Theorizing Copiousness



Shinn A & Vine A (2014) Theorizing Copiousness. Renaissance Studies, 28 (2), pp. 167-182.

First paragraph: In an oft-cited passage from Book 1 of Of the proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605) Francis Bacon outlines what he calls the ‘three vanities in Studies, whereby learning hath been most traduced': ‘fantastical learning', ‘contentious learning', and ‘delicate learning, vaine Imaginations, vaine Altercations, & vaine affectations'. It is the last of these ‘vanities' that concerns the subject of this special issue, copiousness in early modern writing, as Bacon identifies ‘delicate learning' and ‘vaine affectations' with what he sees as the increasing trend towards privileging copy over copia, a growing preference for loquacity over true eloquence. He traces this to four causes, all of which are admirable in themselves, and all of which he sees as important elements in the necessary reform of scholastic learning: ‘the admiration of ancient Authors', ‘the hate of the School-men', ‘the exact studie of Languages', and ‘the efficacie of Preaching'. Initially, he argues, these causes brought in ‘an affectionate studie of eloquence, and copie of speech, which then began to flourish', but soon they led to a ‘distemper': [...]men began to hunt more after wordes, than matter, and more after the choisenesse of the Phrase, and the round and cleane composition of the sentence, and the sweet falling of the clauses, and the varying and illustration of their workes with tropes and figures: then after the weight of matter, worth of subiect, soundnesse of argument, life of inuention, or depth of iudgement.1 As examples, he points first to ‘the flowing and watrie vaine' of Jerónimo Osorio da Fonseca, the Ciceronian Bishop of Silves, whose works were well known in England, primarily through Roger Ascham's presentation of copies of them to various members of the court, and then to the ‘infinite, and curious paines' that the humanist schoolmaster Johannes Sturm devoted to Cicero in both his own works and the curriculum that he drew up for his school at Strasbourg.2 For Bacon, both Osorio and Sturm typify the age's focus on ‘copie' rather than ‘weight', and thus exemplify the first of the distempers that his treatise seeks to reform: ‘when men studie words, and not matter'.

Renaissance Studies: Volume 28, Issue 2

Publication date30/04/2014
PublisherWiley-Blackwell for the Society for Renaissance Studies

People (1)


Dr Angus Vine
Dr Angus Vine

Associate Professor, English Studies