London: E.T. and R.H. for H. Brome, B. Tooke, and T. Sawbridge, 1671. Octavo, measuring 6.5 x 4.25 inches: , 555, . Contemporary Cambridge-style full speckled calf, boards ruled and ornamented in blind, raised bands, red morocco spine label lettered and decorated in gilt, top edge stained. Engraved frontispiece portrait of Erasmus. Final leaf, containing second page of bookseller catalogue, excised. Joints and spine head expertly repaired; evidence of bookplate removal on front pastedown; effaced signature on title page; some running titles shaved.
First edition in English of the complete Colloquia Familiaria of Erasmus, first published in 1518 and expanded by Erasmus over the next fifteen years, a lively collection of Latin dialogues that found a readership far beyond the Renaissance schoolroom. Originally intended to model colloquial conversation for students of Latin, the dialogues feature pointed, free-thinking exchanges on modern political, religious, and philosophical questions. In “Of the Abbot and Learned Woman,” an ignorant abbot tries and fails to get the better of the classically educated Magdalia, a character almost certainly based on Thomas More’s eldest daughter: “I think thou art some sophistress, thou protest so wittily.” Magdalia: “I will not tell thee, what I think thou art.” And later: “I have often heard it usually spoken, that a wise woman is twice a fool.” Magdalia: “Indeed it useth to be said so, but by fools.” The Colloquia Familiaria was widely read and debated across Europe, drawing immediate notice for its anticlerical satire: “its influence on the dialogues of Reformation Germany and Tudor England is a critical commonplace” (Zlatar, Reformation Fictions, 11). The original purpose of the Colloquies as a text for teaching Latin postponed its direct translation; this first complete English edition was published more than 150 years after the work’s first appearance. The edition opens with a short life of Erasmus, and concludes with the first appearance in English of De utilitate colloquiorum, Erasmus’s 1526 defense of the Colloquies, published after the Sorbonne condemned the book for impiety. In response, Erasmus makes a case for the educational value of his dialogues’ humor: “I cannot tell whether any thing be learned more successfully than that which is learned in playing.” Despite his efforts, the Colloquies would remain on the Papal Index of banned books through the end of the nineteenth century. Wing E-3190; PMM 53. A very good copy of a humanist landmark, in a handsome contemporary binding.