Acta Comeniana 33:9-26 (2019)

This article provides an introduction to the history of the familiar letter along with a case study of Johannes Sambucus’s correspondence. It compares the Latin to the vernacular familiar letter in the sixteenth century, stressing their paral-lel development and mutual influence and the difficulties of achieving the level of privacy, naturalness, spontaneity and directness that was typically expected of a “conversation halved”, i.e. the familiar letter. Although in theory the use of the vernacular enabled the letter writer to be more playful and spontaneous, in reality, learned correspondence remained self-reflective and the feel of spontaneity had to be reinvented both in Latin and the vernacular. The great advantage of Latin over vernacular letters – and this is the main thesis of this article – was their increased potential for networking, especially when it came to connecting men of different social standing on the basis of collegiality and in the name of meritocratic values. As his correspondence makes abundantly clear, Sambucus was a master at addressing social or intellectual superiors within these terms. His letters created and maintained an ethos of equality – founded on shared cul-ture and learned interests – which was the fundamental fuel that kept the Republic of Letters alive. © 2019, Czech Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
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