LINACRE, Thomas De Emendata Structura Latini Sermonis Libri Sex

London, Richard Pynson, 1524


FIRST EDITION. 4to, ff [2] 113 [1, blank] 78. Roman letter, some Greek. Title within the handsome ‘Laws Porsenna’ border designed by Holbein (McKerrow & Ferguson 8), major initials white on black in two series, stark white on black or with extensive naturalistic decoration; old stain to upper inner corner of first few ll., light and marginal except for A, where it enters part of the first 6 lines, small repair to same upper edges; a very good copy, crisp and clean, ‘a.f’ in Tudor hand at end of title. Rebound in C19th by Price, of Oswestry. contemporary London covers relaid, upper compartment of spine later restored, covers inner and outer roll tooled borders framing a central panel, the former of foliage and Renaissance ornament (Oldham CH.c8 pl. XXXVIII) and the latter mainly female heads (Oldham HM.a11, pl. XLVII), worn at corners. C18th armorial bookplate of Robert Goldolphin Owen of Porkington on pastedown.

Pyson’s handsomely printed first edition of the best known work of one of England’s outstanding humanists. Linacre, some time fellow of All Souls, physician to Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and many of the greatest of Tudor England, tutor to Prince Arthur and Princess Mary, Thomas More, and Erasmus, founder of the Royal College of Physicians – the first such body in the world – and of chairs in Greek medicine at Oxford and Cambridge, spent what must have been his minimal spare time over a period of twenty years in completing this scholarly and innovative Latin grammar which was admired throughout Europe and constantly reprinted over the succeeding century. Linacre probably enjoyed the highest scholarly reputation amongst his colleagues of any Englishman of this time.

The work itself is a practical but certainly not a beginner’s manual (hence Colet’s famous rejection of it from St Paul’s school) on the construction of Latin prose. This itself marked it out from its contemporary continental counterparts which were essentially elementary; Linacre’s work was for the advanced student and technically sophisticated. It had several important attributes. It was the first of its kind to synthesise traditional late medieval grammatical teaching with the new information resulting from nearly a century of radical humanist philological study; second, Linacre was a very competent systematiser and he produced a work that, if not simple, was logical and coherent; last, he had the true scholar’s attention to detail. All over 16th century Europe, people who knew of the work of no other contemporary English scholar knew of the grammar of Thomas Linacre.

STC 15634. “First Edition, said to contain the first specimen of Greek type from a London press … frequently reprinted abroad” Lowndes IV 1363. “It appears to have been the second book printed in England, in which the Greek type was introduced” Ames II 634. See also Kristian Jensen, ‘The Latin Grammar of Thomas Linacre’ Warburg & Courtauld Journal vol 49 (1986).
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