De ratione scribendi libri tres, nunquam antea in lucem editi: [...] Adiecti sunt, Io. Ludovici Vivis, D. Erasmi Roterodami, Conradi Celtis, Christofori Hegendorphini, De Conscribendis epistolis libelli

Autore: BRANDOLINI, Aurelio Lippo (ca. 1454-1497/8)

Tipografo: Johann Oporin

Dati tipografici: Basel, 1549

8vo. (32), 432, (8) pp. *8, †8, A-Z8, Aa-Dd8, Ee4. Modern green half morocco with four raised bands, marbled endpapers, old entries of ownership on the title-page.

Adams, B-2666; Index Aureliensis, 123.634; VD 16, B-7038.


FIRST EDITION of the most comprehensive treatise on letter writing of the Quattrocento. Brandolini's tract occupies pp. 1-277 and is followed by similar treatises by Vives (pp. 278-362), Erasmus (pp. 363-382), Celtis (pp. 382-397), and Hegendorff (pp. 398-432). At the end is printed Qui magistri, quíque scriptores deligendi. Ex lib. 1. cap. 5. Jacobi Lod. Strebei De verborum electione & collocatione (ll. Ee1r-Ee4r).

The prefatory letter to the citizen of Reggio, dated Reggio Emilia, March 6, 1545, was written by Sebastiano Corrado (ca. 1510-1556). In it he praises inter alia the connection operated by Brandolini between rhetoric and epistolography. Corrado was a native of Arceto near Reggio, had studied at Venice under Battista Egnazio and at Padua under Alessandro Achillini. From 1540 onwards he taught rhetoric at Reggio and founded there the Accademia degli Accesi. In 1545 he was called to lecture at the University of Bologna as successor of Romolo Amaseo.

Some scholars quote an edition printed at Basel in 1498, but it has been demonstrated that it is a ghost (cf. J.W. O'Malley, Praise and Blame in Renaissance Rome: Rhetoric, Doctrine and Reform in the Sacred Orators of the Papal Court, Durham, NC, 1979, pp. 44-53).

“Más exhaustivo aún, y más ambicioso, es el De ratione scribendi de Aurelio Brandolini. Como el de Sulpizio, el tratado de Brandolini es una auténtica retórica epistolar, centrada en exponer, adecuándolos a las cartas, los aspectos retóricos de la inventio, la dispositio y la elocutio. Su planteamiento, come decimos, es similar a la obra de Sulpizio, y su índice de capítulos también. La novedad del tratado, no obstante, estriba en lo extremo de su actitud. Brandolini lleva a sus últimas consecuencias, como no hacen ni Sulpizio ni Erasmo, la voluntad de adaptar los preceptos retóricos: en su opinión las ocasiones contemporáneas de ejercitar la elocuencia oral son muy escasas, de manera que lo más provechoso es olvidarse por completo de la oratio y acomodar las reglas de la antigua retórica a la práctica de la escritura (en especial de epístolas), una actividad que sí está vigente y siempre será necesaria. Brandolini niega, pues, la utilidad efectiva del periclitado ars dicendi, y invita a reemplazarlo por un moderno ars scribendi. Una propuesta coherente, sin duda, que pese a todo no encontró demasiado eco en los tratadistas posteriores” (P. Martín Baños, El arte epistolar en el Renacimiento europeo 1400-1600, Bilbao, 2005, p. 348).

Aurelio Lippo Brandolini was born in Florence from a family of Venetian origins. His nickname ‘Lippo' hints to the fact that he was nearly blind since his early infancy. At the age of twelve his parents moved to Naples were he obtained a solid classical education and soon became known as a skilled poet, both in Latin and in the vernacular. He wrote laudatory verses to Ferdinand I, King of Naples, Lorenzo de' Medici, and Federico da Montefeltro. During his Neapolitan period he translated into Italian Pliny the Younger's Panegyric on Trajan. Around 1480 he settled in Rome and enjoyed the favour of Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII and was esteemed by high churchmen as Marco Barbo and Giuliano della Rovere. He became a member of newly reopened Accademia Romana, wrote a commentary on Vergil's Georgics, and completed a collection of Latin verses. After a tentative to become abbot of the monastery of S. Trinità in Florence failed, Brandolini left Rome in 1489 for Buda, called by King Matthias Corvinus through the latter's ambassador to Rome, Joannes Vitéz. At Buda, were he taught rhetoric, he composed two of his major works, De humanae vitae conditione, on the dignity of man, and De comparatione reipublicae et regni, written for King Matthias' son. Back in Italy, he taught at Florence and Pisa, and under the influence of Mariano da Gennazzano, he entered the Augustinian order in 1491. He spent the last years of his life as a preacher and died of plague during a stay in Rome (cf. G. De Luca, Un umanista fiorentino e la Roma rinnovata da Sisto IV, in: “La Rinascita”, I, 1938, pp. 74-90).


The volume also contains:

-VIVES, Juan Luis (1492-1540). De conscribendis epistolis, ad Idiaqueum à secretis Caroli V.

Vives' treatise on the art of letter-writing occupies an important place in the development of the genre in the sixteenth century. It was first published in Antwerp by Hillen in 1534. This edition was followed by the Basel edition by Platter and Lasius in March 1536, printed together with the short Brevissima formula of Erasmus, and by another one in August of the same year, to which were added the brief treatises of Barlandus, Celtis, and Hegendorff. Most of the later reprints followed one of the two Basel editions. But the tract was also printed with Vives' Colloquia and with Libanius' Methodus conscribendi epistolarum. It became the most successful of his manuals of rhetoric and didactic going through over forty editions until the end of the century.

Vives sees the letter as “speech by means of writing between people in different places” and endorses Cicero's letter to Curio which divides letters into two classes: familiar and humorous as opposed to austere and serious. Then he adds some more specific purposes: business letters such as letters of information, petitions, recommandation, advice and admonishment, and more personally, letters of consolation, reconciliation, instruction, and discussions of the various arts. Rather than being something which can be set out in a textbook the invention of material for letters requires practical wisdom, that is to say perception, memory, judgement, and experience. “Anyone who intends to write a letter should consider who the person they are writing to is, and on what subject: who we are to him and who he is in his own right” (cf. J. Rice Henderson, Defining the Genre of the Letter: Juan Luis Vives's ‘De conscribendi epistolis', in: “Renaissance and Reformation”, 19, 1983, pp. 89-105).

“As a kind of epilogue, Vives adds a personal commentary on writers of letters from antiquity to his own day. This section is of great interest for its remarks on lesser known figures of the Renaissance and as a general index of the art of epistolography as practiced by Italian humanists of the fifteenth century and his own contemporaries. Compared to Erasmus' exhaustive treatment Vives' libellus is more cursory, written in a compendious style to serve as a convenient summary of the subject matter. The examples are fewer than those given in the copious silvae of Erasmus, but very aptly chosen. Vives gives more Greek examples and with his customary farsightedness does not confine his instructions to Latin letters, hinting in more than one place that his comments might be used for letters written in the vernacular as well. The longer essay of Erasmus was designed more as a etching manual, hence its greater popularity. But Vives' essay fills in many gaps in the Erasmian exposition. It easily occupies the second place among the Renaissance essays on the subject, and even in this rather practical piece of writing the imprint of Vives' ‘wonderfully philosophical mind', to use Erasmus' tribute to him, is amply in evidence” (C. Fantazzi, Introduction, in: J.L. Vives, “De conscribendis epistolis”, Leiden, 1989, pp. 16-17).

-ERASMUS, Desiderius (1466-1536). Brevissima maximéque compendiaria conficiendarum Epistolarum formula.

Among the many pedagogical works published under Erasmus' name in the sixteenth century is this curious little tract on letter-writing Brevissima maximéque compendiaria conficiendarum epistolarum formula.

Supposedly first printed at Basel in late 1519 or early 1520, the first extant edition is that printed at Erfurt by Mathes Maler in January 1520 (with reprints in Leipzig and Mainz in the same year). Erasmus denied authorship of the work in the prefatory letter of Progymnasmata quaedam primae adolescientiae, printed at Louvain by Martens in 1521, saying that it contained nothing of his save for a few stolen formulas.

It took about fifteen years before he bestowed some sort of legitimacy upon it, albeit begrudgingly, considering it as a compilation of mutilated excerpts from his notes (see Opus de conscribendis epistolis, item no. XXX). In a postface to the work, now called Compedium, first printed in Basel by Platter and Lasius in March 1536 together with Vives's De conscribendis epistolis, a few month before his death, he acknowledged his paternity (cf. J. Rice Henderson, The Enigma of Erasmus' ‘Conficiendarum epistolarum formula', in: “Renaissance and Reformation”, XXV, 3, 1989, pp. 313-330).

-CELTIS, Conrad (1459-1508). Methodus conficiendarum epistolarum.

Celtis' treatise on letter writing was the first important one to appear in Germany. Originally published under the title Tractatus de condendis epistolis, it was appended to his commentaries on Cicero, Epitoma in utraque Ciceronis rhetoricam (Ingolstadt, 1492). He restates a medieval dichotomy between divine and human epistles at the beginning of his essay. He then discusses the single parts of the letter, the various types of letters, etc. Among the model letters is found one of his own to his mistress Hasilina Endemia. In the sixteenth century Celtis' treatise was first published at Ingolstadt by Apiarius in 1532 and then under the title Methodus conficiendarum epistolarum by Lasius & Platter in Basel in 1536 together with tracts on the same subject by Vives, Erasmus, and Hegendorff. In this form it was reprinted several times (cf. G. Gueudet, L'art de la lettre humaniste, Paris, 2004, p. 246).

Conrad Celtis was born at Wipfeld, near Schweinfurt in Lower Franconia. His original name was Konrad Bickel. He pursued his studies at Cologne and Heidelberg. While at Heidelberg, he received instruction from Johann von Dalberg and Rudolf Agricola. After the death of the latter (1485) Celtis led the wandering life of a scholar of the Renaissance, visiting most of the countries of the European continent, teaching in various universities, and everywhere establishing learned societies on the model of the Roman academy of Pomponius Laetus. Among these was the Sodalitas litteraria Rhenana (1491).

In 1486 he published his first work Ars versificandi et carminum (1486), which created an immense sensation and gained him the honour of being crowned as the first ‘poet laureate' of Germany, the ceremony being performed by Emperor Frederick III at the diet of Nuremberg in 1487. In 1497 he was appointed by emperor Maximilian I professor of poetry and rhetoric at Vienna, and in 1502 was made head of the new ‘Collegium Poetarum et Mathematicarum'. He was more than a classical scholar, being keenly interested in history and topography, especially in that of his native country. It was he who first unearthed in the convent of St Emmeran at Regenburg the remarkable Latin poems of the nun Hrosvita of Gandersheim (1501). He also draw a map of the Roman empire known as the Tabula Peutingeriana (after Conrad Peutinger, to whom he left it). He projected a great work on Germany, but only his Germaniae generalis saw the light (cf. L.W. Spitz, Cornad Celtis, The German Arch-Humanist, Cambridge, 1957, passim).

-HEGENDORFF, Christoph (1500-1540). Methodus conscribendi epistolas.

Hegendorff first treatise on letter writing appeared in Leipzig by Schumann in 1520 under the title Ratio epistolarum conscribendarum compendiaria. In 1526 he published a better textbook, which was printed by Setzer in Hagenau. Since 1534 it was often reprinted with Erasmus Opus de conscribendis epistolis, and later also together with tracts on the same subject by Brandolini, Celtis, Macropedius, and Vives.

It “is as original as one can expect a rhetoric textbook to be [...] but it draws freely upon Erasmus's Opus and perhaps also on the Formula, as well as other sources in the rhetorical tradition. Hegendorff composes some model letters himself and selects the rest from classical authors. Under each question, he provides brief explanations, often referring the reader to Erasmus for more detail. He omits all theoretical, satirical, and controversial material in the Opus and says nothing about teaching method. He selects only a few formulas from the chapters of the Opus that discuss greetings and forms of address [...] he focuses his attention on Erasmus's classification of letters into demonstrative, deliberative, and judicial, omitting extraordinary or familiar letters [...] Hegendorff's Methodus was a bestseller. It was reprinted more than fifty times, at Antwerp, Paris, Strasbourg, Basel, Cracow, Cologne, Lyons, Mainz, and London” (J. Rice Henderson, Humanism and the Humanities. Erasmus's ‘Opus de conscribendis epistolis' in Sixteenth Century Schools, in: “Letter-Writing Manuals and Instruction from Antiquity to the Present”, C. Poster & L.C. Mitchell, eds., Columbia, SC, 2007, pp. 155-156).

Christoph Hegendorff was educated in his native city of Leipzig, at first in the school attached to the Augustinian monastery of St. Thomas and subsequently at the university, where he matriculated in 1513. As early as 1518 he published a Carmen de disputatione Lipsiensi in praise of Luther. He started teaching in a local school, probably St. Nicholas and in 1520 published the Dialogi pueriles for the benefit of his pupils. In 1521 Hegendorff had taken his MA and began to teach at the University of Leipzig, where he was elected rector in 1523. By the end of 1530 he was invited to teach classical literature at Poznan. Accused of Lutheranism he left for Frankfurt an der Oder, where he taught civil law. In 1537 he was in Lüneburg as legal consultant to the city, and in 1539 he assisted in the reorganization of the University of Rostock. He returned to Lüneburg, this time as church superintendent and died from plague shortly after (cf. H. Grimm, Hegendorff, Christoph, in: “Neue Deutsche Biographie”, 8, 1969, p. 227-229).