TUNSTALL, Cuthbert

TUNSTALL, Cuthbert De artes supputandi, libri quator

Strasbourg, ex Officina Knoblock per Georg Machaerop, 1544


8vo. pp. [xxiv] 454. Roman and Italic letter, woodcut initials, numerical diagrams throughout. T.p. and verso of last slightly dusty, slight dampstaining to blank margin of final gathering. Contemporary ms ex libris in English italic hand to t.p. “T. Liliat’ with Greek inscription, C18 armorial bookplate of William Constable F.R.S – F.A.S. on pastedown. A clean and well-margined copy in C17 tan calf, triple-ruled panels in blind with roll-stamped floral motif to one side on covers, richly gilt spine in five ruled compartments with raised bands, C18 paper shelfmark pasted to spine, a handsome copy, a. e. r.

The first English book wholly on arithmetic, by the great Catholic humanist, Cuthbert Tunstall (1474-1559). The work was Tunstall’s farewell to secular scholarship as he was made Bishop of London a few days after its publication, and thereafter Lord Privy Seal. It is designed as a practical work on arithmetic with the emphasis on commercial transactions, undoubtedly based on models Tunstall encountered during his studies in Padua. “The book includes many business applications of the day, such as partnership, profit and loss and exchange. It also includes the rule of false, the rule of three and numerous applications of these and other rules. It is, however, the work of a scholar and a classicist rather than a businessman.” (Smith p.134, of 1st ed). “He wrote it so that his friends could be empowered to make their own calculations and no longer be cheated by money changers” (Trapp & Herbrüggen cit infr.).

It is dedicated to his friend Thomas More, who, the previous year had been appointed sub-Treasurer of England, because there was no more appropriate dedicatee than the man engaged in supervising the finances of the King. “The dedicatory epistle to M[ore], gives an interesting picture of M[ore] and Tunstall” Gibson 157. This was also the return of the compliment which, 6 years earlier, More had paid Tunstall in the opening lines of the Utopia. The work was actually rather too scholarly for ordinary businessmen and it was not reprinted in England. However, it achieved some success on the continent and Rabelais (Oeuvres II 222) mentions it as required reading for the young Gargantua in Paris; it was also prescribed as an arithmetical study text in the Oxford statues of 1549, (together with Cardano).

Thomas Liliat graduated MA and Batchelor of Divinity from Christ Church Oxford in the 1550s becoming successfully rector of Houghton in Northamptonshire and Westley in Suffolk. He knew enough Greek to adapt Aristotle’s quip about Plato’s lack of scientific knowledge, in the original, on the title page. An interesting example of a continental imprint of English authorship returning to England soon after publication, Tunstall having fallen into political incorrectness at home in the interim.
William Constable (1783-1806) was an avid naturalist and collector of natural history curiosities. In 1775 he was elected fellow of the Royal Society – his Cabinet of Curiosities is still on display at his family estate, Burton Constable Hall in Yorkshire.

Trapp & Herbrüggen, “The King’s good servant” n. 56. Smith, Rara Arithmetica p. 136.
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