Our featured book is the first German translation of Francesco Sacchini's biography of the Jesuit father and theologian Peter Canisius (1521-1597).
detail of page

Francesco Sacchini (1570-1625)
Leben dess ehrwürdigen Patris Petri Canisij der Societet Jesv Theologen, auss dem Lateinischen ins 
Teutsch versetzt. 
Dillingen: Ulrich Rem, 1621.

In a previous Collection Highlight, an edition of Phaedrus' Fables, we discussed the origin and function of book prizes awarded to the best student of a particular class. Again, the title featured this month belongs to this category, although we are now examining an example of slightly poorer quality—vellum stamped in black ink instead of gold—and from a German region under Catholic influence. To be precise, most German Catholic institutions were directed by the Jesuits from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. For instance, their presence was overwhelming in cities such as Dillingen, Paderborn, and Ingolstadt. In fact, our book was published in Dillingen (Bavaria), where the Society of Jesus had taken over the University in 1563 (Coppens, 2004: 81-3).


On the front paste-down paper is a Latin inscription with the name of the gift recipient (ex-praemio), Simon Peter Meyer from Freiburg, who received this volume as a first prize in the second year of his primary education: Ex libris Simonis Petri Meyer Friburgensis, quem obtinuit secundo anno in rudimentis primum praemium. Next to it we read the following date, 24 8bris 1623 (October 24 1623), probably referring to the exact day when the gift was awarded. The title page includes the Society's emblem, consisting of the monograph representing the Holy Name of Jesus (IHS, the first two and last letters of the name as it was spelt in the Middle Ages: IHESUS), of a cross over the H, and of three nails under it. See also the ownership inscription on the bottom of this page. Did the new owner inherit the book from Simon Peter in 1679?






Our book is the first German translation of Francesco Sacchini's biography of the Jesuit father and theologian Peter Canisius (1521-1597): De vita et rebus gestis P. Petri Canisii, de Societate Jesu, commentarii (Ingolstadt: Elizabeth Angerman, 1616). It seems clear that the publication of Canisius' life was to a great extent designed to promote the case for his beatification, a process urged by the Society of Jesus shortly after his death in 1597. Both his writings and educational work reveal that Canisius was one of the most important Catholic reformers of the sixteenth century, being decisive in saving for the Church of Rome the Catholic Germany we know today (Braunsberger, 1913: 756-62).

Curiously, scholars of the history of reading have recently revived an interest in the author of this biography, Francesco Sacchini, not because of his extensive work on the history of the Society of Jesus and on the lives of famous Jesuits, but because of a treatise describing how to read books properly and profitably: De ratione libros cum projectu legendi libellus: deque vitanda moribus noxia lectione (Würzburg: Conradus Schwindtlauff, 1614) (Blair, 2003:11-28).

This blog entry was originally contributed by Pablo Alvarez, Curator of Rare Books at the University of Rochester from 2003 to 2010. 

Selected Bibliography

Blair, Ann. "Reading Strategies for Coping with Information Overload ca. 1550-1700." Journal of the History
of Ideas 
(64: 1, January 2003): 11-28.

Braunsberger, Otto. "Blessed Peter Canisius." The Catholic Encyclopedia. An International work of Reference 
on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church. 
Ed. Charles G. Herbermann et alii. 17 vols. Vol. 11. 756-62. New York: The Encyclopedia Press, Inc, 1913-1922.

Coppens, C. "The Prize is the Proof: Four Centuries of Prize Books." Eloquent Witnesses: Bookbindings
and their History: A Volume of Essays dedicated to the memory of Dr Phiroze Randeria. 
53-105. Ed. Mirjam M. Foot. London & New Castle, DE: The Bibliographical Society of London & Oak Knoll Press, 2004.