to Spenser's collection of eclogues the commentator E. K. remarks that the English poet has been careful in his poems to follow ancient models (Theocritus and especially Virgil) as well as their humanist imitators (e.g., Petrarch, Baptista Mantuanus, Marot) in Italy and in France. [11] But Sabinus and Lotichius wrote eclogues too, and our knowledge that Spenser owned editions of these poems—acquired in all likelihood when during a period of poetic apprenticeship he was reading the most distinguished poets of the preceding literary generation—should sensitize us to the broader range of options that lay open to him when he composed his collection of eclogues.

Two examples must suffice, one which involves an option that Spenser modified in relation to Neo-Latin pastoral and the other an option that he conspicuously denied. Some years ago Lynn Staley Johnson argued that Spenser inscribed the expectations of an epithalamium into the "April" eclogue of his Shepheardes Calender. [12] In the past this was a line of argument I had always been uneasy about. I know Theocritus' eighteenth idyll, of course. But modern scholars don't count this among his pastoral poem, and I couldn't find anything in Virgil's eclogues (by far the more dominant ancient model for Spenser's poems) to justify Johnson's claim. I therefore found it useful to discover that both Sabinus and Lotichius included pastoral epithalamia in their collections. And then, going back to Leonard Grant's massive survey of Neo-Latin pastoral, I found that explicitly pastoral epithalamia appear early in Neo-Latin verse (some of the earliest surviving ones having been written in the fifteenth century for the marriages of the humanistic ally trained Ginevra and Isotta Nogarola). [13] By the latter half of the sixteenth century the collections of Sabinus and Lotichius suggest that pastoral epithalamia had become sufficiently common that Spenser could make the sort of concise, complex generic allusion to them that appears in his "April" eclogue. For in Spenser's poem the bridegroom becomes not a man but Protestant England. In the late 1570s Elizabeth made what seems to have been her last attempt to settle the succession question when she seriously considered marrying the French Duc d'Alençon. In making Eliza's lover in the poem the rustic and very English Colin Clout Spenser strikingly varied the pastoral expectations of writers like Lotichius and Sabinus so as to set forth quite clearly his opposition to the proposed match.

If "April" represents a generic option that in relation to Lotichius and Sabinus Spenser conspicuously modified, his "May," "July" and "September" eclogues reflect an option that he was equally conspicuous in denying. All three eclogues are laced with ecclesiastical satire attacking corruption within the English church. Petrarch and Baptista Mantuanus had included ecclesiastical satire in their eclogues, and without knowing Sabinus and Lotichius' collections I had assumed that such satire was common in sixteenth-century Latin pastoral. It therefore came as something of a surprise to discover that neither of the German poets included ecclesiastical satire in their collections. And consulting Grant I discovered that the latest Continental Latin eclogue with extensive ecclesiastical satire that he records (396-97) is by an obscure German poet (Eucharius Synesius) born in the late 1480s. Early in the English Protestant Reformation polemicists like John Bale had used the language of pastoral to discuss church reform, and within the Latinate culture of Cambridge this literary tradition was carried into the 1570s by writers like Giles Fletcher the Elder. [14] Given that ecclesiastical satire seems by and large to have disappeared from continental Latin pastoral by mid-century, Spenser's denial of this pastoral option testifies strikingly to the continued strength of the linking of pastoral and such satire in England, a conflation that would perhaps have made his collection seem slightly old-fashioned to Latinate readers in Germany, Italy, and France.

Beyond these immediate consequences for our appreciation of Spenser's poetry lie larger implications for our understanding of the nature and development of literature and culture in sixteenth-century England. In the last book-length treatment of the influence of German culture on Tudor England C. H. Herford argued that it was not by its distinguished body of Neo-Latin literature but by its harsh, often scatological satires that Germany influenced England and the other countries of western Europe:

If the extraordinarily gifted, yet relatively barbarous, Germany of the sixteenth century was, in pure literature, of any moment for its neighbours, it was chiefly in so far as it made literary capital of its barbarism. . . . Even the Humanists of Germany, proficients though they were in the graces of Humanist style, commonly arrived at European fame, if at all, by some other channel. Had Horace, like Frischlin's Cicero, revisited the upper world, northern Europe could have shown him no Latin lyrics so graceful and sparkling as those of Celtes and Hessus; but Celtes and Hessus remained provincial stars when Markolf and Ulenspiegel and the Ship of Fools had the ear of Europe; and all the fascinating brilliancy of Hutten did not save him from being celebrated abroad chiefly as the advocates of an unedifying drug. It was not in her casual and fitful wooing of beauty that Germany caught the attention of the world, but when she grappled with ugliness, plunging breast-high in the slough and derisively impaling its creeping population of foul things. [15]

In this respect Herford makes much of another of Spenser's books that have survived: a copy of A Merye Jest of a Man That Was Called Howleglas, a knockabout English translation of the German satire Till Eulenspiegel. But the circumstances surrounding this book deserve to be dwelt upon. Now in the Bodleian Library, A Merye Jest comes down to us as part of Gabriel Harvey's library. In 1578 Spenser sent it as a gift along with three other jest books to Harvey with the playful challenge to read them within a set time or else to forfeit his edition of the Greek satirist Lucian. In an end note in A Merye Jest Harvey recorded this together with his reaction to the four books:

The Howletglasse, with Skoggin, Skelton, and L[a]zarill, given me at London, of Mr Spensar XX. Decembris 1[5]78, on condition [I] shoold bestowe the reading of them over, before the first of January [imme]diately ensuing : otherwise to forfeit unto him my Lucian in fower volumes. Whereupon I was the rather induced to trifle away so many howers, as were idely overpassed in running thorowgh the [foresaid] foolish Bookes : wherein methowg[ht] not all fower togither seemed comparable for s[u]tle & crafty feates with Jon Miller whose witty shiftes, & practices ar reported amongst Skeltons Tales. [16]

Doubtless all four books were sent to lighten up the mood of Spenser's occasionally melancholy, overly self-important friend. And, indeed, there is enough boisterous humor in his Faerie Queene to indicate that Spenser esteemed them beyond Harvey's judgement that they are simply "foolish Bookes." Nevertheless, the fact that Spenser also owned editions of the collected works of Sabinus and Lotichius and, more than this, that he was sufficiently interested in Lotichius to copy out information on him and his works should suggest to scholars of English literature and culture that they seriously need to readjust their understanding of the influence of German culture on England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Works like Till Eulenspiegel and Sebastian Brant's Ship of Fools doubtless exercised considerable influence of English literature and culture during this period. But, as Herford himself concedes, Germania Latina brought forth some of the most elegant and sophisticated literature to be found in western Europe. The discovery that Queen Elizabeth's foremost non-dramatic writer owned editions of two of its finest poets should indicate to historians of English literature and culture that the influence of Germania Latina on the culture of Tudor and Stuart England stands as an important chapter in English literary history that remains to be written.



[1] The Waning of the Renaissance 1550-1640 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2000), 5.

[2] Intellectual Culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England: The Latin Writings of the Age (Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1990).

[3] See Lee Piepho, The Shepheardes Calender and Neo-Latin Pastoral: A Book Newly Discovered to Have Been Owned By Spenser," Spenser Studies, forthcoming.

[4] Letter-Book A.D. 1573-1580, ed. Edward John Long Scott (London: Camden Society, 1884), 65.

[5] Besides the two texts discussed below, the only books owned by Spenser that have come down to us are an edition of Till Eulenspiegel (also discussed below), Jerome Turler's The Traveiler (on traveling in Italy), and Spenser's copy of the 1590 edition of his Faerie Queene. See Virginia F. Stern, Gabriel Harvey: A Study of His Life, Marginalia, and Library (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 228, 237. Information on The Faerie Queene comes from Peter Beal at Southeby's, where Spenser's copy was sold on 11 October 1991.

[6] Index of English Literary Manuscripts: Volume I 1450-1625, comp. Peter Beal (London: Mansell, 1980), part 2, p. 523.

[7] Spenser's transcription was made on sig. m8. Dawson recorded the collation as A-Z8, a-m8 and found that"all pairs of leaves were conjugate."

[8] Stibar's letter is dated 13 February 1553/4 at Montpellier, where he and his brothers together with Lotichius settled during an extended study tour that began in Paris in the summer of 1550 (Stephen Zon, Petrus Lotichius Secundus: Neo-Latin Poet [Bern/New York: Peter Lang, 1983], 168).

[9] Athensis would seem to identify this aenigmatic figure with Ath, a city in Hainaut. Perhaps Lotichius met him at the university at Montpellier. Otherwise, his identity is unknown.

[10] Lotichius first met du Bois at Montpellier. His short poem is one fruit of that friendship, a more substantial one being an elegy (III.1) that Lotichius addressed to du Bois after visiting him in Lyon on his way back to Germany in 1554 (Zon, 264).

[11] Edmund Spenser, The Shorter Poems, ed. William Oram et al. (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1989), 18.

[12] "The Shepheardes Calender": An Introduction (University Park: Penn State Univ. Press, 1990), 157-71.

[13] W. Leonard Grant, Neo-Latin Literature and the Pastoral (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1965), 294.

[14] See Lee Piepho, Holofernes' Mantuan: Italian Humanism in Early Modern England (Bern/New York: Peter Lang, 2000), 94-99, 103-13.

[15] Studies in the Literary Relations of England and Germany in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1886), xviii-xix.

[16] Virginia Stern's transcription, in Gabriel Harvey, 228.



Autor (author): Lee Piepho
Dokument erstellt (document created): 2002-08-13
Dokument geändert (last update): 2002-08-19
WWW-Redaktion (conversion into HTML): Manuela Kahle & Stephan Halder
Schlussredaktion (final editing): Heinrich C. Kuhn