JOHN OF SALISBURY. Policraticus de nugis curialium et vestigijs philosophorum continens libros octo

[Lyon], Curauit imprimi ... Constantinus Fradin bibliopola, 1513


8vo. ff. [xii], CCCLXXV, [i]. A⁸, B⁴, a-2z⁸, 2&⁸.without 2&8 blank). Roman letter. Title page in red and black, charming white on black floriated woodcut initials in various sizes, “Petri Jacobi A Pigati et amices” in contemporary hand in lower margin of t-p, P. Moran in a later hand above. Light age yellowing, light waterstaining in places, a little heavier on one or two leaves, ink spots to external fore-edge. A good, crisp copy, in early boards, recently covered with reuse of an C18th printed antiphonal leaf in red and black.

Third edition, based on the second published the same year by Jean Petit in quarto, both are textually distinct from the first of 1476. John of Salisbury, humanist and scholar of the middle ages “was for thirty years the central figure of English learning and was the fullest representative of the best scholarly training which France had to give.”(DNB). He was trained in scholastic theology and philosophy at Paris, and his writings are invaluable for summarising many of the metaphysical speculations of his time. This work “the Statesman’s Book” was one of the most important medieval treatises on statecraft and political theory. John was employed by Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury and later by his successor Thomas à Beckett who he was accompanying at the latter’s assassination. (William Tracy, Beckett’s murderer, boasted of having broken John’s arm before killing the Archbishop.) With the increased absence of King Henry II on the continent John became more and more indispensable in the running of Church affairs, “the charge of all Britain as touching church matters, was laid upon me”, he also gained considerable insight into the running of the state, and was involved in numerous missions in Europe trying to arbitrate between the Archbishop and the King. John fell into disfavour with Henry II over increasing taxation of the church in England, and it was in this period of enforced leisure that he wrote his ‘Policraticus’. Its eight books deal respectively with luck and devotion – to unsuitable goals, the distribution of duties according to the political constitution of the ancients; nature and mathematics; vice and virtue – pride as the root of all evil and passion as a leprosy; the differences between kings and tyrants – the moral characters of tyrants, the destruction of tyrants as lawful according to the Bible, the need for a ruler to always hold the law of Gods before all things; the republic – the arrangement of the republic as being alike to a hive of bees, the people as moulded by the strengths of the ruler and the government, the military and military skill – the hand of the republic as armed or unarmed, the formula of the oath of the soldier, the armed soldier as bound by God; academics, philosophers and religious, – academics as more modest than the others, and so less blinded to truth.
Brunet states the Jean Petit edition of the same year on which this edition is based “Ne paraissent pas être des réimpressions de la précédente”. One of the most important political and secular philosophical works of the middle ages and certainly the most important by an Englishman, handsomely printed by Fradin in Lyon.

BM STC. Fr. C16 p. 243. Brunet III 547. Graesse III 467. Adams J 302. Gültlingen. III p. 95: 4.

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