Sir Thomas Elyot and Renaissance Humanism

By John M. Major | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Castiglione and Other Italians

IN ORDER to establish the Governour in its proper setting, literary and historical, one has first to decide to what genre of writing the work belongs.Some answer to this question was indicated in the first part of the present study, but it would be well at this point to analyze the matter more closely. Although the Governour is not easy to classify, owing to that multiplicity of aims which has been brought out, the work may be said to resemble most nearly the literary type known as the "prince's mirror."

By Elyot's time the prince's mirror had in back of it a long and honorable tradition, beginning in antiquity and continuing uninterrupted throughout the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. 1 Among scores of examples of the type, the following may be cited as outstanding: Xenophon's Cyropaedia, Isocrates' oration To Nicocles, the Policraticus (1159) of John of Salisbury, St. Thomas Aquinas' De regimine principum (c. 1265), Erasmus' Education of a Christian Prince (1516), and Il Principe (1532) of Niccolò Machiavelli.The great majority of these treatises—which derive ultimately from Plato's Republic represent the efforts of sincere and conscientious citizens to render government more tolerable by influencing for good the character and actions of the ruler.In general they consist of a theory of government, advice to the ruler on the conduct of his private life, the education of his children, and the management of his public career, and a contrast between the good king and the tyrant. The virtues they emphasize are justice, liberality, clemency, the maintenance of peace, wisdom in the choice of counselors, and personal integrity. 2

____________________
1
The most valuable account of these treatises is given by Lester K. Born, in the introduction to his translation of Desiderius Erasmus, The Education of a Christian Prince ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), pp. 43-130. See also Wilhelm Kleineke , Englische Fürstenspiegel vom "Policraticus" Johanns von Salisbury bis zum "Basilikon Doron" König Jakobs I ( Halle: Niemeyer, 1937); Allen H. Gilbert, Machiavelli's "Prince" and Its Forerunners ( Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1938); and Felix Gilbert, " The Humanist Concept of the Prince and The Prince of Machiavelli," JMH, XI ( 1939), 449-483.
2
John E. Mason, Gentlefolk in the Making: Studies in the History of English

-39-

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Sir Thomas Elyot and Renaissance Humanism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Sir Thomas Elyot and Renaissance Humanism *
  • Preface v
  • Contents *
  • First Editions of the Works of Sir Thomas Elyot xii
  • Part I - The Plan of the Book Named the Governour *
  • Part II - The Governour: Background and Tradition *
  • Chapter 1 - Castiglione and Other Italians 39
  • Chapter 2 - Erasmus 77
  • Chapter 3 - Sir Thomas More 89
  • Chapter 4 - Classical Authors Other Than Plato 140
  • Part III - Elyot and Plato *
  • Chapter 5 - Introduction 173
  • Chapter 6 - Politics 178
  • Chapter 7 - Psychology 206
  • Chapter 8 - Ethics 241
  • Chapter 9 - Epilogue 262
  • Conclusion 271
  • Index 273
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