The Lost Libraries of English Humanism: More, Starkey, Elyot

Jennifer Summit

in Memory's Library

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780226781716
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226781723 | DOI:
The Lost Libraries of English Humanism: More, Starkey, Elyot

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This chapter reconsiders the meanings of private libraries that proliferated in the early sixteenth century, which have often been linked to a rise in secular literacy and learning that is seen as the necessary correlative to the spread of humanism. In early Tudor England, however, humanism was incompletely and unevenly absorbed into traditional institutions, and libraries became emblems of a literacy that was divided in its aims and effects. By focusing the analysis on an exemplary early Tudor reader, Thomas More, it is shown that humanist ideals of worldly learning and monastic ideals of contemplative devotion met and clashed in libraries. An engaged observer of literacy and its practices, More chronicles the rise of lay literacy and secular learnedness in his fictional and instructional writings. But his own representations of private libraries also reveal the deep divisions between the institutional and ideological forces that competed to define lay literacy in early Tudor England. The chapter focuses on two of More's early works, Life of Pico (c. 1510) and Utopia (1516), both of which feature libraries as crucial settings for representing and exploring the spread of literacy to the laity. In those works, the private, lay library becomes a battleground on which an opposition between Erasmian humanist and Carthusian devotional literacy is played out.

Keywords: private libraries; early sixteenth century; secular literacy; humanism; Thomas More; Life of Pico; Utopia; early Tudor England

Chapter.  20159 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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