Epigrammata clarissimi disertissimiqve viri Thomae Mori Britanni

Chrzanowski 1518mWhen Desiderius Erasmus visited England in the summer of 1509, he stayed with his good friend, Thomas More. Since the time they first met at Oxford, More finished his formal law studies and began subjecting himself to the discipline of a monk. He seriously considered joining the Franciscan order but abandoned the idea and married Jane Colt in 1505. Nevertheless, he remained devout and followed many ascetical practices for the rest of his life. With the death of Henry VII in 1509, More took on a career of public service, first becoming one of the two undersheriffs of London in 1510.

While lodging with More, his wife, and their daughters, Erasmus wrote his enduring work, Moriae Encomium (Praise of Folly), which he dedicated to More. It was a scathing, masterly satire exposing folly in all forms. Most dangerous was his attack on the follies of secular and ecclesiastic authorities. When Praise of Folly was first printed in Paris in 1511, Erasmus claimed it was published without his knowledge. The immediate success of the book protected him from retribution, and some forty editions would be printed during his lifetime. The year that his other great work, Novum Instrumentum omne was printed (1516), Erasmus guided through the publication of Thomas More’s lasting work, Utopia. Conservative in outlook, More wrote in reaction to changing times with the belief that medieval institutions—freed from abuse and governing with wisdom and justice—made for an ideal state.

Erasmus arranged for Johann Froben to publish a new edition of Utopia before going to Basel in 1518. He was a close friend of the printer and stayed with him when in town. The plan was for a large volume that included Utopia, the epigrams of More and Erasmus, translations of Lucian by both scholars, and several other works of Erasmus. Froben decided to publish the book with just three works: the third edition of Utopia and the first editions of the Epigrammata of More and Erasmus.

Some small number of copies (including the present one) were issued with only the second and third parts of the volume included. It is fitting that these parallel works of witticism by the two friends and great humanists should appear together. The book is graced by a woodcut title border to More’s epigrams by Urs Graf and a woodcut title border to Erasmus’s epigrams by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Chrzanowski 1518m *

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675