Incunabula and the Keio University Library Collection


Carolus Maneken, Formulae epistolarum ([Strasbourg]: [Martin Schott]; also recorded as:[Heidelberg: Heinrich Knoblochtzer], 8 Jan. 1490)

Formulae epistolarum

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The Formulae epistolarum is a manual written in Latin and detailing the 'art of letter writing' (ars dictaminis); the reader is encouraged to model his letters on those of Cicero (106-43 BCE) and of Aeneas Silvius (1405-64 BCE). The term 'ars dictaminis' refers to a genre of theoretical works concerned with the forms and composition of official letters, based on the rules of rhetoric formulated by Cicero. The genre originated at the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino in the late 15th century, and had become widespread throughout Europe by the end of the Middle Ages.

The author of this particular book, Carolus Maneken (c. 1419-93) – his name is recorded variously as Manneken, Menneken and Virulus, among others – was born in 1419, either in Ghent or in Kassel. By 1437 he was already a regent of the Collège du Lys (the first of the four colleges making up the Faculty of Arts). Later he became a professor at the University of Louvain; around that time he published the first edition of the Formulae epistolarum in Louvain, from the printing press of Johan Veldener.

This book, based on the tradition of the 'ars dictaminis', covers various situations in which a written letter might be needed, and details points that the writer needs to bear in mind, such as the status of the recipient and his/her relationship with the writer. The manual provides instructions on how to construct a letter according to each circumstance; for instance, on fol. 11r of the Keio copy it shows how a son should ask his father for money.

After the first edition of 1476, the book was mostly printed in the Rhineland, but it was also produced as far away as Lyons and Leipzig. There are more than forty-six editions surviving from the 15th century alone, which demonstrates the great success of this book. It was last printed in 1520, by which time it had come in for criticism from the new generation of humanists, such as Erasmus.

  James J. Murphy, Medieval Rhetoric: A Select Bibliography (Toronto: University Toronto Press, 1971)
  Le cinquième centenaire de l'imprimerie dans les anciens pays-bas: catalogue, exposition a la bibliothèque royale albert 1er (Bruxelles: Bibliotheque Royale Albert 1er, 1973)

The present writer is grateful to John Goldfinch, Yuichi Akae and Jonathan Reilly for supplying useful information relating to this work.



Maneken, Carolus
Place of Publication
[Martin Schott]; also recorded as: [Heidelberg: Heinrich Knoblochtzer]


Date of Publication

Contemporary German quarter calf over wooden boards with blind-stamped leather back, original manuscript title label on upper cover, spine missing.

Bibliographical Notes

π6 a8 b-c6 d8 e-f6 g8 h-I6 k-m8; 89 leaves (of 90), wanting the first page; paraph marks and lines supplied in red.

Goff M184, HC 10674*
Acquisition Year

Nicholaus Ellenbog 1494 (signature; inside the front and back covers).