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Title: Erasmus and the Age of Reformation
Author: Huizinga, Johan, 1872-1945
Language: English
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_with a selection from the letters of Erasmus_

HARPER TORCHBOOKS / The Cloister Library



[Illustration: WOODCUT BY HANS HOLBEIN. 1535]


_Printed in the United States of America_

Huizinga's text was translated from the Dutch by F. Hopman and first
published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1924. The section from the
Letters of Erasmus was translated by Barbara Flower.

Reprinted by arrangement with Phaidon Press, Ltd., London

Originally published under the title: "Erasmus of Rotterdam"

First HARPER TORCHBOOK edition published 1957

Library of Congress catalogue card number 57-10119


_Preface by G. N. Clark_ xi



   II IN THE MONASTERY, 1488-95 10


   IV FIRST STAY IN ENGLAND, 1499-1500 29




 VIII IN ITALY, 1506-9 62


    X THIRD STAY IN ENGLAND, 1509-14 79

   XI A LIGHT OF THEOLOGY, 1514-16 87


 XIII ERASMUS'S MIND (_continued_) 109


   XV AT LOUVAIN, 1517-18 130








_List of Illustrations_ 257

_Index of Names_ 263


_by G.N. Clark, Provost of Oriel College, Oxford_

Rather more than twenty years ago, on a spring morning of alternate
cloud and sunshine, I acted as guide to Johan Huizinga, the author of
this book, when he was on a visit to Oxford. As it was not his first
stay in the city, and he knew the principal buildings already, we looked
at some of the less famous. Even with a man who was well known all over
the world as a writer, I expected that these two or three hours would be
much like the others I had spent in the same capacity with other
visitors; but this proved to be a day to remember. He understood the
purposes of these ancient buildings, the intentions of their founders
and builders; but that was to be expected from an historian who had
written upon the history of universities and learning. What surprised
and delighted me was his seeing eye. He told me which of the decorative
_motifs_ on the Tower of the Four Orders were usual at the time when it
was built, and which were less common. At All Souls he pointed out the
seldom appreciated merits of Hawksmoor's twin towers. His eye was not
merely informed but sensitive. I remembered that I had heard of his
talent for drawing, and as we walked and talked I felt the influence of
a strong, quiet personality deep down in which an artist's
perceptiveness was fused with a determination to search for historical

Huizinga's great success and reputation came suddenly when he was over
forty. Until that time his powers were ripening, not so much slowly as
secretly. His friends knew that he was unique, but neither he nor they
foresaw what direction his studies would take. He was born in 1872 in
Groningen, the most northerly of the chief towns of the Netherlands, and
there he went to school and to the University. He studied Dutch history
and literature and also Oriental languages and mythology and sociology;
he was a good linguist and he steadily accumulated great learning, but
he was neither an infant prodigy nor a universal scholar. Science and
current affairs scarcely interested him, and until his maturity
imagination seemed to satisfy him more than research. Until he was over
thirty he was a schoolmaster at Haarlem, a teacher of history; but it
was still uncertain whether European or Oriental studies would claim him
in the end. For two or three years before giving up school-teaching he
lectured in the University of Amsterdam on Sanskrit, and it was almost
an accident that he became professor of history in the University of his
native town. All through his life it was characteristic of him that
after a spell of creative work, when he had finished a book, he would
turn aside from the subject that had absorbed him and plunge into some
other subject or period, so that the books and articles in the eight
volumes of his collected works (with one more volume still to come)
cover a very wide range. As time went on he examined aspects of history
which at first he had passed over, and he acquired a clear insight into
the political and economic life of the past. It has been well said of
him that he never became either a pedant or a doctrinaire. During the
ten years that he spent as professor at Groningen, he found himself. He
was happily married, with a growing family, and the many elements of his
mind drew together into a unity. His sensitiveness to style and beauty
came to terms with his conscientious scholarship. He was rooted in the
traditional freedoms of his national and academic environment, but his
curiosity, like the historical adventures of his people and his
profession, was not limited by time or space or prejudice. He came more
and more definitely to find his central theme in civilization as a
realized ideal, something that men have created in an endless variety of
forms, but always in order to raise the level of their lives.

While this interior fulfilment was bringing Huizinga to his best, the
world about him changed completely. In 1914, Holland became a neutral
country surrounded by nations at war. In 1914, also, his wife died, and
it was as a lonely widower that he was appointed in the next year to the
chair of general history at Leyden, which he was to hold for the rest of
his academic life. Yet the year after the end of the war saw the
publication of his masterpiece, the book which gave him his high place
among historical writers and was translated as _The Waning of the Middle
Ages_. This is a study of the forms of life and thought in France and
the Netherlands in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the last
phase of one of the great European eras of civilization. In England,
where the Middle Ages had been idealized for generations, some of its
leading thoughts did not seem so novel as they did in Holland, where
many people regarded the Renaissance and more still regarded the
Reformation as a new beginning of a better world; but in England and
America, which had been drawn, unlike Holland, into the vortex of war,
it had the poignancy of a recall to the standards of reasonableness. It
will long maintain its place as a historical book and as a work of

The shorter book on Erasmus is a companion to this great work. It was
first published in 1924 and so belongs to the same best period of the
author. Its subject is the central intellectual figure of the next
generation after the period which Huizinga called the waning, or rather
the autumn, of the Middle Ages; but Erasmus was also, as will appear
from many of its pages, a man for whom he had a very special sympathy.
Something of what he wrote about Erasmus might also have been written
about himself, or at least about his own response to the transformation
of the world that he had known.

This is not the place for an analysis of that questioning and
illuminating response, nor for a considered estimate of Huizinga's work
as a whole; but there is room for a word about his last years. He was
recognized as one of the intellectual leaders of his country, and a
second marriage in 1937 brought back his private happiness; but the
shadows were darkening over the western world. From the time when
national socialism began to reveal itself in Germany, he took his stand
against it with perfect simplicity and calm. After the invasion of
Holland he addressed these memorable words to some of his colleagues:
'When it comes, as it soon will, to defending our University and the
freedom of science and learning in the Netherlands, we must be ready to
give everything for that: our possessions, our freedom, and even our
lives'. The Germans closed the University. For a time they held Johan
Huizinga, now an old man and in failing health, as a hostage; then they
banished him to open arrest in a remote parish in the eastern part of
the country. Even in these conditions he still wrote, and wrote well. In
the last winter of the war the liberating armies approached and he
suffered the hardships of the civilian population in a theatre of war;
but his spirit was unbroken. He died on 1 February 1945, a few weeks
before his country was set free.


Oriel College, Oxford

April 1952


_and the Age of Reformation_




    The Low Countries in the fifteenth century--The Burgundian
    power--Connections with the German Empire and with France--The
    northern Netherlands outskirts in every sense--Movement of
    _Devotio moderna_: brethren of the Common Life and Windesheim
    monasteries--Erasmus's birth: 1466--His relations and name--At
    school at Gouda, Deventer and Bois-le-Duc--He takes the vows:
    probably in 1488

When Erasmus was born Holland had for about twenty years formed part of
the territory which the dukes of Burgundy had succeeded in uniting under
their dominion--that complexity of lands, half French in population,
like Burgundy, Artois, Hainault, Namur; half Dutch like Flanders,
Brabant, Zealand, Holland. The appellation 'Holland' was, as yet,
strictly limited to the county of that name (the present provinces of
North and South Holland), with which Zealand, too, had long since been
united. The remaining territories which, together with those last
mentioned, make up the present kingdom of the Netherlands, had not yet
been brought under Burgundian dominion, although the dukes had cast
their eyes on them. In the bishopric of Utrecht, whose power extended to
the regions on the far side of the river Ysel, Burgundian influence had
already begun to make itself manifest. The projected conquest of
Friesland was a political inheritance of the counts of Holland, who
preceded the Burgundians. The duchy of Guelders, alone, still preserved
its independence inviolate, being more closely connected with the
neighbouring German territories, and consequently with the Empire

All these lands--about this time they began to be regarded collectively
under the name of 'Low Countries by the Sea'--had in most respects the
character of outskirts. The authority of the German emperors had for
some centuries been little more than imaginary. Holland and Zealand
hardly shared the dawning sense of a national German union. They had too
long looked to France in matters political. Since 1299 a French-speaking
dynasty, that of Hainault, had ruled Holland. Even the house of Bavaria
that succeeded it about the middle of the fourteenth century had not
restored closer contact with the Empire, but had itself, on the
contrary, early become Gallicized, attracted as it was by Paris and soon
twined about by the tentacles of Burgundy to which it became linked by
means of a double marriage.

The northern half of the Low Countries were 'outskirts' also in
ecclesiastical and cultural matters. Brought over rather late to the
cause of Christianity (the end of the eighth century), they had, as
borderlands, remained united under a single bishop: the bishop of
Utrecht. The meshes of ecclesiastical organization were wider here than
elsewhere. They had no university. Paris remained, even after the
designing policy of the Burgundian dukes had founded the university of
Louvain in 1425, the centre of doctrine and science for the northern
Netherlands. From the point of view of the wealthy towns of Flanders and
Brabant, now the heart of the Burgundian possessions, Holland and
Zealand formed a wretched little country of boatmen and peasants.
Chivalry, which the dukes of Burgundy attempted to invest with new
splendour, had but moderately thrived among the nobles of Holland. The
Dutch had not enriched courtly literature, in which Flanders and Brabant
zealously strove to follow the French example, by any contribution worth

Whatever was coming up in Holland flowered unseen; it was not of a sort
to attract the attention of Christendom. It was a brisk navigation and
trade, mostly transit trade, by which the Hollanders already began to
emulate the German Hansa, and which brought them into continual contact
with France and Spain, England and Scotland, Scandinavia, North Germany
and the Rhine from Cologne upward. It was herring fishery, a humble
trade, but the source of great prosperity--a rising industry, shared by
a number of small towns.

Not one of those towns in Holland and Zealand, neither Dordrecht nor
Leyden, Haarlem, Middelburg, Amsterdam, could compare with Ghent,
Bruges, Lille, Antwerp or Brussels in the south. It is true that in the
towns of Holland also the highest products of the human mind germinated,
but those towns themselves were still too small and too poor to be
centres of art and science. The most eminent men were irresistibly drawn
to one of the great foci of secular and ecclesiastical culture. Sluter,
the great sculptor, went to Burgundy, took service with the dukes, and
bequeathed no specimen of his art to the land of his birth. Dirk Bouts,
the artist of Haarlem, removed to Louvain, where his best work is
preserved; what was left at Haarlem has perished. At Haarlem, too, and
earlier, perhaps, than anywhere else, obscure experiments were being
made in that great art, craving to be brought forth, which was to change
the world: the art of printing.

There was yet another characteristic spiritual phenomenon, which
originated here and gave its peculiar stamp to life in these countries.
It was a movement designed to give depth and fervour to religious life;
started by a burgher of Deventer, Geert Groote, toward the end of the
fourteenth century. It had embodied itself in two closely connected
forms--the fraterhouses, where the brethren of the Common Life lived
together without altogether separating from the world, and the
congregation of the monastery of Windesheim, of the order of the regular
Augustinian canons. Originating in the regions on the banks of the Ysel,
between the two small towns of Deventer and Zwolle, and so on the
outskirts of the diocese of Utrecht, this movement soon spread, eastward
to Westphalia, northward to Groningen and the Frisian country, westward
to Holland proper. Fraterhouses were erected everywhere and monasteries
of the Windesheim congregation were established or affiliated. The
movement was spoken of as 'modern devotion', _devotio moderna_. It was
rather a matter of sentiment and practice than of definite doctrine. The
truly Catholic character of the movement had early been acknowledged by
the church authorities. Sincerity and modesty, simplicity and industry,
and, above all, constant ardour of religious emotion and thought, were
its objects. Its energies were devoted to tending the sick and other
works of charity, but especially to instruction and the art of writing.
It is in this that it especially differed from the revival of the
Franciscan and Dominican orders of about the same time, which turned to
preaching. The Windesheimians and the Hieronymians (as the brethren of
the Common Life were also called) exerted their crowning activities in
the seclusion of the schoolroom and the silence of the writing cell. The
schools of the brethren soon drew pupils from a wide area. In this way
the foundations were laid, both here in the northern Netherlands and in
lower Germany, for a generally diffused culture among the middle
classes; a culture of a very narrow, strictly ecclesiastical nature,
indeed, but which for that very reason was fit to permeate broad layers
of the people.

What the Windesheimians themselves produced in the way of devotional
literature is chiefly limited to edifying booklets and biographies of
their own members; writings which were distinguished rather by their
pious tenor and sincerity than by daring or novel thoughts.

But of them all, the greatest was that immortal work of Thomas à Kempis,
Canon of Saint Agnietenberg, near Zwolle, the _Imitatio Christi_.

Foreigners visiting these regions north of the Scheldt and the Meuse
laughed at the rude manners and the deep drinking of the inhabitants,
but they also mentioned their sincere piety. These countries were
already, what they have ever remained, somewhat contemplative and
self-contained, better adapted for speculating on the world and for
reproving it than for astonishing it with dazzling wit.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rotterdam and Gouda, situated upward of twelve miles apart in the lowest
region of Holland, an extremely watery region, were not among the first
towns of the county. They were small country towns, ranking after
Dordrecht, Haarlem, Leyden, and rapidly rising Amsterdam. They were not
centres of culture. Erasmus was born at Rotterdam on 27 October, most
probably in the year 1466. The illegitimacy of his birth has thrown a
veil of mystery over his descent and kinship. It is possible that
Erasmus himself learned the circumstances of his coming into the world
only in his later years. Acutely sensitive to the taint in his origin,
he did more to veil the secret than to reveal it. The picture which he
painted of it in his ripe age was romantic and pathetic. He imagined
that his father when a young man made love to a girl, a physician's
daughter, in the hope of marrying her. The parents and brothers of the
young fellow, indignant, tried to persuade him to take holy orders. The
young man fled before the child was born. He went to Rome and made a
living by copying. His relations sent him false tidings that his beloved
had died; out of grief he became a priest and devoted himself to
religion altogether. Returned to his native country he discovered the
deceit. He abstained from all contact with her whom he now could no
longer marry, but took great pains to give his son a liberal education.
The mother continued to care for the child, till an early death took her
from him. The father soon followed her to the grave. To Erasmus's
recollection he was only twelve or thirteen years old when his mother
died. It seems to be practically certain that her death did not occur
before 1483, when, therefore, he was already seventeen years old. His
sense of chronology was always remarkably ill developed.

Unfortunately it is beyond doubt that Erasmus himself knew, or had
known, that not all particulars of this version were correct. In all
probability his father was already a priest at the time of the
relationship to which he owed his life; in any case it was not the
impatience of a betrothed couple, but an irregular alliance of long
standing, of which a brother, Peter, had been born three years before.

We can only vaguely discern the outlines of a numerous and commonplace
middle-class family. The father had nine brothers, who were all married.
The grandparents on his father's side and the uncles on his mother's
side attained to a very great age. It is strange that a host of
cousins--their progeny--has not boasted of a family connection with the
great Erasmus. Their descendants have not even been traced. What were
their names? The fact that in burgher circles family names had, as yet,
become anything but fixed, makes it difficult to trace Erasmus's
kinsmen. Usually people were called by their own and their father's
name; but it also happened that the father's name became fixed and
adhered to the following generation. Erasmus calls his father Gerard,
his brother Peter Gerard, while a papal letter styles Erasmus himself
Erasmus Rogerii. Possibly the father was called Roger Gerard or Gerards.

Although Erasmus and his brother were born at Rotterdam, there is much
that points to the fact that his father's kin did not belong there, but
at Gouda. At any rate they had near relatives at Gouda.

Erasmus was his Christian name. There is nothing strange in the choice,
although it was rather unusual. St. Erasmus was one of the fourteen Holy
Martyrs, whose worship so much engrossed the attention of the multitude
in the fifteenth century. Perhaps the popular belief that the
intercession of St. Erasmus conferred wealth, had some weight in
choosing the name. Up to the time when he became better acquainted with
Greek, he used the form Herasmus. Later on he regretted that he had not
also given that name the more correct and melodious form Erasmius. On a
few occasions he half jocularly called himself so, and his godchild,
Johannes Froben's son, always used this form.

It was probably for similar aesthetic considerations that he soon
altered the barbaric Rotterdammensis to Roterdamus, later Roterodamus,
which he perhaps accentuated as a proparoxytone. Desiderius was an
addition selected by himself, which he first used in 1496; it is
possible that the study of his favourite author Jerome, among whose
correspondents there is a Desiderius, suggested the name to him. When,
therefore, the full form, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, first appears,
in the second edition of the _Adagia_, published by Josse Badius at
Paris in 1506, it is an indication that Erasmus, then forty years of
age, had found himself.

Circumstances had not made it easy for him to find his way. Almost in
his infancy, when hardly four years old, he thinks, he had been put to
school at Gouda, together with his brother. He was nine years old when
his father sent him to Deventer to continue his studies in the famous
school of the chapter of St. Lebuin. His mother accompanied him. His
stay at Deventer must have lasted, with an interval during which he was
a choir boy in the minster at Utrecht, from 1475 to 1484. Erasmus's
explicit declaration that he was fourteen years old when he left
Deventer may be explained by assuming that in later years he confused
his temporary absence from Deventer (when at Utrecht) with the definite
end of his stay at Deventer. Reminiscences of his life there repeatedly
crop up in Erasmus's writings. Those concerning the teaching he got
inspired him with little gratitude; the school was still barbaric, then,
he said; ancient medieval text-books were used there of whose silliness
and cumbrousness we can hardly conceive. Some of the masters were of the
brotherhood of the Common Life. One of them, Johannes Synthen, brought
to his task a certain degree of understanding of classic antiquity in
its purer form. Toward the end of Erasmus's residence Alexander Hegius
was placed at the head of the school, a friend of the Frisian humanist,
Rudolf Agricola, who on his return from Italy was gaped at by his
compatriots as a prodigy. On festal days, when the rector made his
oration before all the pupils, Erasmus heard Hegius; on one single
occasion he listened to the celebrated Agricola himself, which left a
deep impression on his mind.

His mother's death of the plague that ravaged the town brought Erasmus's
school-time at Deventer to a sudden close. His father called him and his
brother back to Gouda, only to die himself soon afterwards. He must have
been a man of culture. For he knew Greek, had heard the famous humanists
in Italy, had copied classic authors and left a library of some value.

Erasmus and his brother were now under the protection of three guardians
whose care and intentions he afterwards placed in an unfavourable light.
How far he exaggerated their treatment of him it is difficult to decide.
That the guardians, among whom one Peter Winckel, schoolmaster at Gouda,
occupied the principal place, had little sympathy with the new
classicism, about which their ward already felt enthusiastic, need not
be doubted. 'If you should write again so elegantly, please to add a
commentary', the schoolmaster replied grumblingly to an epistle on which
Erasmus, then fourteen years old, had expended much care. That the
guardians sincerely considered it a work pleasing to God to persuade the
youths to enter a monastery can no more be doubted than that this was
for them the easiest way to get rid of their task. For Erasmus this
pitiful business assumes the colour of a grossly selfish attempt to
cloak dishonest administration; an altogether reprehensible abuse of
power and authority. More than this: in later years it obscured for him
the image of his own brother, with whom he had been on terms of cordial

Winckel sent the two young fellows, twenty-one and eighteen years old,
to school again, this time at Bois-le-Duc. There they lived in the
Fraterhouse itself, to which the school was attached. There was nothing
here of the glory that had shone about Deventer. The brethren, says
Erasmus, knew of no other purpose than that of destroying all natural
gifts, with blows, reprimands and severity, in order to fit the soul for
the monastery. This, he thought, was just what his guardians were aiming
at; although ripe for the university they were deliberately kept away
from it. In this way more than two years were wasted.

One of his two masters, one Rombout, who liked young Erasmus, tried hard
to prevail on him to join the brethren of the Common Life. In later
years Erasmus occasionally regretted that he had not yielded; for the
brethren took no such irrevocable vows as were now in store for him.

An epidemic of the plague became the occasion for the brothers to leave
Bois-le-Duc and return to Gouda. Erasmus was attacked by a fever that
sapped his power of resistance, of which he now stood in such need. The
guardians (one of the three had died in the meantime) now did their
utmost to make the two young men enter a monastery. They had good cause
for it, as they had ill administered the slender fortune of their wards,
and, says Erasmus, refused to render an account. Later he saw everything
connected with this dark period of his life in the most gloomy
colours--except himself. Himself he sees as a boy of not yet sixteen
years (it is nearly certain that he must have been twenty already)
weakened by fever, but nevertheless resolute and sensible in refusing.
He has persuaded his brother to fly with him and to go to a university.
The one guardian is a narrow-minded tyrant, the other, Winckel's
brother, a merchant, a frivolous coaxer. Peter, the elder of the youths,
yields first and enters the monastery of Sion, near Delft (of the order
of the regular Augustinian canons), where the guardian had found a place
for him. Erasmus resisted longer. Only after a visit to the monastery of
Steyn or Emmaus, near Gouda, belonging to the same order, where he found
a schoolfellow from Deventer, who pointed out the bright side of
monastic life, did Erasmus yield and enter Steyn, where soon after,
probably in 1488, he took the vows.




    Erasmus as an Augustinian canon at Steyn--His friends--Letters
    to Servatius--Humanism in the monasteries: Latin poetry--
    Aversion to cloister-life--He leaves Steyn to enter the
    service of the Bishop of Cambray: 1493--James Batt--
    _Antibarbari_--He gets leave to study at Paris: 1495

In his later life--under the influence of the gnawing regret which his
monkhood and all the trouble he took to escape from it caused him--the
picture of all the events leading up to his entering the convent became
distorted in his mind. Brother Peter, to whom he still wrote in a
cordial vein from Steyn, became a worthless fellow, even his evil
spirit, a Judas. The schoolfellow whose advice had been decisive now
appeared a traitor, prompted by self-interest, who himself had chosen
convent-life merely out of laziness and the love of good cheer.

The letters that Erasmus wrote from Steyn betray no vestige of his
deep-seated aversion to monastic life, which afterwards he asks us to
believe he had felt from the outset. We may, of course, assume that the
supervision of his superiors prevented him from writing all that was in
his heart, and that in the depths of his being there had always existed
the craving for freedom and for more civilized intercourse than Steyn
could offer. Still he must have found in the monastery some of the good
things that his schoolfellow had led him to expect. That at this period
he should have written a 'Praise of Monastic Life', 'to please a friend
who wanted to decoy a cousin', as he himself says, is one of those naïve
assertions, invented afterwards, of which Erasmus never saw the
unreasonable quality.

He found at Steyn a fair degree of freedom, some food for an intellect
craving for classic antiquity, and friendships with men of the same turn
of mind. There were three who especially attracted him. Of the
schoolfellow who had induced him to become a monk, we hear no more. His
friends are Servatius Roger of Rotterdam and William Hermans of Gouda,
both his companions at Steyn, and the older Cornelius Gerard of Gouda,
usually called Aurelius (a quasi-latinization of Goudanus), who spent
most of his time in the monastery of Lopsen, near Leyden. With them he
read and conversed sociably and jestingly; with them he exchanged
letters when they were not together.

Out of the letters to Servatius there rises the picture of an Erasmus
whom we shall never find again--a young man of more than feminine
sensitiveness; of a languishing need for sentimental friendship. In
writing to Servatius, Erasmus runs the whole gamut of an ardent lover.
As often as the image of his friend presents itself to his mind tears
break from his eyes. Weeping he re-reads his friend's letter every hour.
But he is mortally dejected and anxious, for the friend proves averse to
this excessive attachment. 'What do you want from me?' he asks. 'What is
wrong with you?' the other replies. Erasmus cannot bear to find that
this friendship is not fully returned. 'Do not be so reserved; do tell
me what is wrong! I repose my hope in you alone; I have become yours so
completely that you have left me naught of myself. You know my
pusillanimity, which when it has no one on whom to lean and rest, makes
me so desperate that life becomes a burden.'

Let us remember this. Erasmus never again expresses himself so
passionately. He has given us here the clue by which we may understand
much of what he becomes in his later years.

These letters have sometimes been taken as mere literary exercises; the
weakness they betray and the complete absence of all reticence, seem to
tally ill with his habit of cloaking his most intimate feelings which,
afterwards, Erasmus never quite relinquishes. Dr. Allen, who leaves this
question undecided, nevertheless inclines to regard the letters as
sincere effusions, and to me they seem so, incontestably. This exuberant
friendship accords quite well with the times and the person.

Sentimental friendships were as much in vogue in secular circles during
the fifteenth century as towards the end of the eighteenth century. Each
court had its pairs of friends, who dressed alike, and shared room, bed,
and heart. Nor was this cult of fervent friendship restricted to the
sphere of aristocratic life. It was among the specific characteristics
of the _devotio moderna_, as, for the rest, it seems from its very
nature to be inseparably bound up with pietism. To observe one another
with sympathy, to watch and note each other's inner life, was a
customary and approved occupation among the brethren of the Common Life
and the Windesheim monks. And though Steyn and Sion were not of the
Windesheim congregation, the spirit of the _devotio moderna_ was
prevalent there.

As for Erasmus himself, he has rarely revealed the foundation of his
character more completely than when he declared to Servatius: 'My mind
is such that I think nothing can rank higher than friendship in this
life, nothing should be desired more ardently, nothing should be
treasured more jealously'. A violent affection of a similar nature
troubled him even at a later date when the purity of his motives was
questioned. Afterwards he speaks of youth as being used to conceive a
fervent affection for certain comrades. Moreover, the classic examples
of friends, Orestes and Pylades, Damon and Pythias, Theseus and
Pirithous, as also David and Jonathan, were ever present before his
mind's eye. A young and very tender heart, marked by many feminine
traits, replete with all the sentiment and with all the imaginings of
classic literature, who was debarred from love and found himself placed
against his wish in a coarse and frigid environment, was likely to
become somewhat excessive in his affections.

He was obliged to moderate them. Servatius would have none of so jealous
and exacting a friendship and, probably at the cost of more humiliation
and shame than appears in his letters, young Erasmus resigns himself, to
be more guarded in expressing his feelings in the future. The
sentimental Erasmus disappears for good and presently makes room for the
witty latinist, who surpasses his older friends, and chats with them
about poetry and literature, advises them about their Latin style, and
lectures them if necessary.

The opportunities for acquiring the new taste for classic antiquity
cannot have been so scanty at Deventer, and in the monastery itself, as
Erasmus afterwards would have us believe, considering the authors he
already knew at this time. We may conjecture, also, that the books left
by his father, possibly brought by him from Italy, contributed to
Erasmus's culture, though it would be strange that, prone as he was to
disparage his schools and his monastery, he should not have mentioned
the fact. Moreover, we know that the humanistic knowledge of his youth
was not exclusively his own, in spite of all he afterwards said about
Dutch ignorance and obscurantism. Cornelius Aurelius and William Hermans
likewise possessed it.

In a letter to Cornelius he mentions the following authors as his poetic
models--Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Juvenal, Statius, Martial, Claudian,
Persius, Lucan, Tibullus, Propertius. In prose he imitates Cicero,
Quintilian, Sallust, and Terence, whose metrical character had not yet
been recognized. Among Italian humanists he was especially acquainted
with Lorenzo Valla, who on account of his _Elegantiae_ passed with him
for the pioneer of _bonae literae_; but Filelfo, Aeneas Sylvius,
Guarino, Poggio, and others, were also not unknown to him. In
ecclesiastical literature he was particularly well read in Jerome. It
remains remarkable that the education which Erasmus received in the
schools of the _devotio moderna_ with their ultra-puritanical object,
their rigid discipline intent on breaking the personality, could produce
such a mind as he manifests in his monastic period--the mind of an
accomplished humanist. He is only interested in writing Latin verses and
in the purity of his Latin style. We look almost in vain for piety in
the correspondence with Cornelius of Gouda and William Hermans. They
manipulate with ease the most difficult Latin metres and the rarest
terms of mythology. Their subject-matter is bucolic or amatory, and, if
devotional, their classicism deprives it of the accent of piety. The
prior of the neighbouring monastery of Hem, at whose request Erasmus
sang the Archangel Michael, did not dare to paste up his Sapphic ode: it
was so 'poetic', he thought, as to seem almost Greek. In those days
poetic meant classic. Erasmus himself thought he had made it so bald
that it was nearly prose--'the times were so barren, then', he
afterwards sighed.

These young poets felt themselves the guardians of a new light amidst
the dullness and barbarism which oppressed them. They readily believed
each other's productions to be immortal, as every band of youthful poets
does, and dreamt of a future of poetic glory for Steyn by which it would
vie with Mantua. Their environment of clownish, narrow-minded
conventional divines--for as such they saw them--neither acknowledged
nor encouraged them. Erasmus's strong propensity to fancy himself
menaced and injured tinged this position with the martyrdom of oppressed
talent. To Cornelius he complains in fine Horatian measure of the
contempt in which poetry was held; his fellow-monk orders him to let his
pen, accustomed to writing poetry, rest. Consuming envy forces him to
give up making verses. A horrid barbarism prevails, the country laughs
at the laurel-bringing art of high-seated Apollo; the coarse peasant
orders the learned poet to write verses. 'Though I had mouths as many as
the stars that twinkle in the silent firmament on quiet nights, or as
many as the roses that the mild gale of spring strews on the ground, I
could not complain of all the evils by which the sacred art of poetry is
oppressed in these days. I am tired of writing poetry.' Of this effusion
Cornelius made a dialogue which highly pleased Erasmus.

Though in this art nine-tenths may be rhetorical fiction and sedulous
imitation, we ought not, on that account, to undervalue the enthusiasm
inspiring the young poets. Let us, who have mostly grown blunt to the
charms of Latin, not think too lightly of the elation felt by one who,
after learning this language out of the most absurd primers and
according to the most ridiculous methods, nevertheless discovered it in
its purity, and afterwards came to handle it in the charming rhythm of
some artful metre, in the glorious precision of its structure and in all
the melodiousness of its sound.

[Illustration: I. ERASMUS AT THE AGE OF 51]


  Nec si quot placidis ignea noctibus
  Scintillant tacito sydera culmine,
  Nec si quot tepidum flante Favonio
    Ver suffundit humo rosas,
  Tot sint ora mihi...

Was it strange that the youth who could say this felt himself a
poet?--or who, together with his friend, could sing of spring in a
Meliboean song of fifty distichs? Pedantic work, if you like, laboured
literary exercises, and yet full of the freshness and the vigour which
spring from the Latin itself.

Out of these moods was to come the first comprehensive work that Erasmus
was to undertake, the manuscript of which he was afterwards to lose, to
recover in part, and to publish only after many years--the
_Antibarbari_, which he commenced at Steyn, according to Dr. Allen. In
the version in which eventually the first book of the _Antibarbari_
appeared, it reflects, it is true, a somewhat later phase of Erasmus's
life, that which began after he had left the monastery; neither is the
comfortable tone of his witty defence of profane literature any longer
that of the poet at Steyn. But the ideal of a free and noble life of
friendly intercourse and the uninterrupted study of the Ancients had
already occurred to him within the convent walls.

In the course of years those walls probably hemmed him in more and more
closely. Neither learned and poetic correspondence nor the art of
painting with which he occupied himself,[1] together with one Sasboud,
could sweeten the oppression of monastic life and a narrow-minded,
unfriendly environment. Of the later period of his life in the
monastery, no letters at all have been preserved, according to Dr.
Allen's carefully considered dating. Had he dropped his correspondence
out of spleen, or had his superiors forbidden him to keep it up, or are
we merely left in the dark because of accidental loss? We know nothing
about the circumstances and the frame of mind in which Erasmus was
ordained on 25 April 1492, by the Bishop of Utrecht, David of Burgundy.
Perhaps his taking holy orders was connected with his design to leave
the monastery. He himself afterwards declared that he had but rarely
read mass. He got his chance to leave the monastery when offered the
post of secretary to the Bishop of Cambray, Henry of Bergen. Erasmus
owed this preferment to his fame as a Latinist and a man of letters; for
it was with a view to a journey to Rome, where the bishop hoped to
obtain a cardinal's hat, that Erasmus entered his service. The
authorization of the Bishop of Utrecht had been obtained, and also that
of the prior and the general of the order. Of course, there was no
question yet of taking leave for good, since, as the bishop's servant,
Erasmus continued to wear his canon's dress. He had prepared for his
departure in the deepest secrecy. There is something touching in the
glimpse we get of his friend and fellow-poet, William Hermans, waiting
in vain outside of Gouda to see his friend just for a moment, when on
his way south he would pass the town. It seems there had been
consultations between them as to leaving Steyn together, and Erasmus, on
his part, had left him ignorant of his plans. William had to console
himself with the literature that might be had at Steyn.

       *       *       *       *       *

Erasmus, then twenty-five years old--for in all probability the year
when he left the monastery was 1493--now set foot on the path of a
career that was very common and much coveted at that time: that of an
intellectual in the shadow of the great. His patron belonged to one of
the numerous Belgian noble families, which had risen in the service of
the Burgundians and were interestedly devoted to the prosperity of that
house. The Glimes were lords of the important town of Bergen-op-Zoom,
which, situated between the River Scheldt and the Meuse delta, was one
of the links between the northern and the southern Netherlands. Henry,
the Bishop of Cambray, had just been appointed chancellor of the Order
of the Golden Fleece, the most distinguished spiritual dignity at court,
which although now Habsburg in fact, was still named after Burgundy. The
service of such an important personage promised almost unbounded honour
and profit. Many a man would under the circumstances, at the cost of
some patience, some humiliation, and a certain laxity of principle, have
risen even to be a bishop. But Erasmus was never a man to make the most
of his situation.

Serving the bishop proved to be rather a disappointment. Erasmus had to
accompany him on his frequent migrations from one residence to another
in Bergen, Brussels, or Mechlin. He was very busy, but the exact nature
of his duties is unknown. The journey to Rome, the acme of things
desirable to every divine or student, did not come off. The bishop,
although taking a cordial interest in him for some months, was less
accommodating than he had expected. And so we shortly find Erasmus once
more in anything but a cheerful frame of mind. 'The hardest fate,' he
calls his own, which robs him of all his old sprightliness.
Opportunities to study he has none. He now envies his friend William,
who at Steyn in the little cell can write beautiful poetry, favoured by
his 'lucky stars'. It befits him, Erasmus, only to weep and sigh; it has
already so dulled his mind and withered his heart that his former
studies no longer appeal to him. There is rhetorical exaggeration in
this and we shall not take his pining for the monastery too seriously,
but still it is clear that deep dejection had mastered him. Contact with
the world of politics and ambition had probably unsettled Erasmus. He
never had any aptitude for it. The hard realities of life frightened and
distressed him. When forced to occupy himself with them he saw nothing
but bitterness and confusion about him. 'Where is gladness or repose?
Wherever I turn my eyes I only see disaster and harshness. And in such a
bustle and clamour about me you wish me to find leisure for the work of
the Muses?'

Real leisure Erasmus was never to find during his life. All his reading,
all his writing, he did hastily, _tumultuarie_, as he calls it
repeatedly. Yet he must nevertheless have worked with intensest
concentration and an incredible power of assimilation. Whilst staying
with the bishop he visited the monastery of Groenendael near Brussels,
where in former times Ruysbroeck wrote. Possibly Erasmus did not hear
the inmates speak of Ruysbroeck and he would certainly have taken little
pleasure in the writings of the great mystic. But in the library he
found the works of St. Augustine and these he devoured. The monks of
Groenendael were surprised at his diligence. He took the volumes with
him even to his bedroom.

He occasionally found time to compose at this period. At Halsteren, near
Bergen-op-Zoom, where the bishop had a country house, he revised the
_Antibarbari_, begun at Steyn, and elaborated it in the form of a
dialogue. It would seem as if he sought compensation for the agitation
of his existence in an atmosphere of idyllic repose and cultured
conversation. He conveys us to the scene (he will afterwards use it
repeatedly) which ever remained the ideal pleasure of life to him: a
garden or a garden house outside the town, where in the gladness of a
fine day a small number of friends meet to talk during a simple meal or
a quiet walk, in Platonic serenity, about things of the mind. The
personages whom he introduces, besides himself, are his best friends.
They are the valued and faithful friend whom he got to know at Bergen,
James Batt, schoolmaster and afterwards also clerk of that town, and his
old friend William Hermans of Steyn, whose literary future he continued
somewhat to promote. William, arriving unexpectedly from Holland, meets
the others, who are later joined by the Burgomaster of Bergen and the
town physician. In a lightly jesting, placid tone they engage in a
discussion about the appreciation of poetry and literature--Latin
literature. These are not incompatible with true devotion, as barbarous
dullness wants us to believe. A cloud of witnesses is there to prove it,
among them and above all St. Augustine, whom Erasmus had studied
recently, and St. Jerome, with whom Erasmus had been longer acquainted
and whose mind was, indeed, more congenial to him. Solemnly, in ancient
Roman guise, war is declared on the enemies of classic culture. O ye
Goths, by what right do you occupy, not only the Latin provinces (the
_disciplinae liberales_ are meant) but the capital, that is Latinity

It was Batt who, when his prospects with the Bishop of Cambray ended in
disappointment, helped to find a way out for Erasmus. He himself had
studied at Paris, and thither Erasmus also hoped to go, now that Rome
was denied him. The bishop's consent and the promise of a stipend were
obtained and Erasmus departed for the most famous of all universities,
that of Paris, probably in the late summer of 1495. Batt's influence and
efforts had procured him this lucky chance.


[1] Allen No. 16.12 cf. IV p. xx, and _vide_ LB. IV 756, where surveying
the years of his youth he also writes 'Pingere dum meditor tenueis sine
corpore formas'.




    The University of Paris--Traditions and schools of Philosophy
    and Theology--The College of Montaigu--Erasmus's dislike of
    scholasticism--Relations with the humanist, Robert Gaguin,
    1495--How to earn a living--First drafts of several of his
    educational works--Travelling to Holland and back--Batt and the
    Lady of Veere--To England with Lord Mountjoy: 1499

The University of Paris was, more than any other place in Christendom,
the scene of the collision and struggle of opinions and parties.
University life in the Middle Ages was in general tumultuous and
agitated. The forms of scientific intercourse themselves entailed an
element of irritability: never-ending disputations, frequent elections
and rowdyism of the students. To those were added old and new quarrels
of all sorts of orders, schools and groups. The different colleges
contended among themselves, the secular clergy were at variance with the
regular. The Thomists and the Scotists, together called the Ancients,
had been disputing at Paris for half a century with the Terminists, or
Moderns, the followers of Ockam and Buridan. In 1482 some sort of peace
was concluded between those two groups. Both schools were on their last
legs, stuck fast in sterile technical disputes, in systematizing and
subdividing, a method of terms and words by which science and philosophy
benefited no longer. The theological colleges of the Dominicans and
Franciscans at Paris were declining; theological teaching was taken over
by the secular colleges of Navarre and Sorbonne, but in the old style.

The general traditionalism had not prevented humanism from penetrating
Paris also during the last quarter of the fifteenth century. Refinement
of Latin style and the taste for classic poetry here, too, had their
fervent champions, just as revived Platonism, which had sprung up in
Italy. The Parisian humanists were partly Italians as Girolamo Balbi and
Fausto Andrelini, but at that time a Frenchman was considered to be
their leader, Robert Gaguin, general of the order of the Mathurins or
Trinitarians, diplomatist, French poet and humanist. Side by side with
the new Platonism a clearer understanding of Aristotle penetrated, which
had also come from Italy. Shortly before Erasmus's arrival Jacques
Lefèvre d'Étaples had returned from Italy, where he had visited the
Platonists, such as Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, and Ermolao
Barbaro, the reviver of Aristotle. Though theoretical theology and
philosophy generally were conservative at Paris, yet here as well as
elsewhere movements to reform the Church were not wanting. The authority
of Jean Gerson, the University's great chancellor (about 1400), had not
yet been forgotten. But reform by no means meant inclination to depart
from the doctrine of the Church; it aimed, in the first place, at
restoration and purification of the monastic orders and afterwards at
the extermination of abuses which the Church acknowledged and lamented
as existing within its fold. In that spirit of reformation of spiritual
life the Dutch movement of the _devotio moderna_ had recently begun to
make itself felt, also, at Paris. The chief of its promoters was John
Standonck of Mechlin, educated by the brethren of the Common Life at
Gouda and imbued with their spirit in its most rigorous form. He was an
ascetic more austere than the spirit of the Windesheimians, strict
indeed but yet moderate, required; far beyond ecclesiastical circles his
name was proverbial on account of his abstinence--he had definitely
denied himself the use of meat. As provisor of the college of Montaigu
he had instituted the most stringent rules there, enforced by
chastisement for the slightest faults. To the college he had annexed a
home for poor scholars, where they lived in a semi-monastic community.

To this man Erasmus had been recommended by the Bishop of Cambray.
Though he did not join the community of poor students--he was nearly
thirty years old--he came to know all the privations of the system. They
embittered the earlier part of his stay at Paris and instilled in him a
deep, permanent aversion to abstinence and austerity. Had he come to
Paris for this--to experience the dismal and depressing influences of
his youth anew in a more stringent form?

The purpose for which Erasmus went to Paris was chiefly to obtain the
degree of doctor of theology. This was not too difficult for him: as a
regular he was exempt from previous study in the faculty of arts, and
his learning and astonishing intelligence and energy enabled him to
prepare in a short time for the examinations and disputations required.
Yet he did not attain this object at Paris. His stay, which with
interruptions lasted, first till 1499, to be continued later, became to
him a period of difficulties and exasperations, of struggle to make his
way by all the humiliating means which at the time were indispensable to
that end; of dawning success, too, which, however, failed to gratify

The first cause of his reverses was a physical one; he could not endure
the hard life in the college of Montaigu. The addled eggs and squalid
bedrooms stuck in his memory all his life; there he thinks he contracted
the beginnings of his later infirmity. In the _Colloquia_ he has
commemorated with abhorrence Standonck's system of abstinence, privation
and chastisement. For the rest his stay there lasted only until the
spring of 1496.

Meanwhile he had begun his theological studies. He attended lectures on
the Bible and on the Book of the Sentences, the medieval handbook of
theology and still the one most frequently used. He was even allowed to
give some lessons in the college on Holy Scripture. He preached a few
sermons in honour of the Saints, probably in the neighbouring abbey of
St. Geneviève. But his heart was not in all this. The subtleties of the
schools could not please him. That aversion to all scholasticism, which
he rejected in one sweeping condemnation, struck root in his mind,
which, however broad, always judged unjustly that for which it had no
room. 'Those studies can make a man opinionated and contentious; can
they make him wise? They exhaust the mind by a certain jejune and barren
subtlety, without fertilizing or inspiring it. By their stammering and
by the stains of their impure style they disfigure theology which had
been enriched and adorned by the eloquence of the ancients. They involve
everything whilst trying to resolve everything.' 'Scotist', with
Erasmus, became a handy epithet for all schoolmen, nay, for everything
superannuated and antiquated. He would rather lose the whole of Scotus
than Cicero's or Plutarch's works. These he feels the better for
reading, whereas he rises from the study of scholasticism frigidly
disposed towards true virtue, but irritated into a disputatious mood.

It would, no doubt, have been difficult for Erasmus to find in the arid
traditionalism which prevailed in the University of Paris the heyday of
scholastic philosophy and theology. From the disputations which he heard
in the Sorbonne he brought back nothing but the habit of scoffing at
doctors of theology, or as he always ironically calls them by their
title of honour: _Magistri nostri_. Yawning, he sat among 'those holy
Scotists' with their wrinkled brows, staring eyes, and puzzled faces,
and on his return home he writes a disrespectful fantasy to his young
friend Thomas Grey, telling him how he sleeps the sleep of Epimenides
with the divines of the Sorbonne. Epimenides awoke after his forty-seven
years of slumber, but the majority of our present theologians will never
wake up. What may Epimenides have dreamt? What but subtleties of the
Scotists: quiddities, formalities, etc.! Epimenides himself was reborn
in Scotus, or rather, Epimenides was Scotus's prototype. For did not he,
too, write theological books, in which he tied such syllogistic knots as
he would never have been able to loosen? The Sorbonne preserves
Epimenides's skin written over with mysterious letters, as an oracle
which men may only see after having borne the title of _Magister noster_
for fifteen years.

It is not a far cry from caricatures like these to the _Sorbonistres_
and the _Barbouillamenta Scoti_ of Rabelais. 'It is said', thus Erasmus
concludes his _boutade_, 'that no one can understand the mysteries of
this science who has had the least intercourse with the Muses or the
Graces. All that you have learned in the way of _bonae literae_ has to
be unlearned first; if you have drunk of Helicon you must first vomit
the draught. I do my utmost to say nothing according to the Latin taste,
and nothing graceful or witty; and I am already making progress, and
there is hope that one day they will acknowledge Erasmus.'

It was not only the dryness of the method and the barrenness of the
system which revolted Erasmus. It was also the qualities of his own
mind, which, in spite of all its breadth and acuteness, did not tend to
penetrate deeply into philosophical or dogmatic speculations. For it was
not only scholasticism that repelled him; the youthful Platonism and the
rejuvenated Aristotelianism taught by Lefèvre d'Étaples also failed to
attract him. For the present he remained a humanist of aesthetic bias,
with the substratum of a biblical and moral disposition, resting mainly
on the study of his favourite Jerome. For a long time to come Erasmus
considered himself, and also introduced himself, as a poet and an
orator, by which latter term he meant what we call a man of letters.

Immediately on arriving at Paris he must have sought contact with the
headquarters of literary humanism. The obscure Dutch regular introduced
himself in a long letter (not preserved) full of eulogy, accompanied by
a much-laboured poem, to the general, not only of the Trinitarians but,
at the same time, of Parisian humanists, Robert Gaguin. The great man
answered very obligingly: 'From your lyrical specimen I conclude that
you are a scholar; my friendship is at your disposal; do not be so
profuse in your praise, that looks like flattery'. The correspondence
had hardly begun when Erasmus found a splendid opportunity to render
this illustrious personage a service and, at the same time, in the
shadow of his name, make himself known to the reading public. The matter
is also of importance because it affords us an opportunity, for the
first time, to notice the connection that is always found between
Erasmus's career as a man of letters and a scholar and the technical
conditions of the youthful art of printing.

Gaguin was an all-round man and his Latin text-book of the history of
France, _De origine et gestis Francorum Compendium_, was just being
printed. It was the first specimen of humanistic historiography in
France. The printer had finished his work on 30 September 1495, but of
the 136 leaves, two remained blank. This was not permissible according
to the notions of that time. Gaguin was ill and could not help matters.
By judicious spacing the compositor managed to fill up folio 135 with a
poem by Gaguin, the colophon and two panegyrics by Faustus Andrelinus
and another humanist. Even then there was need of matter, and Erasmus
dashed into the breach and furnished a long commendatory letter,
completely filling the superfluous blank space of folio 136.[2] In this
way his name and style suddenly became known to the numerous public
which was interested in Gaguin's historical work, and at the same time
he acquired another title to Gaguin's protection, on whom the
exceptional qualities of Erasmus's diction had evidently not been lost.
That his history would remain known chiefly because it had been a
stepping stone to Erasmus, Gaguin could hardly have anticipated.

Although Erasmus had now, as a follower of Gaguin, been introduced into
the world of Parisian humanists, the road to fame, which had latterly
begun to lead through the printing press, was not yet easy for him. He
showed the _Antibarbari_ to Gaguin, who praised them, but no suggestion
of publication resulted. A slender volume of Latin poems by Erasmus was
published in Paris in 1496, dedicated to Hector Boys, a Scotchman, with
whom he had become acquainted at Montaigu. But the more important
writings at which he worked during his stay in Paris all appeared in
print much later.

While intercourse with men like Robert Gaguin and Faustus Andrelinus
might be honourable, it was not directly profitable. The support of the
Bishop of Cambray was scantier than he wished. In the spring of 1496 he
fell ill and left Paris. Going first to Bergen, he had a kind welcome
from his patron, the bishop; and then, having recovered his health, he
went on to Holland to his friends. It was his intention to stay there,
he says. The friends themselves, however, urged him to return to Paris,
which he did in the autumn of 1496. He carried poetry by William Hermans
and a letter from this poet to Gaguin. A printer was found for the poems
and Erasmus also brought his friend and fellow-poet into contact with
Faustus Andrelinus.

The position of a man who wished to live by intellectual labour was far
from easy at that time and not always dignified. He had either to live
on church prebends or on distinguished patrons, or on both. But such a
prebend was difficult to get and patrons were uncertain and often
disappointing. The publishers paid considerable copy-fees only to famous
authors. As a rule the writer received a number of copies of his work
and that was all. His chief advantage came from a dedication to some
distinguished personage, who could compliment him for it with a handsome
gift. There were authors who made it a practice to dedicate the same
work repeatedly to different persons. Erasmus has afterwards defended
himself explicitly from that suspicion and carefully noted how many of
those whom he honoured with a dedication gave nothing or very little.

The first need, therefore, to a man in Erasmus's circumstances was to
find a Maecenas. Maecenas with the humanists was almost synonymous with
paymaster. Under the adage _Ne bos quidem pereat_ Erasmus has given a
description of the decent way of obtaining a Maecenas. Consequently,
when his conduct in these years appears to us to be actuated, more than
once, by an undignified pushing spirit, we should not gauge it by our
present standards. These were his years of weakness.

On his return to Paris he did not again lodge in Montaigu. He tried to
make a living by giving lessons to young men of fortune. A merchant's
sons of Lübeck, Christian and Henry Northoff, who lodged with one
Augustine Vincent, were his pupils. He composed beautiful letters for
them, witty, fluent and a trifle scented. At the same time he taught two
young Englishmen, Thomas Grey and Robert Fisher, and conceived such a
doting affection for Grey as to lead to trouble with the youth's
guardian, a Scotchman, by whom Erasmus was excessively vexed.

Paris did not fail to exercise its refining influence on Erasmus. It
made his style affectedly refined and sparkling--he pretends to disdain
the rustic products of his youth in Holland. In the meantime, the works
through which afterwards his influence was to spread over the whole
world began to grow, but only to the benefit of a few readers. They
remained unprinted as yet. For the Northoffs was composed the little
compendium of polite conversation (in Latin), _Familiarium colloquiorum
formulae_, the nucleus of the world-famous _Colloquia_. For Robert
Fisher he wrote the first draft of _De conscribendis epistolis_, the
great dissertation on the art of letter-writing (Latin letters),
probably also the paraphrase of Valla's _Elegantiae_, a treatise on pure
Latin, which had been a beacon-light of culture to Erasmus in his youth.
_De copia verborum ac rerum_ was also such a help for beginners, to
provide them with a vocabulary and abundance of turns and expressions;
and also the germs of a larger work: _De ratione studii_, a manual for
arranging courses of study, lay in the same line.

It was a life of uncertainty and unrest. The bishop gave but little
support. Erasmus was not in good health and felt continually depressed.
He made plans for a journey to Italy, but did not see much chance of
effecting them. In the summer of 1498 he again travelled to Holland and
to the bishop. In Holland his friends were little pleased with his
studies. It was feared that he was contracting debts at Paris. Current
reports about him were not favourable. He found the bishop, in the
commotion of his departure for England on a mission, irritable and full
of complaints. It became more and more evident that he would have to
look out for another patron. Perhaps he might turn to the Lady of Veere,
Anna of Borselen, with whom his faithful and helpful friend Batt had now
taken service, as a tutor to her son, in the castle of Tournehem,
between Calais and Saint Omer.

Upon his return to Paris, Erasmus resumed his old life, but it was
hateful slavery to him. Batt had an invitation for him to come to
Tournehem, but he could not yet bear to leave Paris. Here he had now as
a pupil the young Lord Mountjoy, William Blount. That meant two strings
to his bow. Batt is incited to prepare the ground for him with Anna of
Veere; William Hermans is charged with writing letters to Mountjoy, in
which he is to praise the latter's love of literature. 'You should
display an erudite integrity, commend me, and proffer your services
kindly. Believe me, William, your reputation, too, will benefit by it.
He is a young man of great authority with his own folk; you will have
some one to distribute your writings in England. I pray you again and
again, if you love me, take this to heart.'

The visit to Tournehem took place at the beginning of 1499, followed by
another journey to Holland. Henceforward Anna of Veere passed for his
patroness. In Holland he saw his friend William Hermans and told him
that he thought of leaving for Bologna after Easter. The Dutch journey
was one of unrest and bustle; he was in a hurry to return to Paris, not
to miss any opportunity which Mountjoy's affection might offer him. He
worked hard at the various writings on which he was engaged, as hard as
his health permitted after the difficult journey in winter. He was
busily occupied in collecting the money for travelling to Italy, now
postponed until August. But evidently Batt could not obtain as much for
him as he had hoped, and, in May, Erasmus suddenly gave up the Italian
plan, and left for England with Mountjoy at the latter's request.


[2] Allen No. 43, p. 145, where the particulars of the case are
expounded with peculiar acuteness and conclusions drawn with regard to
the chronology of Erasmus's stay at Paris.




    First stay in England: 1499-1500--Oxford: John Colet--Erasmus's
    aspirations directed towards divinity--He is as yet mainly a
    literate--Fisher and More--Mishap at Dover when leaving England:
    1500--Back in France he composes the _Adagia_--Years of trouble
    and penury

Erasmus's first stay in England, which lasted from the early summer of
1499 till the beginning of 1500, was to become for him a period of
inward ripening. He came there as an erudite poet, the protégé of a
nobleman of rank, on the road to closer contact with the great world
which knew how to appreciate and reward literary merit. He left the
country with the fervent desire in future to employ his gifts, in so far
as circumstances would permit, in more serious tasks. This change was
brought about by two new friends whom he found in England, whose
personalities were far above those who had hitherto crossed his path:
John Colet and Thomas More.

During all the time of his sojourn in England Erasmus is in high
spirits, for him. At first it is still the man of the world who speaks,
the refined man of letters, who must needs show his brilliant genius.
Aristocratic life, of which he evidently had seen but little at the
Bishop of Cambray's and the Lady of Veere's at Tournehem, pleased him
fairly well, it seems. 'Here in England', he writes in a light vein to
Faustus Andrelinus, 'we have, indeed, progressed somewhat. The Erasmus
whom you know is almost a good hunter already, not too bad a horseman, a
not unpractised courtier. He salutes a little more courteously, he
smiles more kindly. If you are wise, you also will alight here.' And he
teases the volatile poet by telling him about the charming girls and the
laudable custom, which he found in England, of accompanying all
compliments by kisses.[3]

It even fell to his lot to make the acquaintance of royalty. From
Mountjoy's estate at Greenwich, More, in the course of a walk, took him
to Eltham Palace, where the royal children were educated. There he saw,
surrounded by the whole royal household, the youthful Henry, who was to
be Henry VIII, a boy of nine years, together with two little sisters and
a young prince, who was still an infant in arms. Erasmus was ashamed
that he had nothing to offer and, on returning home, he composed (not
without exertion, for he had not written poetry at all for some time) a
panegyric on England, which he presented to the prince with a graceful

In October Erasmus was at Oxford which, at first, did not please him,
but whither Mountjoy was to follow him. He had been recommended to John
Colet, who declared that he required no recommendations: he already knew
Erasmus from the letter to Gaguin in the latter's historical work and
thought very highly of his learning. There followed during the remainder
of Erasmus's stay at Oxford a lively intercourse, in conversation and in
correspondence, which definitely decided the bent of Erasmus's
many-sided mind.


John Colet, who did not differ much from Erasmus in point of age, had
found his intellectual path earlier and more easily. Born of well-to-do
parents (his father was a London magistrate and twice lord mayor), he
had been able leisurely to prosecute his studies. Not seduced by quite
such a brilliant genius as Erasmus possessed into literary digressions,
he had from the beginning fixed his attention on theology. He knew Plato
and Plotinus, though not in Greek, was very well read in the older
Fathers and also respectably acquainted with scholasticism, not to
mention his knowledge of mathematics, law, history and the English
poets. In 1496 he had established himself at Oxford. Without possessing
a degree in divinity, he expounded St. Paul's epistles. Although, owing
to his ignorance of Greek, he was restricted to the Vulgate, he tried to
penetrate to the original meaning of the sacred texts, discarding the
later commentaries.

Colet had a deeply serious nature, always warring against the tendencies
of his vigorous being, and he kept within bounds his pride and the love
of pleasure. He had a keen sense of humour, which, without doubt,
endeared him to Erasmus. He was an enthusiast. When defending a point in
theology his ardour changed the sound of his voice, the look in his
eyes, and a lofty spirit permeated his whole person.

[Illustration: IV. SIR THOMAS MORE, 1527]

Out of his intercourse with Colet came the first of Erasmus's
theological writings. At the end of a discussion regarding Christ's
agony in the garden of Gethsemane, in which Erasmus had defended the
usual view that Christ's fear of suffering proceeded from his human
nature, Colet had exhorted him to think further about the matter. They
exchanged letters about it and finally Erasmus committed both their
opinions to paper in the form of a 'Little disputation concerning the
anguish, fear and sadness of Jesus', _Disputatiuncula de tedio, pavore,
tristicia Jesu_, etc., being an elaboration of these letters.

While the tone of this pamphlet is earnest and pious, it is not truly
fervent. The man of letters is not at once and completely superseded.
'See, Colet,' thus Erasmus ends his first letter, referring half
ironically to himself, 'how I can observe the rules of propriety in
concluding such a theologic disputation with poetic fables (he had made
use of a few mythologic metaphors). But as Horace says, _Naturam
expellas furca, tamen usque recurret_.'

This ambiguous position which Erasmus still occupied, also in things of
the mind, appears still more clearly from the report which he sent to
his new friend, the Frisian John Sixtin, a Latin poet like himself, of
another disputation with Colet, at a repast, probably in the hall of
Magdalen College, where Wolsey, too, was perhaps present. To his
fellow-poet, Erasmus writes as a poet, loosely and with some
affectation. It was a meal such as he liked, and afterwards frequently
pictured in his _Colloquies_: cultured company, good food, moderate
drinking, noble conversation. Colet presided. On his right hand sat the
prior Charnock of St. Mary's College, where Erasmus resided (he had also
been present at the disputation about Christ's agony). On his left was a
divine whose name is not mentioned, an advocate of scholasticism; next
to him came Erasmus, 'that the poet should not be wanting at the
banquet'. The discussion was about Cain's guilt by which he displeased
the Lord. Colet defended the opinion that Cain had injured God by
doubting the Creator's goodness, and, in reliance on his own industry,
tilling the earth, whereas Abel tended the sheep and was content with
what grew of itself. The divine contended with syllogisms, Erasmus with
arguments of 'rhetoric'. But Colet kindled, and got the better of both.
After a while, when the dispute had lasted long enough and had become
more serious than was suitable for table-talk--'then I said, in order to
play my part, the part of the poet that is--to abate the contention and
at the same time cheer the meal with a pleasant tale: "it is a very old
story, it has to be unearthed from the very oldest authors. I will tell
you what I found about it in literature, if you will promise me first
that you will not look upon it as a fable."'

And now he relates a witty story of some very ancient codex in which he
had read how Cain, who had often heard his parents speak of the glorious
vegetation of Paradise, where the ears of corn were as high as the
alders with us, had prevailed upon the angel who guarded it, to give him
some Paradisal grains. God would not mind it, if only he left the apples
alone. The speech by which the angel is incited to disobey the Almighty
is a masterpiece of Erasmian wit. 'Do you find it pleasant to stand
there by the gate with a big sword? We have just begun to use dogs for
that sort of work. It is not so bad on earth and it will be better
still; we shall learn, no doubt, to cure diseases. What that forbidden
knowledge matters I do not see very clearly. Though, in that matter,
too, unwearied industry surmounts all obstacles.' In this way the
guardian is seduced. But when God beholds the miraculous effect of
Cain's agricultural management, punishment does not fail to ensue. A
more delicate way of combining Genesis and the Prometheus myth no
humanist had yet invented.

But still, though Erasmus went on conducting himself as a man of letters
among his fellow-poets, his heart was no longer in those literary
exercises. It is one of the peculiarities of Erasmus's mental growth
that it records no violent crises. We never find him engaged in those
bitter inward struggles which are in the experience of so many great
minds. His transition from interest in literary matters to interest in
religious matters is not in the nature of a process of conversion. There
is no Tarsus in Erasmus's life. The transition takes place gradually and
is never complete. For many years to come Erasmus can, without suspicion
of hypocrisy, at pleasure, as his interests or his moods require, play
the man of letters or the theologian. He is a man with whom the deeper
currents of the soul gradually rise to the surface; who raises himself
to the height of his ethical consciousness under the stress of
circumstances, rather than at the spur of some irresistible impulse.

The desire to turn only to matters of faith he shows early. 'I have
resolved', he writes in his monastic period to Cornelius of Gouda, 'to
write no more poems in the future, except such as savour of praise of
the saints, or of sanctity itself.' But that was the youthful pious
resolve of a moment. During all the years previous to the first voyage
to England, Erasmus's writings, and especially his letters, betray a
worldly disposition. It only leaves him in moments of illness and
weariness. Then the world displeases him and he despises his own
ambition; he desires to live in holy quiet, musing on Scripture and
shedding tears over his old errors. But these are utterances inspired by
the occasion, which one should not take too seriously.

It was Colet's word and example which first changed Erasmus's desultory
occupation with theological studies into a firm and lasting resolve to
make their pursuit the object of his life. Colet urged him to expound
the Pentateuch or the prophet Isaiah at Oxford, just as he himself
treated of Paul's epistles. Erasmus declined; he could not do it. This
bespoke insight and self-knowledge, by which he surpassed Colet. The
latter's intuitive Scripture interpretation without knowledge of the
original language failed to satisfy Erasmus. 'You are acting
imprudently, my dear Colet, in trying to obtain water from a
pumice-stone (in the words of Plautus). How shall I be so impudent as to
teach that which I have not learned myself? How shall I warm others
while shivering and trembling with cold?... You complain that you find
yourself deceived in your expectations regarding me. But I have never
promised you such a thing; you have deceived yourself by refusing to
believe me when I was telling you the truth regarding myself. Neither
did I come here to teach poetics or rhetoric (Colet had hinted at that);
these have ceased to be sweet to me, since they ceased to be necessary
to me. I decline the one task because it does not come up to my aim in
life; the other because it is beyond my strength ... But when, one day,
I shall be conscious that the necessary power is in me, I, too, shall
choose your part and devote to the assertion of divinity, if no
excellent, yet sincere labour.'

The inference which Erasmus drew first of all was that he should know
Greek better than he had thus far been able to learn it.

Meanwhile his stay in England was rapidly drawing to a close; he had to
return to Paris. Towards the end of his sojourn he wrote to his former
pupil, Robert Fisher, who was in Italy, in a high-pitched tone about the
satisfaction which he experienced in England. A most pleasant and
wholesome climate (he was most sensitive to it); so much humanity and
erudition--not of the worn-out and trivial sort, but of the recondite,
genuine, ancient, Latin and Greek stamp--that he need hardly any more
long to go to Italy. In Colet he thought he heard Plato himself. Grocyn,
the Grecian scholar; Linacre, the learned physician, who would not
admire them! And whose spirit was ever softer, sweeter or happier than
that of Thomas More!

A disagreeable incident occurred as Erasmus was leaving English soil in
January 1500. Unfortunately it not only obscured his pleasant memories
of the happy island, but also placed another obstacle in the path of his
career, and left in his supersensitive soul a sting which vexed him for
years afterwards.

The livelihood which he had been gaining at Paris of late years was
precarious. The support from the bishop had probably been withdrawn;
that of Anna of Veere had trickled but languidly; he could not too
firmly rely on Mountjoy. Under these circumstances a modest fund, some
provision against a rainy day, was of the highest consequence. Such
savings he brought from England, twenty pounds. An act of Edward III,
re-enacted by Henry VII not long before, prohibited the export of gold
and silver, but More and Mountjoy had assured Erasmus that he could
safely take his money with him, if only it was not in English coin. At
Dover he learned that the custom-house officers were of a different
opinion. He might only keep six 'angels'--the rest was left behind in
the hands of the officials and was evidently confiscated.

The shock which this incident gave him perhaps contributed to his
fancying himself threatened by robbers and murderers on the road from
Calais to Paris. The loss of his money plunged him afresh into
perplexity as to his support from day to day. It forced him to resume
the profession of a _bel esprit_, which he already began to loathe, and
to take all the humiliating steps to get what was due to it from
patrons. And, above all, it affected his mental balance and his dignity.
Yet this mishap had its great advantage for the world, and for Erasmus,
too, after all. To it the world owes the _Adagia_; and he the fame,
which began with this work.

The feelings with which his misfortune at Dover inspired Erasmus were
bitter anger and thirst for revenge. A few months later he writes to
Batt: 'Things with me are as they are wont to be in such cases: the
wound received in England begins to smart only now that it has become
inveterate, and that the more as I cannot have my revenge in any way'.
And six months later, 'I shall swallow it. An occasion may offer itself,
no doubt, to be even with them.' Yet meanwhile true insight told this
man, whose strength did not always attain to his ideals, that the
English, whom he had just seen in such a favourable light, let alone his
special friends among them, were not accessories to the misfortune. He
never reproached More and Mountjoy, whose inaccurate information, he
tells us, had done the harm. At the same time his interest, which he
always saw in the garb of virtue, told him that now especially it would
be essential not to break off his relations with England, and that this
gave him a splendid chance of strengthening them. Afterwards he
explained this with a naïveté which often causes his writings,
especially where he tries to suppress or cloak matters, to read like

'Returning to Paris a poor man, I understood that many would expect I
should take revenge with my pen for this mishap, after the fashion of
men of letters, by writing something venomous against the king or
against England. At the same time I was afraid that William Mountjoy,
having indirectly caused my loss of money, would be apprehensive of
losing my affection. In order, therefore, both to put the expectations
of those people to shame, and to make known that I was not so unfair as
to blame the country for a private wrong, or so inconsiderate as,
because of a small loss, to risk making the king displeased with myself
or with my friends in England, and at the same time to give my friend
Mountjoy a proof that I was no less kindly disposed towards him than
before, I resolved to publish something as quickly as possible. As I had
nothing ready, I hastily brought together, by a few days' reading, a
collection of Adagia, in the supposition that such a booklet, however it
might turn out, by its mere usefulness would get into the hands of
students. In this way I demonstrated that my friendship had not cooled
off at all. Next, in a poem I subjoined, I protested that I was not
angry with the king or with the country at being deprived of my money.
And my scheme was not ill received. That moderation and candour procured
me a good many friends in England at the time--erudite, upright and
influential men.'

This is a characteristic specimen of semi-ethical conduct. In this way
Erasmus succeeded in dealing with his indignation, so that later on he
could declare, when the recollection came up occasionally, 'At one blow
I had lost all my fortune, but I was so unconcerned that I returned to
my books all the more cheerfully and ardently'. But his friends knew how
deep the wound had been. 'Now (on hearing that Henry VIII had ascended
the throne) surely all bitterness must have suddenly left your soul,'
Mountjoy writes to him in 1509, possibly through the pen of Ammonius.

The years after his return to France were difficult ones. He was in
great need of money and was forced to do what he could, as a man of
letters, with his talents and knowledge. He had again to be the _homo
poeticus_ or _rhetoricus_. He writes polished letters full of mythology
and modest mendicity. As a poet he had a reputation; as a poet he could
expect support. Meanwhile the elevating picture of his theological
activities remained present before his mind's eye. It nerves him to
energy and perseverance. 'It is incredible', he writes to Batt, 'how my
soul yearns to finish all my works, at the same time becoming somewhat
proficient in Greek, and afterwards to devote myself entirely to the
sacred learning after which my soul has been hankering for a long time.
I am in fairly good health, so I shall have to strain every nerve this
year (1501) to get the work we gave the printer published, and by
dealing with theological problems, to expose our cavillers, who are very
numerous, as they deserve. If three more years of life are granted me, I
shall be beyond the reach of envy.'

Here we see him in a frame of mind to accomplish great things, though
not merely under the impulse of true devotion. Already he sees the
restoration of genuine divinity as his task; unfortunately the effusion
is contained in a letter in which he instructs the faithful Batt as to
how he should handle the Lady of Veere in order to wheedle money out of

For years to come the efforts to make a living were to cause him almost
constant tribulations and petty cares. He had had more than enough of
France and desired nothing better than to leave it. Part of the year
1500 he spent at Orléans. Adversity made him narrow. There is the story
of his relations with Augustine Vincent Caminade, a humanist of lesser
rank (he ended as syndic of Middelburg), who took young men as lodgers.
It is too long to detail here, but remarkable enough as revealing
Erasmus's psychology, for it shows how deeply he mistrusted his friends.
There are also his relations with Jacobus Voecht, in whose house he
evidently lived gratuitously and for whom he managed to procure a rich
lodger in the person of an illegitimate brother of the Bishop of
Cambray. At this time, Erasmus asserts, the bishop (Antimaecenas he now
calls him) set Standonck to dog him in Paris.

Much bitterness there is in the letters of this period. Erasmus is
suspicious, irritable, exacting, sometimes rude in writing to his
friends. He cannot bear William Hermans any longer because of his
epicureanism and his lack of energy, to which he, Erasmus, certainly was
a stranger. But what grieves us most is the way he speaks to honest
Batt. He is highly praised, certainly. Erasmus promises to make him
immortal, too. But how offended he is, when Batt cannot at once comply
with his imperious demands. How almost shameless are his instructions as
to what Batt is to tell the Lady of Veere, in order to solicit her
favour for Erasmus. And how meagre the expressions of his sorrow, when
the faithful Batt is taken from him by death in the first half of 1502.

It is as if Erasmus had revenged himself on Batt for having been obliged
to reveal himself to his true friend in need more completely than he
cared to appear to anyone; or for having disavowed to Anna of Borselen
his fundamental convictions, his most refined taste, for the sake of a
meagre gratuity. He has paid homage to her in that ponderous Burgundian
style with which dynasties in the Netherlands were familiar, and which
must have been hateful to him. He has flattered her formal piety. 'I
send you a few prayers, by means of which you could, as by incantations,
call down, even against her will, from Heaven, so to say, not the moon,
but her who gave birth to the sun of justice.'

Did you smile your delicate smile, O author of the _Colloquies_, while
writing this? So much the worse for you.


[3] Allen No. 103.17. Cf. _Chr. Matrim. inst._ LB. V. 678 and _Cent
nouvelles_ 2.63, 'ung baiser, dont les dames et demoiselles du dit pays
d'Angleterre sont assez libérales de l'accorder'.



    Significance of the _Adagia_ and similar works of later
    years--Erasmus as a divulger of classical culture--
    Latin--Estrangement from Holland--Erasmus as a

Meanwhile renown came to Erasmus as the fruit of those literary studies
which, as he said, had ceased to be dear to him. In 1500 that work
appeared which Erasmus had written after his misfortune at Dover, and
had dedicated to Mountjoy, the _Adagiorum Collectanea_. It was a
collection of about eight hundred proverbial sayings drawn from the
Latin authors of antiquity and elucidated for the use of those who
aspired to write an elegant Latin style. In the dedication Erasmus
pointed out the profit an author may derive, both in ornamenting his
style and in strengthening his argumentation, from having at his
disposal a good supply of sentences hallowed by their antiquity. He
proposes to offer such a help to his readers. What he actually gave was
much more. He familiarized a much wider circle than the earlier
humanists had reached with the spirit of antiquity.

Until this time the humanists had, to some extent, monopolized the
treasures of classic culture, in order to parade their knowledge of
which the multitude remained destitute, and so to become strange
prodigies of learning and elegance. With his irresistible need of
teaching and his sincere love for humanity and its general culture,
Erasmus introduced the classic spirit, in so far as it could be
reflected in the soul of a sixteenth-century Christian, among the
people. Not he alone; but none more extensively and more effectively.
Not among all the people, it is true, for by writing in Latin he limited
his direct influence to the educated classes, which in those days were
the upper classes.

Erasmus made current the classic spirit. Humanism ceased to be the
exclusive privilege of a few. According to Beatus Rhenanus he had been
reproached by some humanists, when about to publish the _Adagia_, for
divulging the mysteries of their craft. But he desired that the book of
antiquity should be open to all.

The literary and educational works of Erasmus, the chief of which were
begun in his Parisian period, though most of them appeared much later,
have, in truth, brought about a transmutation of the general modes of
expression and of argumentation. It should be repeated over and over
again that this was not achieved by him single-handed; countless others
at that time were similarly engaged. But we have only to cast an eye on
the broad current of editions of the _Adagia_, of the _Colloquia_, etc.,
to realize of how much greater consequence he was in this respect than
all the others. 'Erasmus' is the only name in all the host of humanists
which has remained a household word all over the globe.

Here we will anticipate the course of Erasmus's life for a moment, to
enumerate the principal works of this sort. Some years later the
_Adagia_ increased from hundreds to thousands, through which not only
Latin, but also Greek, wisdom spoke. In 1514 he published in the same
manner a collection of similitudes, _Parabolae_. It was a partial
realization of what he had conceived to supplement the _Adagia_--
metaphors, saws, allusions, poetical and scriptural allegories, all to
be dealt with in a similar way. Towards the end of his life he published
a similar thesaurus of the witty anecdotes and the striking words or
deeds of wisdom of antiquity, the _Apophthegmata_. In addition to these
collections, we find manuals of a more grammatical nature, also piled up
treasury-like: 'On the stock of expressions', _De copia verborum et
rerum_, 'On letter-writing', _De conscribendis epistolis_, not to
mention works of less importance. By a number of Latin translations of
Greek authors Erasmus had rendered a point of prospect accessible to
those who did not wish to climb the whole mountain. And, finally, as
inimitable models of the manner in which to apply all that knowledge,
there were the _Colloquia_ and that almost countless multitude of
letters which have flowed from Erasmus's pen.

All this collectively made up antiquity (in such quantity and quality as
it was obtainable in the sixteenth century) exhibited in an emporium
where it might be had at retail. Each student could get what was to his
taste; everything was to be had there in a great variety of designs.
'You may read my _Adagia_ in such a manner', says Erasmus (of the later
augmented edition), 'that as soon as you have finished one, you may
imagine you have finished the whole book.' He himself made indices to
facilitate its use.

In the world of scholasticism he alone had up to now been considered an
authority who had mastered the technicalities of its system of thought
and its mode of expression in all its details and was versed in biblical
knowledge, logic and philosophy. Between scholastic parlance and the
spontaneously written popular languages, there yawned a wide gulf.
Humanism since Petrarch had substituted for the rigidly syllogistic
structure of an argument the loose style of the antique, free,
suggestive phrase. In this way the language of the learned approached
the natural manner of expression of daily life and raised the popular
languages, even where it continued to use Latin, to its own level.

The wealth of subject-matter was found with no one in greater abundance
than with Erasmus. What knowledge of life, what ethics, all supported by
the indisputable authority of the Ancients, all expressed in that fine,
airy form for which he was admired. And such knowledge of antiquities in
addition to all this! Illimitable was the craving for and illimitable
the power to absorb what is extraordinary in real life. This was one of
the principal characteristics of the spirit of the Renaissance. These
minds never had their desired share of striking incidents, curious
details, rarities and anomalies. There was, as yet, no symptom of that
mental dyspepsia of later periods, which can no longer digest reality
and relishes it no more. Men revelled in plenty.

And yet, were not Erasmus and his fellow-workers as leaders of
civilization on a wrong track? Was it true reality they were aiming at?
Was their proud Latinity not a fatal error? There is one of the crucial
points of history.

A present-day reader who should take up the _Adagia_ or the
_Apophthegmata_ with a view to enriching his own life (for they were
meant for this purpose and it is what gave them value), would soon ask
himself: 'What matter to us, apart from strictly philological or
historical considerations, those endless details concerning obscure
personages of antique society, of Phrygians, of Thessalians? They are
nothing to me.' And--he will continue--they really mattered nothing to
Erasmus's contemporaries either. The stupendous history of the sixteenth
century was not enacted in classic phrases or turns; it was not based on
classic interests or views of life. There were no Phrygians and
Thessalians, no Agesilauses or Dionysiuses. The humanists created out of
all this a mental realm, emancipated from the limitations of time.

And did their own times pass without being influenced by them? That is
the question, and we shall not attempt to answer it: to what extent did
humanism influence the course of events?

In any case Erasmus and his coadjutors greatly heightened the
international character of civilization which had existed throughout the
Middle Ages because of Latin and of the Church. If they thought they
were really making Latin a vehicle for daily international use, they
overrated their power. It was, no doubt, an amusing fancy and a witty
exercise to plan, in such an international _milieu_ as the Parisian
student world, such models of sports and games in Latin as the
_Colloquiorum formulae_ offered. But can Erasmus have seriously thought
that the next generation would play at marbles in Latin?

Still, intellectual intercourse undoubtedly became very easy in so wide
a circle as had not been within reach in Europe since the fall of the
Roman Empire. Henceforth it was no longer the clergy alone, and an
occasional literate, but a numerous multitude of sons of burghers and
nobles, qualifying for some magisterial office, who passed through a
grammar-school and found Erasmus in their path.

Erasmus could not have attained to his world-wide celebrity if it had
not been for Latin. To make his native tongue a universal language was
beyond him. It may well puzzle a fellow-countryman of Erasmus to guess
what a talent like his, with his power of observation, his delicacy of
expression, his gusto and wealth, might have meant to Dutch literature.
Just imagine the _Colloquia_ written in the racy Dutch of the sixteenth
century! What could he not have produced if, instead of gleaning and
commenting upon classic Adagia, he had, for his themes, availed himself
of the proverbs of the vernacular? To us such a proverb is perhaps even
more sapid than the sometimes slightly finical turns praised by Erasmus.

This, however, is to reason unhistorically; this was not what the times
required and what Erasmus could give. It is quite clear why Erasmus
could only write in Latin. Moreover, in the vernacular everything would
have appeared too direct, too personal, too real, for his taste. He
could not do without that thin veil of vagueness, of remoteness, in
which everything is wrapped when expressed in Latin. His fastidious mind
would have shrunk from the pithy coarseness of a Rabelais, or the rustic
violence of Luther's German.

Estrangement from his native tongue had begun for Erasmus as early as
the days when he learned reading and writing. Estrangement from the land
of his birth set in when he left the monastery of Steyn. It was
furthered not a little by the ease with which he handled Latin. Erasmus,
who could express himself as well in Latin as in his mother tongue, and
even better, consequently lacked the experience of, after all, feeling
thoroughly at home and of being able to express himself fully, only
among his compatriots. There was, however, another psychological
influence which acted to alienate him from Holland. After he had seen at
Paris the perspectives of his own capacities, he became confirmed in the
conviction that Holland failed to appreciate him, that it distrusted and
slandered him. Perhaps there was indeed some ground for this conviction.
But, partly, it was also a reaction of injured self-love. In Holland
people knew too much about him. They had seen him in his smallnesses and
feebleness. There he had been obliged to obey others--he who, above all
things, wanted to be free. Distaste of the narrow-mindedness, the
coarseness and intemperance which he knew to prevail there, were summed
up, within him, in a general condemnatory judgement of the Dutch

Henceforth he spoke as a rule about Holland with a sort of apologetic
contempt. 'I see that you are content with Dutch fame,' he writes to his
old friend William Hermans, who like Cornelius Aurelius had begun to
devote his best forces to the history of his native country. 'In Holland
the air is good for me,' he writes elsewhere, 'but the extravagant
carousals annoy me; add to this the vulgar uncultured character of the
people, the violent contempt of study, no fruit of learning, the most
egregious envy.' And excusing the imperfection of his juvenilia, he
says: 'At that time I wrote not for Italians, but for Hollanders, that
is to say, for the dullest ears'. And, in another place, 'eloquence is
demanded from a Dutchman, that is, from a more hopeless person than a
B[oe]otian'. And again, 'If the story is not very witty, remember it is
a Dutch story'. No doubt, false modesty had its share in such sayings.

After 1496 he visited Holland only on hasty journeys. There is no
evidence that after 1501 he ever set foot on Dutch soil. He dissuaded
his own compatriots abroad from returning to Holland.

Still, now and again, a cordial feeling of sympathy for his native
country stirred within him. Just where he would have had an opportunity,
in explaining Martial's _Auris Batava_ in the _Adagia_, for venting his
spleen, he availed himself of the chance of writing an eloquent
panegyric on what was dearest to him in Holland, 'a country that I am
always bound to honour and revere, as that which gave me birth. Would I
might be a credit to it, just as, on the other hand, I need not be
ashamed of it.' Their reputed boorishness rather redounds to their
honour. 'If a "Batavian ear" means a horror of Martial's obscene jokes,
I could wish that all Christians might have Dutch ears. When we consider
their morals, no nation is more inclined to humanity and benevolence,
less savage or cruel. Their mind is upright and void of cunning and all
humbug. If they are somewhat sensual and excessive at meals, it results
partly from their plentiful supply: nowhere is import so easy and
fertility so great. What an extent of lush meadows, how many navigable
rivers! Nowhere are so many towns crowded together within so small an
area; not large towns, indeed, but excellently governed. Their
cleanliness is praised by everybody. Nowhere are such large numbers of
moderately learned persons found, though extraordinary and exquisite
erudition is rather rare.'

They were Erasmus's own most cherished ideals which he here ascribes to
his compatriots--gentleness, sincerity, simplicity, purity. He sounds
that note of love for Holland on other occasions. When speaking of lazy
women, he adds: 'In France there are large numbers of them, but in
Holland we find countless wives who by their industry support their
idling and revelling husbands'. And in the colloquy entitled 'The
Shipwreck', the people who charitably take in the castaways are
Hollanders. 'There is no more humane people than this, though surrounded
by violent nations.'

In addressing English readers it is perhaps not superfluous to point out
once again that Erasmus when speaking of Holland, or using the epithet
'Batavian', refers to the county of Holland, which at present forms the
provinces of North and South Holland of the kingdom of the Netherlands,
and stretches from the Wadden islands to the estuaries of the Meuse.
Even the nearest neighbours, such as Zealanders and Frisians, are not
included in this appellation.

But it is a different matter when Erasmus speaks of _patria_, the
fatherland, or of _nostras_, a compatriot. In those days a national
consciousness was just budding all over the Netherlands. A man still
felt himself a Hollander, a Frisian, a Fleming, a Brabantine in the
first place; but the community of language and customs, and still more
the strong political influence which for nearly a century had been
exercised by the Burgundian dynasty, which had united most of these low
countries under its sway, had cemented a feeling of solidarity which did
not even halt at the linguistic frontier in Belgium. It was still rather
a strong Burgundian patriotism (even after Habsburg had _de facto_
occupied the place of Burgundy) than a strictly Netherlandish feeling of
nationality. People liked, by using a heraldic symbol, to designate the
Netherlander as 'the Lions'. Erasmus, too, employs the term. In his
works we gradually see the narrower Hollandish patriotism gliding into
the Burgundian Netherlandish. In the beginning, _patria_ with him still
means Holland proper, but soon it meant the Netherlands. It is curious
to trace how by degrees his feelings regarding Holland, made up of
disgust and attachment, are transferred to the Low Countries in general.
'In my youth', he says in 1535, repeating himself, 'I did not write for
Italians but for Hollanders, the people of Brabant and Flemings.' So
they now all share the reputation of bluntness. To Louvain is applied
what formerly was said of Holland: there are too many compotations;
nothing can be done without a drinking bout. Nowhere, he repeatedly
complains, is there so little sense of the _bonae literae_, nowhere is
study so despised as in the Netherlands, and nowhere are there more
cavillers and slanderers. But also his affection has expanded. When
Longolius of Brabant plays the Frenchman, Erasmus is vexed: 'I devoted
nearly three days to Longolius; he was uncommonly pleasing, except only
that he is too French, whereas it is well known that he is one of
us'.[4] When Charles V has obtained the crown of Spain, Erasmus notes:
'a singular stroke of luck, but I pray that it may also prove a blessing
to the fatherland, and not only to the prince'. When his strength was
beginning to fail he began to think more and more of returning to his
native country. 'King Ferdinand invites me, with large promises, to come
to Vienna,' he writes from Basle, 1 October 1528, 'but nowhere would it
please me better to rest than in Brabant.'

[Illustration: V. Doodles by Erasmus in the margin of one of his

[Illustration: VI. A manuscript page of Erasmus]


[4] Allen No. 1026.4, cf. 914, intr. p. 473. Later Erasmus was made to
believe that Longolius was a Hollander, cf. LBE. 1507 A.




    At Tournehem: 1501--The restoration of theology now the aim of
    his life--He learns Greek--John Vitrier--_Enchiridion Militis

The lean years continued with Erasmus. His livelihood remained
uncertain, and he had no fixed abode. It is remarkable that, in spite of
his precarious means of support, his movements were ever guided rather
by the care for his health than for his sustenance, and his studies
rather by his burning desire to penetrate to the purest sources of
knowledge than by his advantage. Repeatedly the fear of the plague
drives him on: in 1500 from Paris to Orléans, where he first lodges with
Augustine Caminade; but when one of the latter's boarders falls ill,
Erasmus moves. Perhaps it was the impressions dating from his youth at
Deventer that made him so excessively afraid of the plague, which in
those days raged practically without intermission. Faustus Andrelinus
sent a servant to upbraid him in his name with cowardice: 'That would be
an intolerable insult', Erasmus answers, 'if I were a Swiss soldier, but
a poet's soul, loving peace and shady places, is proof against it'. In
the spring of 1501 he leaves Paris once more for fear of the plague:
'the frequent burials frighten me', he writes to Augustine.

He travelled first to Holland, where, at Steyn, he obtained leave to
spend another year outside the monastery, for the sake of study; his
friends would be ashamed if he returned, after so many years of study,
without having acquired some authority. At Haarlem he visited his friend
William Hermans, then turned to the south, once again to pay his
respects to the Bishop of Cambray, probably at Brussels. Thence he went
to Veere, but found no opportunity to talk to his patroness. In July
1501, he subsided into quietness at the castle of Tournehem with his
faithful friend Batt.

In all his comings and goings he does not for a moment lose sight of his
ideals of study. Since his return from England he is mastered by two
desires: to edit Jerome, the great Father of the Church, and,
especially, to learn Greek thoroughly. 'You understand how much all this
matters to my fame, nay, to my preservation,' he writes (from Orléans
towards the end of 1500) to Batt. But, indeed, had Erasmus been an
ordinary fame and success hunter he might have had recourse to plenty of
other expedients. It was the ardent desire to penetrate to the source
and to make others understand that impelled him, even when he availed
himself of these projects of study to raise a little money. 'Listen,' he
writes to Batt, 'to what more I desire from you. You must wrest a gift
from the abbot (of Saint Bertin). You know the man's disposition; invent
some modest and plausible reason for begging. Tell him that I purpose
something grand, viz., to restore the whole of Jerome, however
comprehensive he may be, and spoiled, mutilated, entangled by the
ignorance of divines; and to re-insert the Greek passages. I venture to
say, I shall be able to lay open the antiquities and the style of
Jerome, understood by no one as yet. Tell him that I shall want not a
few books for the purpose, and moreover the help of Greeks, and that
therefore I require support. In saying this, Battus, you will be telling
no lies. For I really mean to do all this.'

He was, indeed, in a serious mood on this point, as he was soon to prove
to the world. His conquest of Greek was a veritable feat of heroism. He
had learned the simplest rudiments at Deventer, but these evidently
amounted to very little. In March, 1500, he writes to Batt: 'Greek is
nearly killing me, but I have no time and I have no money to buy books
or to take a master'. When Augustine Caminade wants his Homer back which
he had lent to him, Erasmus complains: 'You deprive me of my sole
consolation in my tedium. For I so burn with love for this author,
though I cannot understand him, that I feast my eyes and re-create my
mind by looking at him.' Was Erasmus aware that in saying this he almost
literally reproduced feelings which Petrarch had expressed a hundred and
fifty years before? But he had already begun to study. Whether he had a
master is not quite clear, but it is probable. He finds the language
difficult at first. Then gradually he ventures to call himself 'a
candidate in this language', and he begins with more confidence to
scatter Greek quotations through his letters. It occupies him night and
day and he urges all his friends to procure Greek books for him. In the
autumn of 1502 he declares that he can properly write all he wants in
Greek, and that extempore. He was not deceived in his expectation that
Greek would open his eyes to the right understanding of Holy Scripture.
Three years of nearly uninterrupted study amply rewarded him for his
trouble. Hebrew, which he had also taken up, he abandoned. At that time
(1504) he made translations from the Greek, he employed it critically in
his theological studies, he taught it, amongst others, to William Cop,
the French physician-humanist. A few years later he was to find little
in Italy to improve his proficiency in Greek; he was afterwards inclined
to believe that he carried more of the two ancient languages to that
country than he brought back.

Nothing testifies more to the enthusiasm with which Erasmus applied
himself to Greek than his zeal to make his best friends share in its
blessings. Batt, he decided, should learn Greek. But Batt had no time,
and Latin appealed more to him. When Erasmus goes to Haarlem to visit
William Hermans, it is to make him a Greek scholar too; he has brought a
handbag full of books. But he had only his trouble for his pains.
William did not take at all kindly to this study and Erasmus was so
disappointed that he not only considered his money and trouble thrown
away, but also thought he had lost a friend.

Meanwhile he was still undecided where he should go in the near future.
To England, to Italy, or back to Paris? In the end he made a fairly long
stay as a guest, from the autumn of 1501 till the following summer,
first at Saint Omer, with the prior of Saint Bertin, and afterwards at
the castle of Courtebourne, not far off.

At Saint Omer, Erasmus became acquainted with a man whose image he was
afterwards to place beside that of Colet as that of a true divine, and
of a good monk at the same time: Jean Vitrier, the warden of the
Franciscan monastery at Saint Omer. Erasmus must have felt attracted to
a man who was burdened with a condemnation pronounced by the Sorbonne on
account of his too frank expressions regarding the abuses of monastic
life. Vitrier had not given up the life on that account, but he devoted
himself to reforming monasteries and convents. Having progressed from
scholasticism to Saint Paul, he had formed a very liberal conception of
Christian life, strongly opposed to practices and ceremonies. This man,
without doubt, considerably influenced the origin of one of Erasmus's
most celebrated and influential works, the _Enchiridion militis

Erasmus himself afterwards confessed that the _Enchiridion_ was born by
chance. He did not reflect that some outward circumstance is often made
to serve an inward impulse. The outward circumstance was that the castle
of Tournehem was frequented by a soldier, a friend of Batt, a man of
very dissolute conduct, who behaved very badly towards his pious wife,
and who was, moreover, an uncultured and violent hater of priests.[5]
For the rest he was of a kindly disposition and excepted Erasmus from
his hatred of divines. The wife used her influence with Batt to get
Erasmus to write something which might bring her husband to take an
interest in religion. Erasmus complied with the request and Jean Vitrier
concurred so cordially with the views expressed in these notes that
Erasmus afterwards elaborated them at Louvain; in 1504 they were
published at Antwerp by Dirck Maertensz.

This is the outward genesis of the _Enchiridion_. But the inward cause
was that sooner or later Erasmus was bound to formulate his attitude
towards the religious conduct of the life of his day and towards
ceremonial and soulless conceptions of Christian duty, which were an
eyesore to him.

In point of form the _Enchiridion_ is a manual for an illiterate soldier
to attain to an attitude of mind worthy of Christ; as with a finger he
will point out to him the shortest path to Christ. He assumes the friend
to be weary of life at court--a common theme of contemporary literature.
Only for a few days does Erasmus interrupt the work of his life, the
purification of theology, to comply with his friend's request for
instruction. To keep up a soldierly style he chooses the title,
_Enchiridion_, the Greek word that even in antiquity meant both a
poniard and a manual:[6] 'The poniard of the militant Christian'.[7] He
reminds him of the duty of watchfulness and enumerates the weapons of
Christ's militia. Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom. The general
rules of the Christian conduct of life are followed by a number of
remedies for particular sins and faults.

Such is the outward frame. But within this scope Erasmus finds an
opportunity, for the first time, to develop his theological programme.
This programme calls upon us to return to Scripture. It should be the
endeavour of every Christian to understand Scripture in its purity and
original meaning. To that end he should prepare himself by the study of
the Ancients, orators, poets, philosophers; Plato especially. Also the
great Fathers of the Church, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine will be found
useful, but not the large crowd of subsequent exegetists. The argument
chiefly aims at subverting the conception of religion as a continual
observance of ceremonies. This is Judaic ritualism and of no value. It
is better to understand a single verse of the psalms well, by this means
to deepen one's understanding of God and of oneself, and to draw a moral
and line of conduct from it, than to read the whole psalter without
attention. If the ceremonies do not renew the soul they are valueless
and hurtful. 'Many are wont to count how many masses they have heard
every day, and referring to them as to something very important, as
though they owed Christ nothing else, they return to their former habits
after leaving church.' 'Perhaps you sacrifice every day and yet you live
for yourself. You worship the saints, you like to touch their relics; do
you want to earn Peter and Paul? Then copy the faith of the one and the
charity of the other and you will have done more than if you had walked
to Rome ten times.' He does not reject formulae and practices; he does
not want to shake the faith of the humble but he cannot suffer that
Christ is offered a cult made up of practices only. And why is it the
monks, above all, who contribute to the deterioration of faith? 'I am
ashamed to tell how superstitiously most of them observe certain petty
ceremonies, invented by puny human minds (and not even for this
purpose), how hatefully they want to force others to conform to them,
how implicitly they trust them, how boldly they condemn others.'

Let Paul teach them true Christianity. 'Stand fast therefore in the
liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again
with the yoke of bondage.' This word to the Galatians contains the
doctrine of Christian liberty, which soon at the Reformation was to
resound so loudly. Erasmus did not apply it here in a sense derogatory
to the dogmatics of the Catholic Church; but still it is a fact that the
_Enchiridion_ prepared many minds to give up much that he still wanted
to keep.

The note of the _Enchiridion_ is already what was to remain the note of
Erasmus's life-work: how revolting it is that in this world the
substance and the shadow differ so and that the world reverences those
whom it should not reverence; that a hedge of infatuation, routine and
thoughtlessness prevents mankind from seeing things in their true
proportions. He expresses it later in the _Praise of Folly_ and in the
_Colloquies_. It is not merely religious feeling, it is equally social
feeling that inspired him. Under the heading: Opinions worthy of a
Christian, he laments the extremes of pride of class, national
hostility, professional envy, and rivalry between religious orders,
which keep men apart. Let everybody sincerely concern himself about his
brother. 'Throwing dice cost you a thousand gold pieces in one night,
and meanwhile some wretched girl, compelled by poverty, sold her
modesty; and a soul is lost for which Christ gave his own. You say, what
is that to me? I mind my own business, according to my lights. And yet
you, holding such opinions, consider yourself a Christian, who are not
even a man!'

In the _Enchiridion_ of the militant Christian, Erasmus had for the
first time said the things which he had most at heart, with fervour and
indignation, with sincerity and courage. And yet one would hardly say
that this booklet was born of an irresistible impulse of ardent piety.
Erasmus treats it, as we have seen, as a trifle, composed at the request
of a friend in a couple of days stolen from his studies (though,
strictly speaking, this only holds good of the first draft, which he
elaborated afterwards). The chief object of his studies he had already
conceived to be the restoration of theology. One day he will expound
Paul, 'that the slanderers who consider it the height of piety to know
nothing of _bonae literae_, may understand that we in our youth embraced
the cultured literature of the Ancients, and that we acquired a correct
knowledge of the two languages, Greek and Latin--not without many
vigils--not for the purpose of vainglory or childish satisfaction, but
because, long before, we premeditated adorning the temple of the Lord
(which some have too much desecrated by their ignorance and barbarism)
according to our strength, with help from foreign parts, so that also in
noble minds the love of Holy Scripture may be kindled'. Is it not still
the Humanist who speaks?

We hear, moreover, the note of personal justification. It is sounded
also in a letter to Colet written towards the close of 1504,
accompanying the edition of the _Lucubrationes_ in which the
_Enchiridion_ was first published. 'I did not write the _Enchiridion_ to
parade my invention or eloquence, but only that I might correct the
error of those whose religion is usually composed of more than Judaic
ceremonies and observances of a material sort, and who neglect the
things that conduce to piety.' He adds, and this is typically
humanistic, 'I have tried to give the reader a sort of art of piety, as
others have written the theory of certain sciences'.

The art of piety! Erasmus might have been surprised had he known that
another treatise, written more than sixty years before, by another canon
of the Low Countries would continue to appeal much longer and much more
urgently to the world than his manual: the _Imitatio Christi_ by Thomas
à Kempis.

The _Enchiridion_, collected with some other pieces into a volume of
_Lucubrationes_, did not meet with such a great and speedy success as
had been bestowed upon the _Adagia_. That Erasmus's speculations on true
piety were considered too bold was certainly not the cause. They
contained nothing antagonistic to the teachings of the Church, so that
even at the time of the Counter-Reformation, when the Church had become
highly suspicious of everything that Erasmus had written, the divines
who drew up the _index expurgatorius_ of his work found only a few
passages in the _Enchiridion_ to expunge. Moreover, Erasmus had inserted
in the volume some writings of unsuspected Catholic tenor. For a long
time it was in great repute, especially with theologians and monks. A
famous preacher at Antwerp used to say that a sermon might be found in
every page of the _Enchiridion_. But the book only obtained its great
influence in wide cultured circles when, upheld by Erasmus's world-wide
reputation, it was available in a number of translations, English,
Czech, German, Dutch, Spanish, and French. But then it began to fall
under suspicion, for that was the time when Luther had unchained the
great struggle. 'Now they have begun to nibble at the _Enchiridion_
also, that used to be so popular with divines,' Erasmus writes in 1526.
For the rest it was only two passages to which the orthodox critics


[5] That this man should have been John of Trazegnies as Allen thinks
possible and Renaudet accepts, is still all too uncertain; A. 164 t. I.
p. 373; Renaudet, Préréforme 428.

[6] In 1500 (A. 123.21) Erasmus speaks of the _Enchiridion_ of the
Father Augustine, cf. 135, 138; in 1501, A. 152.33, he calls the
_Officia_ of Cicero a 'pugiunculus'--a dagger. So the appellation had
been in his mind for some time.

[7] _Miles_ with Erasmus has no longer the meaning of 'knight' which it
had in medieval Latin.




    Death of Batt: 1502--First stay at Louvain: 1502-4--Translations
    from the Greek--At Paris again--Valla's _Annotationes_ on the
    New Testament--Second stay in England: 1505-6--More patrons and
    friends--Departure for Italy: 1506--_Carmen Alpestre_

Circumstances continued to remain unfavourable for Erasmus. 'This year
fortune has truly been raging violently against me,' he writes in the
autumn of 1502. In the spring his good friend Batt had died. It is a
pity that no letters written by Erasmus directly after his bereavement
have come down to us. We should be glad to have for that faithful helper
a monument in addition to that which Erasmus erected to his memory in
the _Antibarbari_. Anna of Veere had remarried and, as a patroness,
might henceforth be left out of account. In October 1502, Henry of
Bergen passed away. 'I have commemorated the Bishop of Cambray in three
Latin epitaphs and a Greek one; they sent me but six guilders, that also
in death he should remain true to himself.' In Francis of Busleiden,
Archbishop of Besançon, he lost at about the same time a prospective new
patron. He still felt shut out from Paris, Cologne and England by the
danger of the plague.

In the late summer of 1502 he went to Louvain, 'flung thither by the
plague,' he says. The university of Louvain, established in 1425 to wean
the Netherlands in spiritual matters from Paris, was, at the beginning
of the sixteenth century, one of the strongholds of theological
tradition, which, however, did not prevent the progress of classical
studies. How else should Adrian of Utrecht, later pope but at that time
Dean of Saint Peter's and professor of theology, have forthwith
undertaken to get him a professorship? Erasmus declined the offer,
however, 'for certain reasons,' he says. Considering his great distress,
the reasons must have been cogent indeed. One of them which he mentioned
is not very clear to us: 'I am here so near to Dutch tongues which know
how to hurt much, it is true, but have not learned to profit any one'.
His spirit of liberty and his ardent love of the studies to which he
wanted to devote himself entirely, were, no doubt, his chief reasons for

But he had to make a living. Life at Louvain was expensive and he had no
regular earnings. He wrote some prefaces and dedicated to the Bishop of
Arras, Chancellor of the University, the first translation from the
Greek: some _Declamationes_ by Libanius. When in the autumn of 1503
Philip le Beau was expected back in the Netherlands from his journey to
Spain Erasmus wrote, with sighs of distaste, a panegyric to celebrate
the safe return of the prince. It cost him much trouble. 'It occupies me
day and night,' says the man who composed with such incredible facility,
when his heart was in the work. 'What is harder than to write with
aversion; what is more useless than to write something by which we
unlearn good writing?' It must be acknowledged that he really flattered
as sparingly as possible; the practice was so repulsive to him that in
his preface he roundly owned that, to tell the truth, this whole class
of composition was not to his taste.

At the end of 1504 Erasmus was back at Paris, at last. Probably he had
always meant to return and looked upon his stay at Louvain as a
temporary exile. The circumstances under which he left Louvain are
unknown to us, because of the almost total lack of letters of the year
1504. In any case, he hoped that at Paris he would sooner be able to
attain his great end of devoting himself entirely to the study of
theology. 'I cannot tell you, dear Colet,' he writes towards the end of
1504, 'how I hurry on, with all sails set, to holy literature; how I
dislike everything that keeps me back, or retards me. But the disfavour
of Fortune, who always looks at me with the same face, has been the
reason why I have not been able to get clear of those vexations. So I
returned to France with the purpose, if I cannot solve them, at any rate
of ridding myself of them in one way or another. After that I shall
devote myself, with all my heart, to the _divinae literae_, to give up
the remainder of my life to them.' If only he can find the means to work
for some months entirely for himself and disentangle himself from
profane literature. Can Colet not find out for him how matters stand
with regard to the proceeds of the hundred copies of the _Adagia_ which,
at one time, he sent to England at his own expense? The liberty of a few
months may be bought for little money.

There is something heroic in Erasmus scorning to make money out of his
facile talents and enviable knowledge of the humanities, daring
indigence so as to be able to realize his shining ideal of restoring

It is remarkable that the same Italian humanist who in his youth had
been his guide and example on the road to pure Latinity and classic
antiquity, Lorenzo Valla, by chance became his leader and an outpost in
the field of critical theology. In the summer of 1504, hunting in the
old library of the Premonstratensian monastery of Parc, near Louvain
('in no preserves is hunting a greater delight'), he found a manuscript
of Valla's _Annotationes_ on the New Testament. It was a collection of
critical notes on the text of the Gospels, the Epistles and Revelation.
That the text of the Vulgate was not stainless had been acknowledged by
Rome itself as early as the thirteenth century. Monastic orders and
individual divines had set themselves to correct it, but that
purification had not amounted to much, in spite of Nicholas of Lyra's
work in the fourteenth century.

It was probably the falling in with Valla's _Annotationes_ which led
Erasmus, who was formerly more inspired with the resolution to edit
Jerome and to comment upon Paul (he was to do both at a later date), to
turn to the task of taking up the New Testament as a whole, in order to
restore it in its purity. In March 1505 already Josse Badius at Paris
printed Valla's _Annotationes_ for Erasmus, as a sort of advertisement
of what he himself one day hoped to achieve. It was a feat of courage.
Erasmus did not conceal from himself that Valla, the humanist, had an
ill name with divines, and that there would be an outcry about 'the
intolerable temerity of the _homo grammaticus_, who after having
harassed all the _disciplinae_, did not scruple to assail holy
literature with his petulant pen'. It was another programme much more
explicit and defiant than the _Enchiridion_ had been.

Once more it is not clear why and how Erasmus left Paris again for
England in the autumn of 1505. He speaks of serious reasons and the
advice of sensible people. He mentions one reason: lack of money. The
reprint of the _Adagia_, published by John Philippi at Paris in 1505,
had probably helped him through, for the time being; the edition cannot
have been to his taste, for he had been dissatisfied with his work and
wanted to extend it by weaving his new Greek knowledge into it. From
Holland a warning voice had sounded, the voice of his superior and
friend Servatius, demanding an account of his departure from Paris.
Evidently his Dutch friends had still no confidence in Erasmus, his
work, and his future.

In many respects that future appeared more favourable to him in England
than it had seemed anywhere, thus far. There he found the old friends,
men of consideration and importance: Mountjoy, with whom, on his
arrival, he stayed some months, Colet, and More. There he found some
excellent Greek scholars, whose conversation promised to be profitable
and amusing; not Colet, who knew little Greek, but More, Linacre,
Grocyn, Latimer, and Tunstall. He soon came in contact with some high
ecclesiastics who were to be his friends and patrons: Richard Foxe,
Bishop of Winchester, John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester and William
Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury. Soon he would also find a friend whose
congenial spirit and interests, to some extent, made up for the loss of
Batt: the Italian Andrew Ammonius, of Lucca. And lastly, the king
promised him an ecclesiastical benefice. It was not long before Erasmus
was armed with a dispensation from Pope Julius II, dated 4 January 1506,
cancelling the obstacles in the way of accepting an English benefice.

Translations from Greek into Latin were for him an easy and speedy means
to obtain favour and support: a dialogue by Lucian, followed by others,
for Foxe; the _Hecuba_ and the _Iphigenia_ of Euripides for Warham. He
now also thought of publishing his letters.

Clearly his relations with Holland were not yet satisfactory. Servatius
did not reply to his letters. Erasmus ever felt hanging over him a
menace to his career and his liberty embodied in the figure of that
friend, to whom he was linked by so many silken ties, yonder in the
monastery of Steyn, where his return was looked forward to, sooner or
later, as a beacon-light of Christendom. Did the prior know of the papal
dispensation exempting Erasmus from the 'statutes and customs of the
monastery of Steyn in Holland, of the order of Saint Augustine?'
Probably he did. On 1 April 1506, Erasmus writes to him: 'Here in London
I am, it seems, greatly esteemed by the most eminent and erudite men of
all England. The king has promised me a curacy: the visit of the prince
necessitated a postponement of this business.'[8]

He immediately adds: 'I am deliberating again how best to devote the
remainder of my life (how much that will be, I do not know) entirely to
piety, to Christ. I see life, even when it is long, as evanescent and
dwindling; I know that I am of a delicate constitution and that my
strength has been encroached upon, not a little, by study and also,
somewhat, by misfortune. I see that no deliverance can be hoped from
study, and that it seems as if we had to begin over again, day after
day. Therefore I have resolved, content with my mediocrity (especially
now that I have learned as much Greek as suffices me), to apply myself
to meditation about death and the training of my soul. I should have
done so before and have husbanded the precious years when they were at
their best. But though it is a tardy husbandry that people practise when
only little remains at the bottom, we should be the more economical
accordingly as the quantity and quality of what is left diminishes.'

Was it a fit of melancholy which made Erasmus write those words of
repentance and renunciation? Was he surprised in the middle of the
pursuit of his life's aim by the consciousness of the vanity of his
endeavours, the consciousness, too, of a great fatigue? Is this the
deepest foundation of Erasmus's being, which he reveals for a moment to
his old and intimate friend? It may be doubted. The passage tallies very
ill with the first sentences of the letter, which are altogether
concerned with success and prospects. In a letter he wrote the next day,
also to Gouda and to a trusted friend, there is no trace of the mood: he
is again thinking of his future. We do not notice that the tremendous
zeal with which he continues his studies is relaxed for a moment. And
there are other indications that towards Servatius, who knew him better
than he could wish, and who, moreover, as prior of Steyn, had a
threatening power over him, he purposely demeaned himself as though he
despised the world.

Meanwhile nothing came of the English prebend. But suddenly the occasion
offered to which Erasmus had so often looked forward: the journey to
Italy. The court-physician of Henry VII, Giovanni Battista Boerio, of
Genoa, was looking for a master to accompany his sons in their journey
to the universities of Italy. Erasmus accepted the post, which charged
him neither with the duties of tuition nor with attending to the young
fellows, but only with supervising and guiding their studies. In the
beginning of June 1506, he found himself on French soil once more. For
two summer months the party of travellers stayed at Paris and Erasmus
availed himself of the opportunity to have several of his works, which
he had brought from England, printed at Paris. He was by now a
well-known and favourite author, gladly welcomed by the old friends (he
had been reputed dead) and made much of. Josse Badius printed all
Erasmus offered him: the translations of Euripides and Lucian, a
collection of _Epigrammata_, a new but still unaltered edition of the

In August the journey was continued. As he rode on horseback along the
Alpine roads the most important poem Erasmus has written, the echo of an
abandoned pursuit, originated. He had been vexed about his travelling
company, had abstained from conversing with them, and sought consolation
in composing poetry. The result was the ode which he called _Carmen
equestre vel potius alpestre_, about the inconveniences of old age,
dedicated to his friend William Cop.

Erasmus was one of those who early feel old. He was not forty and yet
fancied himself across the threshold of old age. How quickly it had
come! He looks back on the course of his life: he sees himself playing
with nuts as a child, as a boy eager for study, as a youth engrossed in
poetry and scholasticism, also in painting. He surveys his enormous
erudition, his study of Greek, his aspiration to scholarly fame. In the
midst of all this, old age has suddenly come. What remains to him? And
again we hear the note of renunciation of the world and of devotion to
Christ. Farewell jests and trifles, farewell philosophy and poetry, a
pure heart full of Christ is all he desires henceforward.

Here, in the stillness of the Alpine landscape, there arose something
more of Erasmus's deepest aspirations than in the lament to Servatius.
But in this case, too, it is a stray element of his soul, not the strong
impulse that gave direction and fullness to his life and with
irresistible pressure urged him on to ever new studies.


[8] A. 189, Philip le Beau, who had unexpectedly come to England because
of a storm, which obliged Mountjoy to do court-service.




    Erasmus in Italy: 1506-9--He takes his degree at Turin--Bologna
    and Pope Julius II--Erasmus in Venice with Aldus: 1507-8--The
    art of printing--Alexander Stewart--To Rome: 1509--News of Henry
    VIII's accession--Erasmus leaves Italy

At Turin Erasmus received, directly upon his arrival, on 4 September
1506, the degree of doctor of theology. That he did not attach much
value to the degree is easy to understand. He regarded it, however, as
an official warrant of his competence as a writer on theological
subjects, which would strengthen his position when assailed by the
suspicion of his critics. He writes disdainfully about the title, even
to his Dutch friends who in former days had helped him on in his studies
for the express purpose of obtaining the doctor's degree. As early as
1501, to Anna of Borselen he writes, 'Go to Italy and obtain the
doctor's degree? Foolish projects, both of them. But one should conform
to the customs of the times.' Again to Servatius and Johannes Obrecht,
half apologetically, he says: 'I have obtained the doctor's degree in
theology, and that quite contrary to my intention, only because I was
overcome by the prayers of friends.'

Bologna was now the destination of his journey. But when Erasmus arrived
there, a war was in progress which forced him to retire to Florence for
a time. Pope Julius II, allied with the French, at the head of an army,
marched on Bologna to conquer it from the Bentivogli. This purpose was
soon attained, and Bologna was a safe place to return to. On 11 November
1506, Erasmus witnessed the triumphal entry of the martial pope.

Of these days nothing but short, hasty letters of his have come down to
us. They speak of unrest and rumours of war. There is nothing to show
that he was impressed by the beauty of the Italy of the Renaissance. The
scanty correspondence dating from his stay in Italy mentions neither
architecture, nor sculpture, nor pictures. When much later he happened
to remember his visit to the Chartreuse of Pavia, it is only to give an
instance of useless waste and magnificence. Books alone seemed to occupy
and attract Erasmus in Italy.

At Bologna, Erasmus served as a mentor to the young Boerios to the end
of the year for which he had bound himself. It seemed a very long time
to him. He could not stand any encroachment upon his liberty. He felt
caught in the contract as in a net. The boys, it seems, were intelligent
enough, if not so brilliant as Erasmus had seen them in his first joy;
but with their private tutor Clyfton, whom he at first extolled to the
sky, he was soon at loggerheads. At Bologna he experienced many
vexations for which his new relations with Paul Bombasius could only in
part indemnify him. He worked there at an enlarged edition of his
_Adagia_, which now, by the addition of the Greek ones, increased from
eight hundred to some thousands of items.

[Illustration: VII. Title-page of the _Adagia_, printed by Aldus
Manutius in 1508]

[Illustration: VIII. VIEW OF VENICE, 1493]

[Illustration: IX. PORTRAIT MEDAL OF ALDUS MANUTIUS. On the reverse the
Aldine emblem]

[Illustration: X. A page from the _Praise of Folly_ with a drawing by
Holbein of Erasmus at his desk.]

From Bologna, in October 1507, Erasmus addressed a letter to the famous
Venetian printer, Aldus Manutius, in which he requested him to publish,
anew, the two translated dramas of Euripides, as the edition of Badius
was out of print and too defective for his taste. What made Aldus
attractive in his eyes was, no doubt, besides the fame of the business,
though it was languishing at the time, the printer's beautiful
type--'those most magnificent letters, especially those very small
ones'. Erasmus was one of those true book-lovers who pledge their heart
to a type or a size of a book, not because of any artistic preference,
but because of readableness and handiness, which to them are of the very
greatest importance. What he asked of Aldus was a small book at a low
price. Towards the end of the year their relations had gone so far that
Erasmus gave up his projected journey to Rome, for the time, to remove
to Venice, there personally to superintend the publication of his works.
Now there was no longer merely the question of a little book of
translations, but Aldus had declared himself willing to print the
enormously increased collection of the _Adagia_.

Beatus Rhenanus tells a story which, no doubt, he had heard from Erasmus
himself: how Erasmus on his arrival at Venice had gone straight to the
printing-office and was kept waiting there for a long time. Aldus was
correcting proofs and thought his visitor was one of those inquisitive
people by whom he used to be pestered. When he turned out to be Erasmus,
he welcomed him cordially and procured him board and lodging in the
house of his father-in-law, Andrea Asolani. Fully eight months did
Erasmus live there, in the environment which, in future, was to be his
true element: the printing-office. He was in a fever of hurried work,
about which he would often sigh, but which, after all, was congenial to
him. The augmented collection of the _Adagia_ had not yet been made
ready for the press at Bologna. 'With great temerity on my part,'
Erasmus himself testifies, 'we began to work at the same time, I to
write, Aldus to print.' Meanwhile the literary friends of the New
Academy whom he got to know at Venice, Johannes Lascaris, Baptista
Egnatius, Marcus Musurus and the young Jerome Aleander, with whom, at
Asolani's, he shared room and bed, brought him new Greek authors,
unprinted as yet, furnishing fresh material for augmenting the _Adagia_.
These were no inconsiderable additions: Plato in the original,
Plutarch's _Lives_ and _Moralia_, Pindar, Pausanias, and others. Even
people whom he did not know and who took an interest in his work,
brought new material to him. Amid the noise of the press-room, Erasmus,
to the surprise of his publisher, sat and wrote, usually from memory, so
busily occupied that, as he picturesquely expressed it, he had no time
to scratch his ears. He was lord and master of the printing-office. A
special corrector had been assigned to him; he made his textual changes
in the last impression. Aldus also read the proofs. 'Why?' asked
Erasmus. 'Because I am studying at the same time,' was the reply.
Meanwhile Erasmus suffered from the first attack of his tormenting
nephrolithic malady; he ascribed it to the food he got at Asolani's and
later took revenge by painting that boarding-house and its landlord in
very spiteful colours in the _Colloquies_.

When in September 1508, the edition of the _Adagia_ was ready, Aldus
wanted Erasmus to remain in order to write more for him. Till December
he continued to work at Venice on editions of Plautus, Terence, and
Seneca's tragedies. Visions of joint labour to publish all that classic
antiquity still held in the way of hidden treasures, together with
Hebrew and Chaldean stores, floated before his mind.

Erasmus belonged to the generation which had grown up together with the
youthful art of printing. To the world of those days it was still like a
newly acquired organ; people felt rich, powerful, happy in the
possession of this 'almost divine implement'. The figure of Erasmus and
his _[oe]uvre_ were only rendered possible by the art of printing. He
was its glorious triumph and, equally, in a sense, its victim. What
would Erasmus have been without the printing-press? To broadcast the
ancient documents, to purify and restore them was his life's passion.
The certainty that the printed book places exactly the same text in the
hands of thousands of readers, was to him a consolation that former
generations had lacked.

Erasmus is one of the first who, after his name as an author was
established, worked directly and continually for the press. It was his
strength, but also his weakness. It enabled him to exercise an immediate
influence on the reading public of Europe such as had emanated from none
before him; to become a focus of culture in the full sense of the word,
an intellectual central station, a touchstone of the spirit of the time.
Imagine for a moment what it would have meant if a still greater mind
than his, say Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, that universal spirit who had
helped in nursing the art of printing in its earliest infancy, could
have availed himself of the art as it was placed at the disposal of

The dangerous aspect of this situation was that printing enabled
Erasmus, having once become a centre and an authority, to address the
world at large immediately about all that occurred to him. Much of his
later mental labour is, after all, really but repetition, ruminating
digression, unnecessary vindication from assaults to which his greatness
alone would have been a sufficient answer, futilities which he might
have better left alone. Much of this work written directly for the press
is journalism at bottom, and we do Erasmus an injustice by applying to
it the tests of lasting excellence. The consciousness that we can reach
the whole world at once with our writings is a stimulant which
unwittingly influences our mode of expression, a luxury that only the
highest spirits can bear with impunity.

The link between Erasmus and book-printing was Latin. Without his
incomparable Latinity his position as an author would have been
impossible. The art of printing undoubtedly furthered the use of Latin.
It was the Latin publications which in those days promised success and a
large sale for a publisher, and established his reputation, for they
were broadcast all over the world. The leading publishers were
themselves scholars filled with enthusiasm for humanism. Cultured and
well-to-do people acted as proof-readers to printers; such as Peter
Gilles, the friend of Erasmus and More, the town clerk of Antwerp, who
corrected proof-sheets for Dirck Maertensz. The great printing-offices
were, in a local sense, too, the foci of intellectual intercourse. The
fact that England had lagged behind, thus far, in the evolution of the
art of printing, contributed not a little, no doubt, to prevent Erasmus
from settling there, where so many ties held and so many advantages
allured him.

To find a permanent place of residence was, indeed, and apart from this
fact, very hard for him. Towards the end of 1508 he accepted the post of
tutor in rhetorics to the young Alexander Stewart, a natural son of
James IV of Scotland, and already, in spite of his youth, Archbishop of
Saint Andrews, now a student at Padua. The danger of war soon drove them
from upper Italy to Siena. Here Erasmus obtained leave to visit Rome. He
arrived there early in 1509, no longer an unknown canon from the
northern regions but a celebrated and honoured author. All the charms of
the Eternal City lay open to him and he must have felt keenly gratified
by the consideration and courtesy with which cardinals and prelates,
such as Giovanni de' Medici, afterwards Leo X, Domenico Grimani, Riario
and others, treated him. It seems that he was even offered some post in
the curia. But he had to return to his youthful archbishop with whom he
thereupon visited Rome again, incognito, and afterwards travelled in the
neighbourhood of Naples. He inspected the cave of the Sibylla of Cumae,
but what it meant to him we do not know. This entire period following
his departure from Padua and all that follows till the spring of
1511--in certain respects the most important part of his life--remains
unrecorded in a single letter that has come down to us. Here and there
he has occasionally, and at a much later date, touched upon some
impressions of Rome,[9] but the whole remains vague and dim. It is the
incubation period of the _Praise of Folly_ that is thus obscured from

On 21 April 1509, King Henry VII of England died. His successor was the
young prince whom Erasmus had saluted at Eltham in 1499, to whom he had
dedicated his poem in praise of Great Britain, and who, during his stay
at Bologna, had distinguished him by a Latin letter as creditable to
Erasmus as to the fifteen-year-old royal latinist.[10] If ever the
chance of obtaining a patron seemed favourable, it was now, when this
promising lover of letters ascended the throne as Henry VIII. Lord
Mountjoy, Erasmus's most faithful Maecenas, thought so, too, and pointed
out the fact to him in a letter of 27 May 1509. It was a pleasure to
see, he wrote, how vigorous, how upright and just, how zealous in the
cause of literature and men of letters was the conduct of the youthful
prince. Mountjoy--or Ammonius, who probably drew up the flowery document
for him--was exultant. A laughing sky and tears of joy are the themes of
the letter. Evidently, however, Erasmus himself had, on his side,
already sounded Mountjoy as to his chances, as soon as the tidings of
Henry VII's death became known at Rome; not without lamentations about
cares and weakened health. 'The Archbishop of Canterbury', Mountjoy was
able to apprise Erasmus, 'is not only continually engrossed in your
_Adagia_ and praises you to the skies, but he also promises you a
benefice on your return and sends you five pounds for travelling
expenses,' which sum was doubled by Mountjoy.

We do not know whether Erasmus really hesitated before he reached his
decision. Cardinal Grimani, he asserts, tried to hold him back, but in
vain, for in July, 1509, he left Rome and Italy, never to return.

As he crossed the Alps for the second time, not on the French side now,
but across the Splügen, through Switzerland, his genius touched him
again, as had happened in those high regions three years before on the
road to Italy. But this time it was not in the guise of the Latin Muse,
who then drew from him such artful and pathetic poetical meditations
about his past life and pious vows for the future;--it was something
much more subtle and grand: the _Praise of Folly_.


[9] LBE. No. 1175 _c._ 1375, visit to Grimani.

[10] A. 206, where from Allen's introduction one can form an opinion
about the prince's share in the composition.



    _Moriae Encomium, The Praise of Folly_: 1509, as a work of
    art--Folly, the motor of all life: Indispensable, salutary,
    cause and support of states and of heroism--Folly keeps the
    world going--Vital energy incorporated with folly--Lack of folly
    makes unfit for life--Need of self-complacency--Humbug beats
    truth--Knowledge a plague--Satire of all secular and
    ecclesiastical vocations--Two themes throughout the work--The
    highest folly: Ecstasy--The _Moria_ to be taken as a gay
    jest--Confusion of fools and lunatics--Erasmus treats his
    _Moria_ slightingly--Its value

While he rode over the mountain passes,[11] Erasmus's restless spirit,
now unfettered for some days by set tasks, occupied itself with
everything he had studied and read in the last few years, and with
everything he had seen. What ambition, what self-deception, what pride
and conceit filled the world! He thought of Thomas More, whom he was now
to see again--that most witty and wise of all his friends, with that
curious name _Moros_, the Greek word for a fool, which so ill became his
personality. Anticipating the gay jests which More's conversation
promised, there grew in his mind that masterpiece of humour and wise
irony, _Moriae Encomium_, the _Praise of Folly_. The world as the scene
of universal folly; folly as the indispensable element making life and
society possible and all this put into the mouth of Stultitia--Folly--
itself (true antitype of Minerva), who in a panegyric on her own power
and usefulness, praises herself. As to form it is a _Declamatio_, such
as he had translated from the Greek of Libanius. As to the spirit, a
revival of Lucian, whose _Gallus_, translated by him three years before,
may have suggested the theme. It must have been in the incomparably
lucid moments of that brilliant intellect. All the particulars of
classic reading which the year before he worked up in the new edition of
the _Adagia_ were still at his immediate disposal in that retentive and
capacious memory. Reflecting at his ease on all that wisdom of the
ancients, he secreted the juices required for his expostulation.

He arrived in London, took up his abode in More's house in Bucklersbury,
and there, tortured by nephritic pains, he wrote down in a few days,
without having his books with him, the perfect work of art that must
have been ready in his mind. Stultitia was truly born in the manner of
her serious sister Pallas.

As to form and imagery the _Moria_ is faultless, the product of the
inspired moments of creative impulse. The figure of an orator
confronting her public is sustained to the last in a masterly way. We
see the faces of the auditors light up with glee when Folly appears in
the pulpit; we hear the applause interrupting her words. There is a
wealth of fancy, coupled with so much soberness of line and colour, such
reserve, that the whole presents a perfect instance of that harmony
which is the essence of Renaissance expression. There is no exuberance,
in spite of the multiplicity of matter and thought, but a temperateness,
a smoothness, an airiness and clearness which are as gladdening as they
are relaxing. In order perfectly to realize the artistic perfection of
Erasmus's book we should compare it with Rabelais.

'Without me', says Folly, 'the world cannot exist for a moment. For is
not all that is done at all among mortals, full of folly; is it not
performed by fools and for fools?' 'No society, no cohabitation can be
pleasant or lasting without folly; so much so, that a people could not
stand its prince, nor the master his man, nor the maid her mistress, nor
the tutor his pupil, nor the friend his friend, nor the wife her husband
for a moment longer, if they did not now and then err together, now
flatter each other; now sensibly conniving at things, now smearing
themselves with some honey of folly.' In that sentence the summary of
the _Laus_ is contained. Folly here is worldly wisdom, resignation and
lenient judgement.

He who pulls off the masks in the comedy of life is ejected. What is the
whole life of mortals but a sort of play in which each actor appears on
the boards in his specific mask and acts his part till the stage-manager
calls him off? He acts wrongly who does not adapt himself to existing
conditions, and demands that the game shall be a game no longer. It is
the part of the truly sensible to mix with all people, either conniving
readily at their folly, or affably erring like themselves.

And the necessary driving power of all human action is 'Philautia',
Folly's own sister: self-love. He who does not please himself effects
little. Take away that condiment of life and the word of the orator
cools, the poet is laughed at, the artist perishes with his art.

Folly in the garb of pride, of vanity, of vainglory, is the hidden
spring of all that is considered high and great in this world. The state
with its posts of honour, patriotism and national pride; the stateliness
of ceremonies, the delusion of caste and nobility--what is it but folly?
War, the most foolish thing of all, is the origin of all heroism. What
prompted the Deciuses, what Curtius, to sacrifice themselves? Vainglory.
It is this folly which produces states; through her, empires, religion,
law-courts, exist.

This is bolder and more chilling than Machiavelli, more detached than
Montaigne. But Erasmus will not have it credited to him: it is Folly who
speaks. He purposely makes us tread the round of the _circulus
vitiosus_, as in the old saw: A Cretan said, all Cretans are liars.

Wisdom is to folly as reason is to passion. And there is much more
passion than reason in the world. That which keeps the world going, the
fount of life, is folly. For what else is love? Why do people marry, if
not out of folly, which sees no objections? All enjoyment and amusement
is only a condiment of folly. When a wise man wishes to become a father,
he has first to play the fool. For what is more foolish than the game of

Unperceived the orator has incorporated here with folly all that is
vitality and the courage of life. Folly is spontaneous energy that no
one can do without. He who is perfectly sensible and serious cannot
live. The more people get away from me, Stultitia, the less they live.
Why do we kiss and cuddle little children, if not because they are still
so delightfully foolish. And what else makes youth so elegant?

Now look at the truly serious and sensible. They are awkward at
everything, at meal-time, at a dance, in playing, in social intercourse.
If they have to buy, or to contract, things are sure to go wrong.
Quintilian says that stage fright bespeaks the intelligent orator, who
knows his faults. Right! But does not, then, Quintilian confess openly
that wisdom is an impediment to good execution? And has not Stultitia
the right to claim prudence for herself, if the wise, out of shame, out
of bashfulness, undertake nothing in circumstances where fools pluckily
set to work?

Here Erasmus goes to the root of the matter in a psychological sense.
Indeed the consciousness of falling short in achievement is the brake
clogging action, is the great inertia retarding the progress of the
world. Did he know himself for one who is awkward when not bending over
his books, but confronting men and affairs?

Folly is gaiety and lightheartedness, indispensable to happiness. The
man of mere reason without passion is a stone image, blunt and without
any human feeling, a spectre or monster, from whom all fly, deaf to all
natural emotions, susceptible neither to love nor compassion. Nothing
escapes him, in nothing he errs; he sees through everything, he weighs
everything accurately, he forgives nothing, he is only satisfied with
himself; he alone is healthy; he alone is king, he alone is free. It is
the hideous figure of the doctrinaire which Erasmus is thinking of.
Which state, he exclaims, would desire such an absolutely wise man for a

He who devotes himself to tasting all the bitterness of life with wise
insight would forthwith deprive himself of life. Only folly is a remedy:
to err, to be mistaken, to be ignorant is to be human. How much better
it is in marriage to be blind to a wife's shortcomings than to make away
with oneself out of jealousy and to fill the world with tragedy!
Adulation is virtue. There is no cordial devotion without a little
adulation. It is the soul of eloquence, of medicine and poetry; it is
the honey and the sweetness of all human customs.

Again a series of valuable social qualities is slyly incorporated with
folly: benevolence, kindness, inclination to approve and to admire.

But especially to approve of oneself. There is no pleasing others
without beginning by flattering ourselves a little and approving of
ourselves. What would the world be if everyone was not proud of his
standing, his calling, so that no person would change places with
another in point of good appearance, of fancy, of good family, of landed

Humbug is the right thing. Why should any one desire true erudition? The
more incompetent a man, the pleasanter his life is and the more he is
admired. Look at professors, poets, orators. Man's mind is so made that
he is more impressed by lies than by the truth. Go to church: if the
priest deals with serious subjects the whole congregation is dozing,
yawning, feeling bored. But when he begins to tell some cock-and-bull
story, they awake, sit up, and hang on his lips.

To be deceived, philosophers say, is a misfortune, but not to be
deceived is a superlative misfortune. If it is human to err, why should
a man be called unhappy because he errs, since he was so born and made,
and it is the fate of all? Do we pity a man because he cannot fly or
does not walk on four legs? We might as well call the horse unhappy
because it does not learn grammar or eat cakes. No creature is unhappy,
if it lives according to its nature. The sciences were invented to our
utmost destruction; far from conducing to our happiness, they are even
in its way, though for its sake they are supposed to have been invented.
By the agency of evil demons they have stolen into human life with the
other pests. For did not the simple-minded people of the Golden Age live
happily, unprovided with any science, only led by nature and instinct?
What did they want grammar for, when all spoke the same language? Why
have dialectics, when there were no quarrels and no differences of
opinion? Why jurisprudence, when there were no bad morals from which
good laws sprang? They were too religious to investigate with impious
curiosity the secrets of nature, the size, motions, influence of the
stars, the hidden cause of things.

It is the old idea, which germinated in antiquity, here lightly touched
upon by Erasmus, afterwards proclaimed by Rousseau in bitter earnest:
civilization is a plague.

Wisdom is misfortune, but self-conceit is happiness. Grammarians, who
wield the sceptre of wisdom--schoolmasters, that is--would be the most
wretched of all people if I, Folly, did not mitigate the discomforts of
their miserable calling by a sort of sweet frenzy. But what holds good
of schoolmasters, also holds good of poets, orators, authors. For them,
too, all happiness merely consists in vanity and delusion. The lawyers
are no better off and after them come the philosophers. Next there is a
numerous procession of clergy: divines, monks, bishops, cardinals,
popes, only interrupted by princes and courtiers.

In the chapters[12] which review these offices and callings, satire has
shifted its ground a little. Throughout the work two themes are
intertwined: that of salutary folly, which is true wisdom, and that of
deluded wisdom, which is pure folly. As they are both put into the mouth
of Folly, we should have to invert them both to get truth, if Folly ...
were not wisdom. Now it is clear that the first is the principal theme.
Erasmus starts from it; and he returns to it. Only in the middle, as he
reviews human accomplishments and dignities in their universal
foolishness, the second theme predominates and the book becomes an
ordinary satire on human folly, of which there are many though few are
so delicate. But in the other parts it is something far deeper.

Occasionally the satire runs somewhat off the line, when Stultitia
directly censures what Erasmus wishes to censure; for instance,
indulgences, silly belief in wonders, selfish worship of the saints; or
gamblers whom she, Folly, ought to praise; or the spirit of
systematizing and levelling, and the jealousy of the monks.

For contemporary readers the importance of the _Laus Stultitiae_ was, to
a great extent, in the direct satire. Its lasting value is in those
passages where we truly grant that folly is wisdom and the reverse.
Erasmus knows the aloofness of the ground of all things: all consistent
thinking out of the dogmas of faith leads to absurdity. Only look at the
theological quiddities of effete scholasticism. The apostles would not
have understood them: in the eyes of latter-day divines they would have
been fools. Holy Scripture itself sides with folly. 'The foolishness of
God is wiser than men,' says Saint Paul. 'But God hath chosen the
foolish things of the world.' 'It pleased God by the foolishness (of
preaching) to save them that believe.' Christ loved the simple-minded
and the ignorant: children, women, poor fishermen, nay, even such
animals as are farthest removed from vulpine cunning: the ass which he
wished to ride, the dove, the lamb, the sheep.

Here there is a great deal behind the seemingly light jest: 'Christian
religion seems in general to have some affinity with a certain sort of
folly'. Was it not thought the apostles were full of new wine? And did
not the judge say: 'Paul, thou art beside thyself'? When are we beside
ourselves? When the spirit breaks its fetters and tries to escape from
its prison and aspires to liberty. That is madness, but it is also
other-worldliness and the highest wisdom. True happiness is in
selflessness, in the furore of lovers, whom Plato calls happiest of all.
The more absolute love is, the greater and more rapturous is the frenzy.
Heavenly bliss itself is the greatest insanity; truly pious people enjoy
its shadow on earth already in their meditations.

Here Stultitia breaks off her discourse, apologizing in a few words in
case she may have been too petulant or talkative, and leaves the pulpit.
'So farewell, applaud, live happily, and drink, Moria's illustrious

It was an unrivalled feat of art even in these last chapters neither to
lose the light comical touch, nor to lapse into undisguised profanation.
It was only feasible by veritable dancing on the tight-rope of
sophistry. In the _Moria_ Erasmus is all the time hovering on the brink
of profound truths. But what a boon it was--still granted to those
times--to be able to treat of all this in a vein of pleasantry. For this
should be impressed upon our minds: that the _Moriae Encomium_ is a
true, gay jest. The laugh is more delicate, but no less hearty than
Rabelais's. 'Valete, plaudite, vivite, bibite.' 'All common people
abound to such a degree, and everywhere, in so many forms of folly that
a thousand Democrituses would be insufficient to laugh at them all (and
they would require another Democritus to laugh at them).'

How could one take the _Moria_ too seriously, when even More's _Utopia_,
which is a true companion-piece to it and makes such a grave impression
on us, is treated by its author and Erasmus as a mere jest? There is a
place where the _Laus_ seems to touch both More and Rabelais; the place
where Stultitia speaks of her father, Plutus, the god of wealth, at
whose beck all things are turned topsy-turvy, according to whose will
all human affairs are regulated--war and peace, government and counsel,
justice and treaties. He has begotten her on the nymph Youth, not a
senile, purblind Plutus, but a fresh god, warm with youth and nectar,
like another Gargantua.

The figure of Folly, of gigantic size, looms large in the period of the
Renaissance. She wears a fool's cap and bells. People laughed loudly and
with unconcern at all that was foolish, without discriminating between
species of folly. It is remarkable that even in the _Laus_, delicate as
it is, the author does not distinguish between the unwise or the silly,
between fools and lunatics. Holbein, illustrating Erasmus, knows but of
one representation of a fool: with a staff and ass's ears. Erasmus
speaks without clear transition, now of foolish persons and now of real
lunatics. They are happiest of all, he makes Stultitia say: they are not
frightened by spectres and apparitions; they are not tortured by the
fear of impending calamities; everywhere they bring mirth, jests, frolic
and laughter. Evidently he here means harmless imbeciles, who, indeed,
were often used as jesters. This identification of denseness and
insanity is kept up, however, like the confusion of the comic and the
simply ridiculous, and all this is well calculated to make us feel how
wide the gap has already become that separates us from Erasmus.

       *       *       *       *       *

In later years he always spoke slightingly of his _Moria_. He considered
it so unimportant, he says, as to be unworthy of publication, yet no
work of his had been received with such applause. It was a trifle and
not at all in keeping with his character. More had made him write it, as
if a camel were made to dance. But these disparaging utterances were not
without a secondary purpose. The _Moria_ had not brought him only
success and pleasure. The exceedingly susceptible age in which he lived
had taken the satire in very bad part, where it seemed to glance at
offices and orders, although in his preface he had tried to safeguard
himself from the reproach of irreverence. His airy play with the texts
of Holy Scripture had been too venturesome for many. His friend Martin
van Dorp upbraided him with having made a mock of eternal life. Erasmus
did what he could to convince evil-thinkers that the purpose of the
_Moria_ was no other than to exhort people to be virtuous. In affirming
this he did his work injustice: it was much more than that. But in 1515
he was no longer what he had been in 1509. Repeatedly he had been
obliged to defend his most witty work. Had he known that it would
offend, he might have kept it back, he writes in 1517 to an acquaintance
at Louvain. Even towards the end of his life, he warded off the
insinuations of Alberto Pio of Carpi in a lengthy expostulation.

Erasmus made no further ventures in the genre of the _Praise of Folly_.
One might consider the treatise _Lingua_, which he published in 1525, as
an attempt to make a companion-piece to the _Moria_. The book is called
_Of the Use and Abuse of the Tongue_. In the opening pages there is
something that reminds us of the style of the _Laus_, but it lacks all
the charm both of form and of thought.

Should one pity Erasmus because, of all his publications, collected in
ten folio volumes, only the _Praise of Folly_ has remained a really
popular book? It is, apart from the _Colloquies_, perhaps the only one
of his works that is still read for its own sake. The rest is now only
studied from a historical point of view, for the sake of becoming
acquainted with his person or his times. It seems to me that perfect
justice has been done in this case. The _Praise of Folly_ is his best
work. He wrote other books, more erudite, some more pious--some perhaps
of equal or greater influence on his time. But each has had its day.
_Moriae Encomium_ alone was to be immortal. For only when humour
illuminated that mind did it become truly profound. In the _Praise of
Folly_ Erasmus gave something that no one else could have given to the

[Illustration: XI. The last page of the _Praise of Folly_, with
Holbein's drawing of Folly descending from the pulpit]



[11] That he conceived the work in the Alps follows from the fact that
he tells us explicitly that it happened while riding, whereas, after
passing through Switzerland, he travelled by boat. A. 1, IV 216.62.

[12] Erasmus did not divide the book into chapters. It was done by an
editor as late as 1765.




    Third stay in England: 1509-14--No information about two years
    of Erasmus's life: 1509 summer, till 1511 spring--Poverty--
    Erasmus at Cambridge--Relations with Badius, the Paris
    publisher--A mistake profitable to Johannes Froben at Basle--
    Erasmus leaves England: 1514--_Julius Exclusus_--Epistle
    against war

From the moment when Erasmus, back from Italy in the early summer of
1509, is hidden from view in the house of More, to write the _Praise of
Folly_, until nearly two years later when he comes to view again on the
road to Paris to have the book printed by Gilles Gourmont, every trace
of his life has been obliterated. Of the letters which during that
period he wrote and received, not a single one has been preserved.
Perhaps it was the happiest time of his life, for it was partly spent
with his tried patron, Mountjoy, and also in the house of More in that
noble and witty circle which to Erasmus appeared ideal. That house was
also frequented by the friend whom Erasmus had made during his former
sojourn in England, and whose mind was perhaps more congenial to him
than any other, Andrew Ammonius. It is not improbable that during these
months he was able to work without interruption at the studies to which
he was irresistibly attracted, without cares as to the immediate future,
and not yet burdened by excessive renown, which afterwards was to cause
him as much trouble and loss as joy.

That future was still uncertain. As soon as he no longer enjoys More's
hospitality, the difficulties and complaints recommence. Continual
poverty, uncertainty and dependence were extraordinarily galling to a
mind requiring above all things liberty. At Paris he charged Badius with
a new, revised edition of the _Adagia_, though the Aldine might still be
had there at a moderate price. The _Laus_, which had just appeared at
Gourmont's, was reprinted at Strassburg as early as 1511, with a
courteous letter by Jacob Wimpfeling to Erasmus, but evidently without
his being consulted in the matter. By that time he was back in England,
had been laid up in London with a bad attack of the sweating sickness,
and thence had gone to Queens' College, Cambridge, where he had resided
before. From Cambridge he writes to Colet, 24 August 1511, in a vein of
comical despair. The journey from London had been disastrous: a lame
horse, no victuals for the road, rain and thunder. 'But I am almost
pleased at this, I see the track of Christian poverty.' A chance to make
some money he does not see; he will be obliged to spend everything he
can wrest from his Maecenases--he, born under a wrathful Mercury.

This may sound somewhat gloomier than it was meant, but a few weeks
later he writes again: 'Oh, this begging; you laugh at me, I know. But I
hate myself for it and am fully determined, either to obtain some
fortune, which will relieve me from cringing, or to imitate Diogenes
altogether.' This refers to a dedication of a translation of Basilius's
Commentaries on Isaiah to John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester.

Colet, who had never known pecuniary cares himself, did not well
understand these sallies of Erasmus. He replies to them with delicate
irony and covert rebuke, which Erasmus, in his turn, pretends not to
understand. He was now 'in want in the midst of plenty', _simul et in
media copia et in summa inopia_. That is to say, he was engaged in
preparing for Badius's press the _De copia verborum ac rerum_, formerly
begun at Paris; it was dedicated to Colet. 'I ask you, who can be more
impudent or abject than I, who for such a long time already have been
openly begging in England?'

Writing to Ammonius he bitterly regrets having left Rome and Italy; how
prosperity had smiled upon him there! In the same way he would
afterwards lament that he had not permanently established himself in
England. If he had only embraced the opportunity! he thinks. Was not
Erasmus rather one of those people whom good fortune cannot help? He
remained in trouble and his tone grows more bitter. 'I am preparing some
bait against the 1st of January, though it is pretty sure to be in
vain,' he writes to Ammonius, referring to new translations of Lucian
and Plutarch.

At Cambridge Erasmus lectured on divinity and Greek, but it brought him
little success and still less profit. The long-wished-for prebend,
indeed, had at last been given him, in the form of the rectory of
Aldington, in Kent, to which Archbishop William Warham, his patron,
appointed him in 1512. Instead of residing he was allowed to draw a
pension of twenty pounds a year. The archbishop affirms explicitly that,
contrary to his custom, he had granted this favour to Erasmus, because
he, 'a light of learning in Latin and Greek literature, had, out of love
for England, disdained to live in Italy, France, or Germany, in order to
pass the rest of his life here, with his friends'. We see how nations
already begin to vie with each other for the honour of sheltering

Relief from all cares the post did not bring. Intercourse and
correspondence with Colet was a little soured under the light veil of
jests and kindness by his constant need of money. Seeking new resources
by undertaking new labours, or preparing new editions of his old books,
remained a hard necessity for Erasmus. The great works upon which he had
set his heart, and to which he had given all his energies at Cambridge,
held out no promise of immediate profit. His serious theological labours
ranked above all others; and in these hard years, he devoted his best
strength to preparation for the great edition of Jerome's works and
emendation of the text of the New Testament, a task inspired, encouraged
and promoted by Colet.

For his living other books had to serve. He had a sufficient number now,
and the printers were eager enough about them, though the profit which
the author made by them was not large. After leaving Aldus at Venice,
Erasmus had returned to the publisher who had printed for him as early
as 1505--Josse Badius, of Brabant, who, at Paris, had established the
Ascensian Press (called after his native place, Assche) and who, a
scholar himself, rivalled Aldus in point of the accuracy of his editions
of the classics. At the time when Erasmus took the _Moria_ to Gourmont,
at Paris, he had charged Badius with a new edition, still to be revised,
of the _Adagia_. Why the _Moria_ was published by another, we cannot
tell; perhaps Badius did not like it at first. From the _Adagia_ he
promised himself the more profit, but that was a long work, the
alterations and preface of which he was still waiting for Erasmus to
send. He felt very sure of his ground, for everyone knew that he,
Badius, was preparing the new edition. Yet a rumour reached him that in
Germany the Aldine edition was being reprinted. So there was some hurry
to finish it, he wrote to Erasmus in May 1512.

Badius, meanwhile, had much more work of Erasmus in hand, or on
approval: the _Copia_, which, shortly afterwards, was published by him;
the _Moria_, of which, at the same time, a new edition, the fifth,
already had appeared; the dialogues by Lucian; the Euripides and Seneca
translations, which were to follow. He hoped to add Jerome's letters to
these. For the _Adagia_ they had agreed upon a copy-fee of fifteen
guilders; for Jerome's letters Badius was willing to give the same sum
and as much again for the rest of the consignment. 'Ah, you will say,
what a very small sum! I own that by no remuneration could your genius,
industry, knowledge and labour be requited, but the gods will requite
you and your own virtue will be the finest reward. You have already
deserved exceedingly well of Greek and Roman literature; you will in
this same way deserve well of sacred and divine, and you will help your
little Badius, who has a numerous family and no earnings besides his
daily trade.'

Erasmus must have smiled ruefully on receiving Badius's letter. But he
accepted the proposal readily. He promised to prepare everything for the
press and, on 5 January 1513, he finished, in London, the preface to the
revised _Adagia_, for which Badius was waiting. But then something
happened. An agent who acted as a mediator with authors for several
publishers in Germany and France, one Francis Berckman, of Cologne, took
the revised copy of the _Adagia_ with the preface entrusted to him by
Erasmus to hand over to Badius, not to Paris, but to Basle, to Johannes
Froben, who had just, without Erasmus's leave, reprinted the Venetian
edition! Erasmus pretended to be indignant at this mistake or perfidy,
but it is only too clear that he did not regret it. Six months later he
betook himself with bag and baggage to Basle, to enter with that same
Froben into those most cordial relations by which their names are
united. Beatus Rhenanus, afterwards, made no secret of the fact that a
connection with the house of Froben, then still called Amerbach and
Froben, had seemed attractive to Erasmus ever since he had heard of the
_Adagia_ being reprinted.

Without conclusive proofs of his complicity, we do not like to accuse
Erasmus of perfidy towards Badius, though his attitude is curious, to
say the least. But we do want to commemorate the dignified tone in which
Badius, who held strict notions, as those times went, about copyright,
replied, when Berckman afterwards had come to offer him a sort of
explanation of the case. He declares himself satisfied, though Erasmus
had, since that time, caused him losses in more ways, amongst others by
printing a new edition of the _Copia_ at Strassburg. 'If, however, it is
agreeable to your interests and honour, I shall suffer it, and that with
equanimity.' Their relations were not broken off. In all this we should
not lose sight of the fact that publishing at that time was yet a quite
new commercial phenomenon and that new commercial forms and relations of
trade are wont to be characterized by uncertainty, confusion and lack of
established business morals.

The stay at Cambridge gradually became irksome to Erasmus. 'For some
months already', he writes to Ammonius in November 1513, 'we have been
leading a true snail's life, staying at home and plodding. It is very
lonely here; most people have gone for fear of the plague, but even when
they are all here, it is lonely.' The cost of sustenance is unbearable
and he makes no money at all. If he does not succeed, that winter, in
making a nest for himself, he is resolved to fly away, he does not know
where. 'If to no other end, to die elsewhere.'

Added to the stress of circumstances, the plague, reappearing again and
again, and attacks of his kidney-trouble, there came the state of war,
which depressed and alarmed Erasmus. In the spring of 1513 the English
raid on France, long prepared, took place. In co-operation with
Maximilian's army the English had beaten the French near Guinegate and
compelled Therouanne to surrender, and afterwards Tournay. Meanwhile the
Scotch invaded England, to be decisively beaten near Flodden. Their
king, James IV, perished together with his natural son, Erasmus's pupil
and travelling companion in Italy, Alexander, Archbishop of Saint

Crowned with martial fame, Henry VIII returned in November to meet his
parliament. Erasmus did not share the universal joy and enthusiastic
admiration. 'We are circumscribed here by the plague, threatened by
robbers; we drink wine of the worst (because there is no import from
France), but, _io triumphe!_ we are the conquerors of the world!'

His deep aversion to the clamour of war, and all it represented,
stimulated Erasmus's satirical faculties. It is true that he flattered
the English national pride by an epigram on the rout of the French near
Guinegate, but soon he went deeper. He remembered how war had impeded
his movements in Italy; how the entry of the pope-conqueror, Julius II,
into Bologna had outraged his feelings. 'The high priest Julius wages
war, conquers, triumphs and truly plays the part of Julius (Caesar)' he
had written then. Pope Julius, he thought, had been the cause of all the
wars spreading more and more over Europe. Now the Pope had died in the
beginning of the year 1513.

And in the deepest secrecy, between his work on the New Testament and
Jerome, Erasmus took revenge on the martial Pope, for the misery of the
times, by writing the masterly satire, entitled _Julius exclusus_, in
which the Pope appears in all his glory before the gate of the Heavenly
Paradise to plead his cause and find himself excluded. The theme was not
new to him; for had he not made something similar in the witty Cain
fable, by which, at one time, he had cheered a dinner-party at Oxford?
But that was an innocent jest to which his pious fellow-guests had
listened with pleasure. To the satire about the defunct Pope many would,
no doubt, also gladly listen, but Erasmus had to be careful about it.
The folly of all the world might be ridiculed, but not the worldly
propensities of the recently deceased Pope. Therefore, though he helped
in circulating copies of the manuscript, Erasmus did his utmost, for the
rest of his life, to preserve its anonymity, and when it was universally
known and had appeared in print, and he was presumed to be the author,
he always cautiously denied the fact; although he was careful to use
such terms as to avoid a formal denial. The first edition of the
_Julius_ was published at Basle, not by Froben, Erasmus's ordinary
publisher, but by Cratander, probably in the year 1518.

Erasmus's need of protesting against warfare had not been satisfied by
writing the _Julius_. In March 1514, no longer at Cambridge, but in
London, he wrote a letter to his former patron, the Abbot of Saint
Bertin, Anthony of Bergen, in which he enlarges upon the folly of waging
war. Would that a Christian peace were concluded between Christian
princes! Perhaps the abbot might contribute to that consummation through
his influence with the youthful Charles V and especially with his
grandfather Maximilian. Erasmus states quite frankly that the war has
suddenly changed the spirit of England. He would like to return to his
native country if the prince would procure him the means to live there
in peace. It is a remarkable fact and of true Erasmian naïveté that he
cannot help mixing up his personal interests with his sincere
indignation at the atrocities disgracing a man and a Christian. 'The war
has suddenly altered the spirit of this island. The cost of living rises
every day and generosity decreases. Through lack of wine I nearly
perished by gravel, contracted by taking bad stuff. We are confined in
this island, more than ever, so that even letters are not carried

This was the first of Erasmus's anti-war writings. He expanded it into
the adage _Dulce bellum inexpertis_, which was inserted into the
_Adagia_ edition of 1515, published by Froben and afterwards also
printed separately. Hereafter we shall follow up this line of Erasmus's
ideas as a whole.

Though the summer of 1514 was to bring peace between England and France,
Erasmus had now definitely made up his mind to leave England. He sent
his trunks to Antwerp, to his friend Peter Gilles and prepared to go to
the Netherlands, after a short visit to Mountjoy at the castle of Hammes
near Calais. Shortly before his departure from London he had a curious
interview with a papal diplomat, working in the cause of peace, Count
Canossa, at Ammonius's house on the Thames. Ammonius passed him off on
Erasmus as a merchant. After the meal the Italian sounded him as to a
possible return to Rome, where he might be the first in place instead of
living alone among a barbarous nation. Erasmus replied that he lived in
a land that contained the greatest number of excellent scholars, among
whom he would be content with the humblest place. This compliment was
his farewell to England, which had favoured him so. Some days later, in
the first half of July 1514, he was on the other side of the Channel. On
three more occasions he paid short visits to England, but he lived there
no more.

[Illustration: XIII. JOHANNES FROBEN, 1522-3

Reproduced by gracious permission of H.M. The Queen]





    On the way to success and satisfaction--His Prior calls him back
    to Steyn--He refuses to comply--First journey to Basle:
    1514-16--Cordial welcome in Germany--Johannes Froben--Editions
    of Jerome and the New Testament--A Councillor to Prince Charles:
    _Institutio Principis Christiani_, 1515--Definitive dispensation
    from Monastic Vows: 1517--Fame--Erasmus as a spiritual
    centre--His correspondence--Letter-writing as an art--Its
    dangers--A glorious age at hand

Erasmus had, as was usual with him, enveloped his departure from England
with mystery. It was given out that he was going to Rome to redeem a
pledge. Probably he had already determined to try his fortune in the
Netherlands; not in Holland, but in the neighbourhood of the princely
court in Brabant. The chief object of his journey, however, was to visit
Froben's printing-office at Basle, personally to supervise the
publication of the numerous works, old and new, which he brought with
him, among them the material for his chosen task, the New Testament and
Jerome, by which he hoped to effect the restoration of theology, which
he had long felt to be his life-work. It is easy thus to imagine his
anxiety when during the crossing he discovered that his hand-bag,
containing the manuscripts, was found to have been taken on board
another ship. He felt bereft, having lost the labour of so many years; a
sorrow so great, he writes, as only parents can feel at the loss of
their children.

To his joy, however, he found his manuscripts safe on the other side. At
the castle of Hammes near Calais, he stayed for some days, the guest of
Mountjoy. There, on 7 July, a letter found him, written on 18 April by
his superior, the prior of Steyn, his old friend Servatius Rogerus,
recalling him to the monastery after so many years of absence. The
letter had already been in the hands of more than one prying person,
before it reached him by mere chance.

It was a terrific blow, which struck him in the midst of his course to
his highest aspirations. Erasmus took counsel for a day and then sent a
refusal. To his old friend, in addressing whom he always found the most
serious accents of his being, he wrote a letter which he meant to be a
justification and which was self-contemplation, much deeper and more
sincere than the one which, at a momentous turning-point of his life,
had drawn from him his _Carmen Alpestre_.

He calls upon God to be his witness that he would follow the purest
inspiration of his life. But to return to the monastery! He reminds
Servatius of the circumstances under which he entered it, as they lived
in his memory: the pressure of his relations, his false modesty. He
points out to him how ill monastic life had suited his constitution, how
it outraged his love of freedom, how detrimental it would be to his
delicate health, if now resumed. Had he, then, lived a worse life in the
world? Literature had kept him from many vices. His restless life could
not redound to his dishonour, though only with diffidence did he dare to
appeal to the examples of Solon, Pythagoras, St. Paul and his favourite
Jerome. Had he not everywhere won recognition from friends and patrons?
He enumerates them: cardinals, archbishops, bishops, Mountjoy, the
Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and, lastly, John Colet. Was
there, then, any objection to his works: the _Enchiridion_, the
_Adagia_? (He did not mention the _Moria_.) The best was still to
follow: Jerome and the New Testament. The fact that, since his stay in
Italy, he had laid aside the habit of his order and wore a common
clerical dress, he could excuse on a number of grounds.

The conclusion was: I shall not return to Holland. 'I know that I shall
not be able to stand the air and the food there; all eyes will be
directed to me. I shall return to the country, an old and grey man, who
left it as a youth; I shall return a valetudinarian; I shall be exposed
to the contempt even of the lowest, I, who am accustomed to be honoured
even by the greatest.' 'It is not possible', he concludes, 'to speak out
frankly in a letter. I am now going to Basle and thence to Rome,
perhaps, but on my return I shall try to visit you ... I have heard of
the deaths of William, Francis and Andrew (his old Dutch friends).
Remember me to Master Henry and the others who live with you; I am
disposed towards them as befits me. For those old tragedies I ascribe to
my errors, or if you like to my fate. Do not omit to commend me to
Christ in your prayers. If I knew for sure that it would be pleasing to
Him that I should return to live with you, I should prepare for the
journey this very day. Farewell, my former sweetest companion, now my
venerable father.'

Underlying the immediate motives of his high theological aspirations,
this refusal was doubtless actuated by his ancient, inveterate,
psychological incentives of disgust and shame.[13]

       *       *       *       *       *

Through the southern Netherlands, where he visited several friends and
patrons and renewed his acquaintance with the University of Louvain,
Erasmus turned to the Rhine and reached Basle in the second half of
August 1514. There such pleasures of fame awaited him as he had never
yet tasted. The German humanists hailed him as the light of the
world--in letters, receptions and banquets. They were more solemn and
enthusiastic than Erasmus had found the scholars of France, England and
Italy, to say nothing of his compatriots; and they applauded him
emphatically as being a German himself and an ornament of Germany. At
his first meeting with Froben, Erasmus permitted himself the pleasure of
a jocular deception: he pretended to be a friend and agent of himself,
to enjoy to the full the joy of being recognized. The German environment
was rather to his mind: '_My_ Germany, which to my regret and shame I
got to know so late'.

Soon the work for which he had come was in full swing. He was in his
element once more, as he had been at Venice six years before: working
hard in a large printing-office, surrounded by scholars, who heaped upon
him homage and kindness in those rare moments of leisure which he
permitted himself. 'I move in a most agreeable Museon: so many men of
learning, and of such exceptional learning!'

Some translations of the lesser works of Plutarch were published by
Froben in August. The _Adagia_ was passing through the press again with
corrections and additions, and the preface which was originally destined
for Badius. At the same time Dirck Maertensz, at Louvain, was also at
work for Erasmus, who had, on passing through the town, entrusted him
with a collection of easy Latin texts; also M. Schürer at Strassburg,
who prepared the _Parabolae sive similia_ for him. For Froben, too,
Erasmus was engaged on a Seneca, which appeared in 1515, together with a
work on Latin construction. But Jerome and the New Testament remained
his chief occupation.

Jerome's works had been Erasmus's love in early youth, especially his
letters. The plan of preparing a correct edition of the great Father of
the Church was conceived in 1500, if not earlier, and he had worked at
it ever since, at intervals. In 1513 he writes to Ammonius: 'My
enthusiasm for emending and annotating Jerome is such that I feel as
though inspired by some god. I have almost completely emended him
already by collating many old manuscripts. And this I do at incredibly
great expense.' In 1512 he negotiated with Badius about an edition of
the letters. Froben's partner, Johannes Amerbach, who died before
Erasmus's arrival, had been engaged for years on an edition of Jerome.
Several scholars, Reuchlin among others, had assisted in the undertaking
when Erasmus offered himself and all his material. He became the actual
editor. Of the nine volumes, in which Froben published the work in 1516,
the first four contained Erasmus's edition of Jerome's letters; the
others had been corrected by him and provided with forewords.

His work upon the New Testament was, if possible, still nearer his
heart. By its growth it had gradually changed its nature. Since the time
when Valla's _Annotationes_ had directed his attention to textual
criticism of the Vulgate, Erasmus had, probably during his second stay
in England from 1505 to 1506, at the instance of Colet, made a new
translation of the New Testament from the Greek original, which
translation differed greatly from the Vulgate. Besides Colet, few had
seen it. Later, Erasmus understood it was necessary to publish also a
new edition of the Greek text, with his notes. As to this he had made a
provisional arrangement with Froben, shortly after his arrival at Basle.
Afterwards he considered that it would be better to have it printed in
Italy, and was on the point of going there when, possibly persuaded by
new offers from Froben, he suddenly changed his plan of travel and in
the spring of 1515 made a short trip to England--probably, among other
reasons, for the purpose of securing a copy of his translation of the
New Testament, which he had left behind there. In the summer he was back
at Basle and resumed the work in Froben's printing-office. In the
beginning of 1516 the _Novum Instrumentum_ appeared, containing the
purified Greek text with notes, together with a Latin translation in
which Erasmus had altered too great deviations from the Vulgate.

From the moment of the appearance of two such important and, as regards
the second, such daring theological works by Erasmus as Jerome and the
New Testament, we may say that he had made himself the centre of the
scientific study of divinity, as he was at the same time the centre and
touchstone of classic erudition and literary taste. His authority
constantly increased in all countries, his correspondence was
prodigiously augmented.

But while his mental growth was accomplished, his financial position was
not assured. The years 1515 to 1517 are among the most restless of his
life; he is still looking out for every chance which presents itself, a
canonry at Tournay, a prebend in England, a bishopric in Sicily, always
half jocularly regretting the good chances he missed in former times,
jesting about his pursuit of fortune, lamenting about his 'spouse,
execrable poverty, which even yet I have not succeeded in shaking off my
shoulders'. And, after all, ever more the victim of his own restlessness
than of the disfavour of fate. He is now fifty years old and still he
is, as he says, 'sowing without knowing what I shall reap'. This,
however, only refers to his career, not to his life-work.

In the course of 1515 a new and promising patron, John le Sauvage,
Chancellor of Brabant, had succeeded in procuring for him the title of
councillor of the prince, the youthful Charles V. In the beginning of
1516 he was nominated: it was a mere title of honour, promising a yearly
pension of 200 florins, which, however, was paid but irregularly. To
habilitate himself as a councillor of the prince, Erasmus wrote the
_Institutio Principis Christiani_, a treatise about the education of a
prince, which in accordance with Erasmus's nature and inclination deals
rather with moral than with political matters, and is in striking
contrast with that other work, written some years earlier, _il Principe_
by Machiavelli.

When his work at Basle ceased for the time being, in the spring of 1516,
Erasmus journeyed to the Netherlands. At Brussels he met the chancellor,
who, in addition to the prince's pension, procured him a prebend at
Courtray, which, like the English benefice mentioned above, was
compounded for by money payments. At Antwerp lived one of the great
friends who helped in his support all his life: Peter Gilles, the young
town clerk, in whose house he stayed as often as he came to Antwerp.
Peter Gilles is the man who figures in More's _Utopia_ as the person in
whose garden the sailor tells his experiences; it was in these days that
Gilles helped Dirck Maertensz, at Louvain, to pass the first edition of
the _Utopia_ through the press. Later Quentin Metsys was to paint him
and Erasmus, joined in a diptych; a present for Thomas More and for us a
vivid memorial of one of the best things Erasmus ever knew: this triple

In the summer of 1516 Erasmus made another short trip to England. He
stayed with More, saw Colet again, also Warham, Fisher, and the other
friends. But it was not to visit old friends that he went there. A
pressing and delicate matter impelled him. Now that prebends and church
dignities began to be presented to him, it was more urgent than ever
that the impediments in the way of a free ecclesiastical career should
be permanently obviated. He was provided with a dispensation of Pope
Julius II, authorizing him to accept English prebends, and another
exempting him from the obligation of wearing the habit of his order. But
both were of limited scope, and insufficient. The fervent impatience
with which he conducted this matter of his definite discharge from the
order makes it probable that, as Dr. Allen presumes, the threat of his
recall to Steyn had, since his refusal to Servatius in 1514, hung over
his head. There was nothing he feared and detested so much.

With his friend Ammonius he drew up, in London, a very elaborate paper,
addressed to the apostolic chancery, in which he recounts the story of
his own life as that of one Florentius: his half-enforced entrance to
the monastery, the troubles which monastic life had brought him, the
circumstances which had induced him to lay his monk's dress aside. It is
a passionate apology, pathetic and ornate. The letter, as we know it,
does not contain a direct request. In an appendix at the end, written in
cipher, of which he sent the key in sympathetic ink in another letter,
the chancery was requested to obviate the impediments which Erasmus's
illegitimate birth placed in the way of his promotion. The addressee,
Lambertus Grunnius, apostolic secretary, was most probably an imaginary
personage.[14] So much mystery did Erasmus use when his vital interests
were at stake.

The Bishop of Worcester, Silvestro Gigli, who was setting out to the
Lateran Council, as the envoy of England, took upon himself to deliver
the letter and to plead Erasmus's cause. Erasmus, having meanwhile at
the end of August returned to the Netherlands, awaited the upshot of his
kind offices in the greatest suspense. The matter was finally settled in
January 1517. In two letters bearing the signature of Sadolet, Leo X
condoned Erasmus's transgressions of ecclesiastical law, relieved him of
the obligation to wear the dress of his order, allowed him to live in
the world and authorized him to hold church benefices in spite of any
disqualifications arising from illegitimacy of birth.

So much his great fame had now achieved. The Pope had moreover accepted
the dedication of the edition of the New Testament, and had, through
Sadolet, expressed himself in very gracious terms about Erasmus's work
in general. Rome itself seemed to further his endeavours in all

Erasmus now thought of establishing himself permanently in the
Netherlands, to which everything pointed. Louvain seemed to be the most
suitable abode, the centre of studies, where he had already spent two
years in former times. But Louvain did not attract him. It was the
stronghold of conservative theology. Martin van Dorp, a Dutchman like
Erasmus, and professor of divinity at Louvain, had, in 1514, in the name
of his faculty, rebuked Erasmus in a letter for the audacity of the
_Praise of Folly_, his derision of divines and also his temerity in
correcting the text of the New Testament. Erasmus had defended himself
elaborately. At present war was being waged in a much wider field: for
or against Reuchlin, the great Hebrew scholar, for whom the authors of
the _Epistolae obscurorum virorum_ had so sensationally taken up the
cudgels. At Louvain Erasmus was regarded with the same suspicion with
which he distrusted Dorp and the other Louvain divines. He stayed during
the remainder of 1516 and the first half of 1517 at Antwerp, Brussels
and Ghent, often in the house of Peter Gilles. In February 1517, there
came tempting offers from France. Budaeus, Cop, Étienne Poncher, Bishop
of Paris, wrote to him that the king, the youthful Francis I, would
present him with a generous prebend if he would come to Paris. Erasmus,
always shy of being tied down, only wrote polite, evasive answers, and
did not go.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the meantime he received the news of the papal absolution. In
connection with this he had, once more, to visit England, little
dreaming that it would be the last time he should set foot on British
soil. In Ammonius's house of Saint Stephen's Chapel at Westminster on 9
April 1517, the ceremony of absolution took place, ridding Erasmus for
good of the nightmare which had oppressed him since his youth. At last
he was free!

Invitations and specious promises now came to him from all sides.
Mountjoy and Wolsey spoke of high ecclesiastical honours which awaited
him in England. Budaeus kept pressing him to remove to France. Cardinal
Ximenes wanted to attach him to the University of Alcalá, in Spain. The
Duke of Saxony offered him a chair at Leipzig. Pirckheimer boasted of
the perfections of the free imperial city of Nuremberg. Erasmus,
meanwhile, overwhelmed again with the labour of writing and editing,
according to his wont, did not definitely decline any of these offers;
neither did he accept any. He always wanted to keep all his strings on
his bow at the same time. In the early summer of 1517 he was asked to
accompany the court of the youthful Charles, who was on the point of
leaving the Netherlands for Spain. But he declined. His departure to
Spain would have meant a long interruption of immediate contact with the
great publishing centres, Basle, Louvain, Strassburg, Paris, and that,
in turn, would have meant postponement of his life-work. When, in the
beginning of July, the prince set out for Middelburg, there to take ship
for Spain, Erasmus started for Louvain.

He was thus destined to go to this university environment, although it
displeased him in so many respects. There he would have academic duties,
young latinists would follow him about to get their poems and letters
corrected by him and all those divines, whom he distrusted, would watch
him at close quarters. But it was only to be for a few months. 'I have
removed to Louvain', he writes to the Archbishop of Canterbury, 'till I
shall decide which residence is best suited to old age, which is already
knocking at the gate importunately.'

As it turned out, he was to spend four years (1517-21) at Louvain. His
life was now becoming more stationary, but because of outward
circumstances rather than of inward quiet. He kept deliberating all
those years whether he should go to England, Germany or France, hoping
at last to find the brilliant position which he had always coveted and
never had been able or willing to grasp.

The years 1516-18 may be called the culmination of Erasmus's career.
Applauding crowds surrounded him more and more. The minds of men were
seemingly prepared for something great to happen and they looked to
Erasmus as the man! At Brussels, he was continually bothered with visits
from Spaniards, Italians and Germans who wanted to boast of their
interviews with him. The Spaniards, with their verbose solemnity,
particularly bored him. Most exuberant of all were the eulogies with
which the German humanists greeted him in their letters. This had begun
already on his first journey to Basle in 1514. 'Great Rotterdamer',
'ornament of Germany', 'ornament of the world' were some of the simplest
effusions. Town councils waited upon him, presents of wine and public
banquets were of common occurrence. No one expresses himself so
hyperbolically as the jurist Ulrich Zasius of Freiburg. 'I am pointed
out in public', he asserts, 'as the man who has received a letter from
Erasmus.' 'Thrice greatest hero, you great Jove' is a moderate
apostrophe for him. 'The Swiss', Zwingli writes in 1516, 'account it a
great glory to have seen Erasmus.' 'I know and I teach nothing but
Erasmus now,' writes Wolfgang Capito. Ulrich von Hutten and Henry
Glareanus both imagine themselves placed beside Erasmus, as Alcibiades
stood beside Socrates. And Beatus Rhenanus devotes to him a life of
earnest admiration and helpfulness that was to prove of much more value
than these exuberant panegyrics. There is an element of national
exaltation in this German enthusiasm for Erasmus: it is the violently
stimulated mood into which Luther's word will fall anon.

The other nations also chimed in with praise, though a little later and
a little more soberly. Colet and Tunstall promise him immortality,
Étienne Poncher exalts him above the celebrated Italian humanists,
Germain de Brie declares that French scholars have ceased reading any
authors but Erasmus, and Budaeus announces that all Western Christendom
resounds with his name.

This increase of glory manifested itself in different ways. Almost every
year the rumour of his death was spread abroad, malignantly, as he
himself thinks. Again, all sorts of writings were ascribed to him in
which he had no share whatever, amongst others the _Epistolae obscurorum

But, above all, his correspondence increased immensely. The time was
long since past when he asked More to procure him more correspondents.
Letters now kept pouring in to him, from all sides, beseeching him to
reply. A former pupil laments with tears that he cannot show a single
note written by Erasmus. Scholars respectfully sought an introduction
from one of his friends, before venturing to address him. In this
respect Erasmus was a man of heroic benevolence, and tried to answer
what he could, although so overwhelmed by letters every day that he
hardly found time to read them. 'If I do not answer, I seem unkind,'
says Erasmus, and that thought was intolerable.

We should bear in mind that letter-writing, at that time, occupied more
or less the place of the newspaper at present, or rather of the literary
monthly, which arose fairly directly out of erudite correspondence. It
was, as in antiquity--which in this respect was imitated better and more
profitably, perhaps, than in any other sphere--an art. Even before 1500
Erasmus had, at Paris, described that art in the treatise, _De
conscribendis epistolis_, which was to appear in print in 1522. People
wrote, as a rule, with a view to later publication, for a wider circle,
or at any rate, with the certainty that the recipient would show the
letter to others. A fine Latin letter was a gem, which a man envied his
neighbour. Erasmus writes to Budaeus: 'Tunstall has devoured your letter
to me and re-read it as many as three or four times; I had literally to
tear it from his hands.'

Unfortunately fate did not always take into consideration the author's
intentions as to publicity, semi-publicity or strict secrecy. Often
letters passed through many hands before reaching their destination, as
did Servatius's letter to Erasmus in 1514. 'Do be careful about
letters,' he writes more than once; 'waylayers are on the lookout to
intercept them.' Yet, with the curious precipitation that characterizes
him, Erasmus was often very careless as to what he wrote. From an early
age he preserved and cared for his letters, yet nevertheless, through
his itinerant life, many were lost. He could not control their
publication. As early as 1509 a friend sent him a manuscript volume of
his own (Erasmus's) letters, that he had picked up for sale at Rome.
Erasmus had it burnt at once. Since 1515 he himself superintended the
publication of his letters; at first only a few important ones;
afterwards in 1516 a selection of letters from friends to him, and after
that ever larger collections till, at the end of his life, there
appeared a new collection almost every year. No article was so much in
demand on the book market as letters by Erasmus, and no wonder. They
were models of excellent style, tasteful Latin, witty expression and
elegant erudition.

The semi-private, semi-public character of the letters often made them
compromising. What one could say to a friend in confidence might
possibly injure when many read it. Erasmus, who never was aware how
injuriously he expressed himself, repeatedly gave rise to
misunderstanding and estrangement. Manners, so to say, had not yet
adapted themselves to the new art of printing, which increased the
publicity of the written word a thousandfold. Only gradually under this
new influence was the separation effected between the public word,
intended for the press, and the private communication, which remains in
writing and is read only by the recipient.

Meanwhile, with the growth of Erasmus's fame, his earlier writings, too,
had risen in the public estimation. The great success of the
_Enchiridion militis christiani_ had begun about 1515, when the times
were much riper for it than eleven years before. 'The _Moria_ is
embraced as the highest wisdom,' writes John Watson to him in 1516. In
the same year we find a word used, for the first time, which expresses
better than anything else how much Erasmus had become a centre of
authority: _Erasmiani_. So his German friends called themselves,
according to Johannes Sapidus. More than a year later Dr. Johannes Eck
employs the word still in a rather friendly sense, as a generally
current term: 'all scholars in Germany are Erasmians,' he says. But
Erasmus did not like the word. 'I find nothing in myself', he replies,
'why anyone should wish to be an Erasmicus, and, altogether, I hate
those party names. We are all followers of Christ, and to His glory we
all drudge, each for his part.' But he knows that now the question is:
for or against him! From the brilliant latinist and the man of wit of
his prime he had become the international pivot on which the
civilization of his age hinged. He could not help beginning to feel
himself the brain, the heart and the conscience of his times. It might
even appear to him that he was called to speak the great redeeming word
or, perhaps, that he had already spoken it. The faith in an easy triumph
of pure knowledge and Christian meekness in a near future speaks from
the preface of Erasmus's edition of the New Testament.

How clear did the future look in those years! In this period Erasmus
repeatedly reverts to the glad motif of a golden age, which is on the
point of dawning. Perennial peace is before the door. The highest
princes of the world, Francis I of France, Charles, King of Spain, Henry
VIII of England, and the emperor Maximilian have ensured peace by the
strongest ties. Uprightness and Christian piety will flourish together
with the revival of letters and the sciences. As at a given signal the
mightiest minds conspire to restore a high standard of culture. We may
congratulate the age, it will be a golden one.

But Erasmus does not sound this note long. It is heard for the last time
in 1519; after which the dream of universal happiness about to dawn
gives place to the usual complaint about the badness of the times


[13] For a full translation of this important letter see pp. 212-18.

[14] The name Grunnius may have been taken from Jerome's epistles, where
it is a nickname for a certain Ruffinus, whom Jerome disliked very much.
It appears again in a letter of 5 March 1531, LB. X 1590 A.



    Erasmus's mind: Ethical and aesthetic tendencies, aversion to
    all that is unreasonable, silly and cumbrous--His vision of
    antiquity pervaded by Christian faith--Renascence of good
    learning--The ideal life of serene harmony and happy
    wisdom--Love of the decorous and smooth--His mind neither
    philosophic nor historical, but strongly philological and
    moralistic--Freedom, clearness, purity, simplicity--Faith in
    nature--Educational and social ideas

What made Erasmus the man from whom his contemporaries expected their
salvation, on whose lips they hung to catch the word of deliverance? He
seemed to them the bearer of a new liberty of the mind, a new clearness,
purity and simplicity of knowledge, a new harmony of healthy and right
living. He was to them as the possessor of newly discovered, untold
wealth which he had only to distribute.

What was there in the mind of the great Rotterdamer which promised so
much to the world?

The negative aspect of Erasmus's mind may be defined as a heartfelt
aversion to everything unreasonable, insipid, purely formal, with which
the undisturbed growth of medieval culture had overburdened and
overcrowded the world of thought. As often as he thinks of the
ridiculous text-books out of which Latin was taught in his youth,
disgust rises in his mind, and he execrates them--Mammetrectus,
Brachylogus, Ebrardus and all the rest--as a heap of rubbish which ought
to be cleared away. But this aversion to the superannuated, which had
become useless and soulless, extended much farther. He found society,
and especially religious life, full of practices, ceremonies, traditions
and conceptions, from which the spirit seemed to have departed. He does
not reject them offhand and altogether: what revolts him is that they
are so often performed without understanding and right feeling. But to
his mind, highly susceptible to the foolish and ridiculous things, and
with a delicate need of high decorum and inward dignity, all that sphere
of ceremony and tradition displays itself as a useless, nay, a hurtful
scene of human stupidity and selfishness. And, intellectualist as he is,
with his contempt for ignorance, he seems unaware that those religious
observances, after all, may contain valuable sentiments of unexpressed
and unformulated piety.

Through his treatises, his letters, his _Colloquies_ especially, there
always passes--as if one was looking at a gallery of Brueghel's
pictures--a procession of ignorant and covetous monks who by their
sanctimony and humbug impose upon the trustful multitude and fare
sumptuously themselves. As a fixed motif (such motifs are numerous with
Erasmus) there always recurs his gibe about the superstition that a
person was saved by dying in the gown of a Franciscan or a Dominican.

Fasting, prescribed prayers, the observance of holy days, should not be
altogether neglected, but they become displeasing to God when we repose
our trust in them and forget charity. The same holds good of confession,
indulgence, all sorts of blessings. Pilgrimages are worthless. The
veneration of the Saints and of their relics is full of superstition and
foolishness. The people think they will be preserved from disasters
during the day if only they have looked at the painted image of Saint
Christopher in the morning. 'We kiss the shoes of the saints and their
dirty handkerchiefs and we leave their books, their most holy and
efficacious relics, neglected.'

Erasmus's dislike of what seemed antiquated and worn out in his days,
went farther still. It comprised the whole intellectual scheme of
medieval theology and philosophy. In the syllogistic system he found
only subtlety and arid ingenuity. All symbolism and allegory were
fundamentally alien to him and indifferent, though he occasionally tried
his hand at an allegory; and he never was mystically inclined.

Now here it is just as much the deficiencies of his own mind as the
qualities of the system which made him unable to appreciate it. While he
struck at the abuse of ceremonies and of Church practices both with
noble indignation and well-aimed mockery, a proud irony to which he was
not fully entitled preponderates in his condemnation of scholastic
theology which he could not quite understand. It was easy always to talk
with a sneer of the conservative divines of his time as _magistri

His noble indignation hurt only those who deserved castigation and
strengthened what was valuable, but his mockery hurt the good as well as
the bad in spite of him, assailed both the institution and persons, and
injured without elevating them. The individualist Erasmus never
understood what it meant to offend the honour of an office, an order, or
an establishment, especially when that institution is the most sacred of
all, the Church itself.

Erasmus's conception of the Church was no longer purely Catholic. Of
that glorious structure of medieval-Christian civilization with its
mystic foundation, its strict hierarchic construction, its splendidly
fitting symmetry he saw hardly anything but its load of outward details
and ornament. Instead of the world which Thomas Aquinas and Dante had
described, according to their vision, Erasmus saw another world, full of
charm and elevated feeling, and this he held up before his compatriots.

[Illustration: XV. THE HANDS OF ERASMUS]

It was the world of Antiquity, but illuminated throughout by Christian
faith. It was a world that had never existed as such. For with the
historical reality which the times of Constantine and the great fathers
of the Church had manifested--that of declining Latinity and
deteriorating Hellenism, the oncoming barbarism and the oncoming
Byzantinism--it had nothing in common. Erasmus's imagined world was an
amalgamation of pure classicism (this meant for him, Cicero, Horace,
Plutarch; for to the flourishing period of the Greek mind he remained
after all a stranger) and pure, biblical Christianity. Could it be a
union? Not really. In Erasmus's mind the light falls, just as we saw in
the history of his career, alternately on the pagan antique and on the
Christian. But the warp of his mind is Christian; his classicism only
serves him as a form, and from Antiquity he only chooses those elements
which in ethical tendency are in conformity with his Christian ideal.

[Illustration: XVI. ERASMUS AT THE AGE OF 57]

And because of this, Erasmus, although he appeared after a century of
earlier Humanism, is yet new to his time. The union of Antiquity and the
Christian spirit which had haunted the mind of Petrarch, the father of
Humanism, which was lost sight of by his disciples, enchanted as they
were by the irresistible brilliance of the antique beauty of form, this
union was brought about by Erasmus.

What pure Latinity and the classic spirit meant to Erasmus we cannot
feel as he did because its realization does not mean to us, as to him, a
difficult conquest and a glorious triumph. To feel it thus one must have
acquired, in a hard school, the hatred of barbarism, which already
during his first years of authorship had suggested the composition of
the _Antibarbari_. The abusive term for all that is old and rude is
already Gothic, Goths. The term barbarism as used by Erasmus comprised
much of what we value most in the medieval spirit. Erasmus's conception
of the great intellectual crisis of his day was distinctly dualistic. He
saw it as a struggle between old and new, which, to him, meant evil and
good. In the advocates of tradition he saw only obscurantism,
conservatism, and ignorant opposition to _bonae literae_, that is, the
good cause for which he and his partisans battled. Of the rise of that
higher culture Erasmus had already formed the conception which has since
dominated the history of the Renaissance. It was a revival, begun two or
three hundred years before his time, in which, besides literature, all
the plastic arts shared. Side by side with the terms restitution and
reflorescence the word renascence crops up repeatedly in his writings.
'The world is coming to its senses as if awaking out of a deep sleep.
Still there are some left who recalcitrate pertinaciously, clinging
convulsively with hands and feet to their old ignorance. They fear that
if _bonae literae_ are reborn and the world grows wise, it will come to
light that they have known nothing.' They do not know how pious the
Ancients could be, what sanctity characterizes Socrates, Virgil, and
Horace, or Plutarch's _Moralia_, how rich the history of Antiquity is in
examples of forgiveness and true virtue. We should call nothing profane
that is pious and conduces to good morals. No more dignified view of
life was ever found than that which Cicero propounds in _De Senectute_.

In order to understand Erasmus's mind and the charm which it had for his
contemporaries, one must begin with the ideal of life that was present
before his inward eye as a splendid dream. It is not his own in
particular. The whole Renaissance cherished that wish of reposeful,
blithe, and yet serious intercourse of good and wise friends in the cool
shade of a house under trees, where serenity and harmony would dwell.
The age yearned for the realization of simplicity, sincerity, truth and
nature. Their imagination was always steeped in the essence of
Antiquity, though, at heart, it is more nearly connected with medieval
ideals than they themselves were aware. In the circle of the Medici it
is the idyll of Careggi, in Rabelais it embodies itself in the fancy of
the abbey of Thélème; it finds voice in More's _Utopia_ and in the work
of Montaigne. In Erasmus's writings that ideal wish ever recurs in the
shape of a friendly walk, followed by a meal in a garden-house. It is
found as an opening scene of the _Antibarbari_, in the numerous
descriptions of meals with Colet, and the numerous _Convivia_ of the
_Colloquies_. Especially in the _Convivium religiosum_ Erasmus has
elaborately pictured his dream, and it would be worth while to compare
it, on the one hand with Thélème, and on the other with the fantastic
design of a pleasure garden which Bernard Palissy describes. The little
Dutch eighteenth-century country-seats and garden-houses in which the
national spirit took great delight are the fulfilment of a purely
Erasmian ideal. The host of the _Convivium religiosum_ says: 'To me a
simple country-house, a nest, is pleasanter than any palace, and, if he
be king who lives in freedom and according to his wishes, surely I am
king here'.

Life's true joy is in virtue and piety. If they are Epicureans who live
pleasantly, then none are more truly Epicureans than they who live in
holiness and piety.

The ideal joy of life is also perfectly idyllic in so far that it
requires an aloofness from earthly concerns and contempt for all that is
sordid. It is foolish to be interested in all that happens in the world;
to pride oneself on one's knowledge of the market, of the King of
England's plans, the news from Rome, conditions in Denmark. The sensible
old man of the _Colloquium Senile_ has an easy post of honour, a safe
mediocrity, he judges no one and nothing and smiles upon all the world.
Quiet for oneself, surrounded by books--that is of all things most

On the outskirts of this ideal of serenity and harmony numerous flowers
of aesthetic value blow, such as Erasmus's sense of decorum, his great
need of kindly courtesy, his pleasure in gentle and obliging treatment,
in cultured and easy manners. Close by are some of his intellectual
peculiarities. He hates the violent and extravagant. Therefore the
choruses of the Greek drama displease him. The merit of his own poems he
sees in the fact that they pass passion by, they abstain from pathos
altogether--'there is not a single storm in them, no mountain torrent
overflowing its banks, no exaggeration whatever. There is great
frugality in words. My poetry would rather keep within bounds than
exceed them, rather hug the shore than cleave the high seas.' In another
place he says: 'I am always most pleased by a poem that does not differ
too much from prose, but prose of the best sort, be it understood. As
Philoxenus accounted those the most palatable fishes that are no true
fishes and the most savoury meat what is no meat, the most pleasant
voyage, that along the shores, and the most agreeable walk, that along
the water's edge; so I take especial pleasure in a rhetorical poem and a
poetical oration, so that poetry is tasted in prose and the reverse.'
That is the man of half-tones, of fine shadings, of the thought that is
never completely expressed. But he adds: 'Farfetched conceits may please
others; to me the chief concern seems to be that we draw our speech from
the matter itself and apply ourselves less to showing off our invention
than to present the thing.' That is the realist.

From this conception results his admirable, simple clarity, the
excellent division and presentation of his argument. But it also causes
his lack of depth and the prolixity by which he is characterized. His
machine runs too smoothly. In the endless _apologiae_ of his later
years, ever new arguments occur to him; new passages to point, or
quotations to support, his idea. He praises laconism, but never
practises it. Erasmus never coins a sentence which, rounded off and
pithy, becomes a proverb and in this manner lives. There are no current
quotations from Erasmus. The collector of the _Adagia_ has created no
new ones of his own.

The true occupation for a mind like his was paraphrasing, in which,
indeed, he amply indulged. Soothing down and unfolding was just the work
he liked. It is characteristic that he paraphrased the whole New
Testament except the Apocalypse.

Erasmus's mind was neither philosophic nor historic. His was neither the
work of exact, logical discrimination, nor of grasping the deep sense of
the way of the world in broad historical visions in which the
particulars themselves, in their multiplicity and variegation, form the
image. His mind is philological in the fullest sense of the word. But by
that alone he would not have conquered and captivated the world. His
mind was at the same time of a deeply ethical and rather strong
aesthetic trend and those three together have made him great.

The foundation of Erasmus's mind is his fervent desire of freedom,
clearness, purity, simplicity and rest. It is an old ideal of life to
which he gave new substance by the wealth of his mind. Without liberty,
life is no life; and there is no liberty without repose. The fact that
he never took sides definitely resulted from an urgent need of perfect
independence. Each engagement, even a temporary one, was felt as a
fetter by Erasmus. An interlocutor in the _Colloquies_, in which he so
often, spontaneously, reveals his own ideals of life, declares himself
determined neither to marry, nor to take holy orders, nor to enter a
monastery, nor into any connection from which he will afterwards be
unable to free himself--at least not before he knows himself completely.
'When will that be? Never, perhaps.' 'On no other account do I
congratulate myself more than on the fact that I have never attached
myself to any party,' Erasmus says towards the end of his life.

Liberty should be spiritual liberty in the first place. 'But he that is
spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man,' is
the word of Saint Paul. To what purpose should he require prescriptions
who, of his own accord, does better things than human laws require? What
arrogance it is to bind by institutions a man who is clearly led by the
inspirations of the divine spirit!

In Erasmus we already find the beginning of that optimism which judges
upright man good enough to dispense with fixed forms and rules. As More,
in _Utopia_, and Rabelais, Erasmus relies already on the dictates of
nature, which produces man as inclined to good and which we may follow,
provided we are imbued with faith and piety.

In this line of confidence in what is natural and desire of the simple
and reasonable, Erasmus's educational and social ideas lie. Here he is
far ahead of his times. It would be an attractive undertaking to discuss
Erasmus's educational ideals more fully. They foreshadow exactly those
of the eighteenth century. The child should learn in playing, by means
of things that are agreeable to its mind, from pictures. Its faults
should be gently corrected. The flogging and abusive schoolmaster is
Erasmus's abomination; the office itself is holy and venerable to him.
Education should begin from the moment of birth. Probably Erasmus
attached too much value to classicism, here as elsewhere: his friend
Peter Gilles should implant the rudiments of the ancient languages in
his two-year-old son, that he may greet his father with endearing
stammerings in Greek and Latin. But what gentleness and clear good sense
shines from all Erasmus says about instruction and education!

The same holds good of his views about marriage and woman. In the
problem of sexual relations he distinctly sides with the woman from deep
conviction. There is a great deal of tenderness and delicate feeling in
his conception of the position of the girl and the woman. Few characters
of the _Colloquies_ have been drawn with so much sympathy as the girl
with the lover and the cultured woman in the witty conversation with the
abbot. Erasmus's ideal of marriage is truly social and hygienic. Let us
beget children for the State and for Christ, says the lover, children
endowed by their upright parents with a good disposition, children who
see the good example at home which is to guide them. Again and again he
reverts to the mother's duty to suckle the child herself. He indicates
how the house should be arranged, in a simple and cleanly manner; he
occupies himself with the problem of useful children's dress. Who stood
up at that time, as he did, for the fallen girl, and for the prostitute
compelled by necessity? Who saw so clearly the social danger of
marriages of persons infected with the new scourge of Europe, so
violently abhorred by Erasmus? He would wish that such a marriage should
at once be declared null and void by the Pope. Erasmus does not hold
with the easy social theory, still quite current in the literature of
his time, which casts upon women all the blame of adultery and lewdness.
With the savages who live in a state of nature, he says, the adultery of
men is punished, but that of women is forgiven.

Here it appears, at the same time, that Erasmus knew, be it half in
jest, the conception of natural virtue and happiness of naked islanders
in a savage state. It soon crops up again in Montaigne and the following
centuries develop it into a literary dogma.



    Erasmus's mind: Intellectual tendencies--The world encumbered by
    beliefs and forms--Truth must be simple--Back to the pure
    sources--Holy Scripture in the original languages--Biblical
    humanism--Critical work on the texts of Scripture--Practice
    better than dogma--Erasmus's talent and wit--Delight in words
    and things--Prolixity--Observation of details--A veiled
    realism--Ambiguousness--The 'Nuance'--Inscrutability of the
    ultimate ground of all things

Simplicity, naturalness, purity, and reasonableness, those are to
Erasmus the dominant requirements, also when we pass from his ethical
and aesthetic concepts to his intellectual point of view; indeed, the
two can hardly be kept apart.

The world, says Erasmus, is overloaded with human constitutions and
opinions and scholastic dogmas, and overburdened with the tyrannical
authority of orders, and because of all this the strength of gospel
doctrine is flagging. Faith requires simplification, he argued. What
would the Turks say of our scholasticism? Colet wrote to him one day:
'There is no end to books and science. Let us, therefore, leave all
roundabout roads and go by a short cut to the truth.'

Truth must be simple. 'The language of truth is simple, says Seneca;
well then, nothing is simpler nor truer than Christ.' 'I should wish',
Erasmus says elsewhere, 'that this simple and pure Christ might be
deeply impressed upon the mind of men, and that I deem best attainable
in this way, that we, supported by our knowledge of the original
languages, should philosophize _at the sources_ themselves.'

Here a new watchword comes to the fore: back to the sources! It is not
merely an intellectual, philological requirement; it is equally an
ethical and aesthetic necessity of life. The original and pure, all that
is not yet overgrown or has not passed through many hands, has such a
potent charm. Erasmus compared it to an apple which we ourselves pick
off the tree. To recall the world to the ancient simplicity of science,
to lead it back from the now turbid pools to those living and most pure
fountain-heads, those most limpid sources of gospel doctrine--thus he
saw the task of divinity. The metaphor of the limpid water is not
without meaning here; it reveals the psychological quality of Erasmus's
fervent principle.

'How is it', he exclaims, 'that people give themselves so much trouble
about the details of all sorts of remote philosophical systems and
neglect to go to the sources of Christianity itself?' 'Although this
wisdom, which is so excellent that once for all it put the wisdom of all
the world to shame, may be drawn from these few books, as from a
crystalline source, with far less trouble than is the wisdom of
Aristotle from so many thorny books and with much more fruit.... The
equipment for that journey is simple and at everyone's immediate
disposal. This philosophy is accessible to everybody. Christ desires
that his mysteries shall be spread as widely as possible. I should wish
that all good wives read the Gospel and Paul's Epistles; that they were
translated into all languages; that out of these the husbandman sang
while ploughing, the weaver at his loom; that with such stories the
traveller should beguile his wayfaring.... This sort of philosophy is
rather a matter of disposition than of syllogisms, rather of life than
of disputation, rather of inspiration than of erudition, rather of
transformation than of logic.... What is the philosophy of Christ, which
he himself calls _Renascentia_, but the insaturation of Nature created
good?--moreover, though no one has taught us this so absolutely and
effectively as Christ, yet also in pagan books much may be found that is
in accordance with it.'

Such was the view of life of this biblical humanist. As often as Erasmus
reverts to these matters, his voice sounds clearest. 'Let no one', he
says in the preface to the notes to the New Testament, 'take up this
work, as he takes up Gellius's _Noctes atticae_ or Poliziano's
Miscellanies.... We are in the presence of holy things; here it is no
question of eloquence, these matters are best recommended to the world
by simplicity and purity; it would be ridiculous to display human
erudition here, impious to pride oneself on human eloquence.' But
Erasmus never was so eloquent himself as just then.

What here raises him above his usual level of force and fervour is the
fact that he fights a battle, the battle for the right of biblical
criticism. It revolts him that people should study Holy Scripture in the
Vulgate when they know that the texts show differences and are corrupt,
although we have the Greek text by which to go back to the original form
and primary meaning.

He is now reproached because he dares, as a mere grammarian, to assail
the text of Holy Scripture on the score of futile mistakes or
irregularities. 'Details they are, yes, but because of these details we
sometimes see even great divines stumble and rave.' Philological
trifling is necessary. 'Why are we so precise as to our food, our
clothes, our money-matters and why does this accuracy displease us in
divine literature alone? He crawls along the ground, they say, he
wearies himself out about words and syllables! Why do we slight any word
of Him whom we venerate and worship under the name of the Word? But, be
it so! Let whoever wishes imagine that I have not been able to achieve
anything better, and out of sluggishness of mind and coldness of heart
or lack of erudition have taken this lowest task upon myself; it is
still a Christian idea to think all work good that is done with pious
zeal. We bring along the bricks, but to build the temple of God.'

He does not want to be intractable. Let the Vulgate be kept for use in
the liturgy, for sermons, in schools, but he who, at home, reads our
edition, will understand his own the better in consequence. He, Erasmus,
is prepared to render account and acknowledge himself to have been wrong
when convicted of error.

Erasmus perhaps never quite realized how much his philological-critical
method must shake the foundations of the Church. He was surprised at his
adversaries 'who could not but believe that all their authority would
perish at once when the sacred books might be read in a purified form,
and when people tried to understand them in the original'. He did not
feel what the unassailable authority of a sacred book meant. He rejoices
because Holy Scripture is approached so much more closely, because all
sorts of shadings are brought to light by considering not only what is
said but also by whom, for whom, at what time, on what occasion, what
precedes and what follows, in short, by the method of historical
philological criticism. To him it seemed so especially pious when
reading Scripture and coming across a place which seemed contrary to the
doctrine of Christ or the divinity of his nature, to believe rather that
one did not understand the phrase _or that the text might be corrupt_.
Unperceived he passed from emendation of the different versions to the
correction of the contents. The epistles were not all written by the
apostles to whom they are attributed. The apostles themselves made
mistakes, at times.

The foundation of his spiritual life was no longer a unity to Erasmus.
It was, on the one hand, a strong desire for an upright, simple, pure
and homely belief, the earnest wish to be a good Christian. But it was
also the irresistible intellectual and aesthetic need of the good taste,
the harmony, the clear and exact expression of the Ancients, the dislike
of what was cumbrous and involved. Erasmus thought that good learning
might render good service for the necessary purification of the faith
and its forms. The measure of church hymns should be corrected. That
Christian expression and classicism were incompatible, he never
believed. The man who in the sphere of sacred studies asked every author
for his credentials remained unconscious of the fact that he
acknowledged the authority of the Ancients without any evidence. How
naïvely he appeals to Antiquity, again and again, to justify some bold
feat! He is critical, they say? Were not the Ancients critical? He
permits himself to insert digressions? So did the Ancients, etc.

Erasmus is in profound sympathy with that revered Antiquity by his
fundamental conviction that it is the practice of life which matters.
Not he is the great philosopher who knows the tenets of the Stoics or
Peripatetics by rote--but he who expresses the meaning of philosophy by
his life and his morals, for that is its purpose. He is truly a divine
who teaches, not by artful syllogisms, but by his disposition, by his
face and his eyes, by his life itself, that wealth should be despised.
To live up to that standard is what Christ himself calls _Renascentia_.
Erasmus uses the word in the Christian sense only. But in that sense it
is closely allied to the idea of the Renaissance as a historical
phenomenon. The worldly and pagan sides of the Renaissance have nearly
always been overrated. Erasmus is, much more than Aretino or
Castiglione, the representative of the spirit of his age, one over whose
Christian sentiment the sweet gale of Antiquity had passed. And that
very union of strong Christian endeavour and the spirit of Antiquity is
the explanation of Erasmus's wonderful success.

       *       *       *       *       *

The mere intention and the contents of the mind do not influence the
world, if the form of expression does not cooperate. In Erasmus the
quality of his talent is a very important factor. His perfect clearness
and ease of expression, his liveliness, wit, imagination, gusto and
humour have lent a charm to all he wrote which to his contemporaries was
irresistible and captivates even us, as soon as we read him. In all that
constitutes his talent, Erasmus is perfectly and altogether a
representative of the Renaissance. There is, in the first place, his
eternal _à propos_. What he writes is never vague, never dark--it is
always plausible. Everything seemingly flows of itself like a fountain.
It always rings true as to tone, turn of phrase and accent. It has
almost the light harmony of Ariosto. And it is, like Ariosto, never
tragic, never truly heroic. It carries us away, indeed, but it is never
itself truly enraptured.

The more artistic aspects of Erasmus's talent come out most
clearly--though they are everywhere in evidence--in those two
recreations after more serious labour, the _Moriae Encomium_ and the
_Colloquia_. But just those two have been of enormous importance for his
influence upon his times. For while Jerome reached tens of readers and
the New Testament hundreds, the _Moria_ and _Colloquies_ went out to
thousands. And their importance is heightened in that Erasmus has
nowhere else expressed himself so spontaneously.

In each of the Colloquies, even in the first purely formulary ones,
there is the sketch for a comedy, a novelette or a satire. There is
hardly a sentence without its 'point', an expression without a vivid
fancy. There are unrivalled niceties. The abbot of the _Abbatis et
eruditae colloquium_ is a Molière character. It should be noticed how
well Erasmus always sustains his characters and his scenes, because he
_sees_ them. In 'The woman in childbed' he never forgets for a moment
that Eutrapelus is an artist. At the end of 'The game of knucklebones',
when the interlocutors, after having elucidated the whole nomenclature
of the Latin game of knuckle-bones, are going to play themselves,
Carolus says: 'but shut the door first, lest the cook should see us
playing like two boys'.

As Holbein illustrated the _Moria_, we should wish to possess the
_Colloquia_ with illustrations by Brueghel, so closely allied is
Erasmus's witty clear vision of incidents to that of this great master.
The procession of drunkards on Palm Sunday, the saving of the
shipwrecked crew, the old men waiting for the travelling cart while the
drivers are still drinking, all these are Dutch genre pieces of the best

We like to speak of the realism of the Renaissance. Erasmus is certainly
a realist in the sense of having an insatiable hunger for knowledge of
the tangible world. He wants to know things and their names: the
particulars of each thing, be it never so remote, such as those terms of
games and rules of games of the Romans. Read carefully the description
of the decorative painting on the garden-house of the _Convivium
religiosum_: it is nothing but an object lesson, a graphic
representation of the forms of reality.

In its joy over the material universe and the supple, pliant word, the
Renaissance revels in a profusion of imagery and expressions. The
resounding enumerations of names and things, which Rabelais always
gives, are not unknown to Erasmus, but he uses them for intellectual and
useful purposes. In _De copia verborum ac rerum_ one feat of varied
power of expression succeeds another--he gives fifty ways of saying:
'Your letter has given me much pleasure,' or, 'I think that it is going
to rain'. The aesthetic impulse is here that of a theme and variations:
to display all the wealth and mutations of the logic of language.
Elsewhere, too, Erasmus indulges this proclivity for accumulating the
treasures of his genius; he and his contemporaries can never restrain
themselves from giving all the instances instead of one: in _Ratio verae
theologiae_, in _De pronuntiatione_, in _Lingua_, in _Ecclesiastes_. The
collections of _Adagia_, _Parabolae_, and _Apophthegmata_ are altogether
based on this eagerness of the Renaissance (which, by the way, was an
inheritance of the Middle Ages themselves) to luxuriate in the wealth of
the tangible world, to revel in words and things.

The senses are open for the nice observation of the curious. Though
Erasmus does not know that need of proving the secrets of nature, which
inspired a Leonardo da Vinci, a Paracelsus, a Vesalius, he is also, by
his keen observation, a child of his time. For peculiarities in the
habits and customs of nations he has an open eye. He notices the gait of
Swiss soldiers, how dandies sit, how Picards pronounce French. He
notices that in old pictures the sitters are always represented with
half-closed eyes and tightly shut lips, as signs of modesty, and how
some Spaniards still honour this expression in life, while German art
prefers lips pouting as for a kiss. His lively sense of anecdote, to
which he gives the rein in all his writings, belongs here.

And, in spite of all his realism, the world which Erasmus sees and
renders, is not altogether that of the sixteenth century. Everything is
veiled by Latin. Between the author's mind and reality intervenes his
antique diction. At bottom the world of his mind is imaginary. It is a
subdued and limited sixteenth-century reality which he reflects.
Together with its coarseness he lacks all that is violent and direct in
his times. Compared with the artists, with Luther and Calvin, with the
statesmen, the navigators, the soldiers and the scientists, Erasmus
confronts the world as a recluse. It is only the influence of Latin. In
spite of all his receptiveness and sensitiveness, Erasmus is never fully
in contact with life. All through his work not a bird sings, not a wind

But that reserve or fear of directness is not merely a negative quality.
It also results from a consciousness of the indefiniteness of the ground
of all things, from the awe of the ambiguity of all that is. If Erasmus
so often hovers over the borderline between earnestness and mockery, if
he hardly ever gives an incisive conclusion, it is not only due to
cautiousness, and fear to commit himself. Everywhere he sees the
shadings, the blending of the meaning of words. The terms of things are
no longer to him, as to the man of the Middle Ages, as crystals mounted
in gold, or as stars in the firmament. 'I like assertions so little that
I would easily take sides with the sceptics whereever it is allowed by
the inviolable authority of Holy Scripture and the decrees of the
Church.' 'What is exempt from error?' All subtle contentions of
theological speculation arise from a dangerous curiosity and lead to
impious audacity. What have all the great controversies about the
Trinity and the Virgin Mary profited? 'We have defined so much that
without danger to our salvation might have remained unknown or
undecided.... The essentials of our religion are peace and unanimity.
These can hardly exist unless we make definitions about as few points as
possible and leave many questions to individual judgement. Numerous
problems are now postponed till the oecumenical Council. It would be
much better to put off such questions till the time when the glass shall
be removed and the darkness cleared away, and we shall see God face to

'There are sanctuaries in the sacred studies which God has not willed
that we should probe, and if we try to penetrate there, we grope in ever
deeper darkness the farther we proceed, so that we recognize, in this
manner, too, the inscrutable majesty of divine wisdom and the imbecility
of human understanding.'



    Erasmus's character: Need of purity and cleanliness--
    Delicacy--Dislike of contention, need of concord and
    friendship--Aversion to disturbance of any kind--Too much
    concerned about other men's opinions--Need of self-
    justification--Himself never in the wrong--Correlation
    between inclinations and convictions--Ideal image of
    himself--Dissatisfaction with himself--Self-centredness--A
    solitary at heart--Fastidiousness--Suspiciousness--Morbid
    mistrust--Unhappiness--Restlessness--Unsolved contradictions of
    his being--Horror of lies--Reserve and insinuation

Erasmus's powerful mind met with a great response in the heart of his
contemporaries and had a lasting influence on the march of civilization.
But one of the heroes of history he cannot be called. Was not his
failure to attain to still loftier heights partly due to the fact that
his character was not on a level with the elevation of his mind?

And yet that character, a very complicated one, though he took himself
to be the simplest man in the world, was determined by the same factors
which determined the structure of his mind. Again and again we find in
his inclinations the correlates of his convictions.

At the root of his moral being we find--a key to the understanding of
his character--that same profound need of purity which drove him to the
sources of sacred science. Purity in the material and the moral sense is
what he desires for himself and others, always and in all things. Few
things revolt him so much as the practices of vintners who doctor wine
and dealers who adulterate food. If he continually chastens his language
and style, or exculpates himself from mistakes, it is the same impulse
which prompts his passionate desire for cleanliness and brightness, of
the home and of the body. He has a violent dislike of stuffy air and
smelly substances. He regularly takes a roundabout way to avoid a
malodorous lane; he loathes shambles and fishmongers' shops. Fetors
spread infection, he thinks. Erasmus had, earlier than most people,
antiseptic ideas about the danger of infection in the foul air of
crowded inns, in the breath of confessants, in baptismal water. Throw
aside common cups, he pleaded; let everybody shave himself, let us be
cleanly as to bed-sheets, let us not kiss each other by way of greeting.
The fear of the horrible venereal disease, imported into Europe during
his lifetime, and of which Erasmus watched the unbridled propagation
with solicitude, increases his desire for purity. Too little is being
done to stop it, he thinks. He cautions against suspected inns; he wants
to have measures taken against the marriages of syphilitic persons. In
his undignified attitude towards Hutten his physical and moral aversion
to the man's evil plays an unmistakable part.

Erasmus is a delicate soul in all his fibres. His body forces him to be
that. He is highly sensitive, among other things very susceptible to
cold, 'the scholars' disorder', as he calls it. Early in life already
the painful malady of the stone begins to torment him, which he resisted
so bravely when his work was at stake. He always speaks in a coddling
tone about his little body, which cannot stand fasting, which must be
kept fit by some exercise, namely riding, and for which he carefully
tries to select a suitable climate. He is at times circumstantial in the
description of his ailments.[15] He has to be very careful in the matter
of his sleep; if once he wakes up, he finds it difficult to go to sleep
again, and because of that has often to lose the morning, the best time
to work and which is so dear to him. He cannot stand cold, wind and fog,
but still less overheated rooms. How he has execrated the German stoves,
which are burned nearly all the year through and made Germany almost
unbearable to him! Of his fear of illness we have spoken above. It is
not only the plague which he flees--for fear of catching cold he gives
up a journey from Louvain to Antwerp, where his friend Peter Gilles is
in mourning. Although he realizes quite well that 'often a great deal of
the disease is in the imagination', yet his own imagination leaves him
no peace. Nevertheless, when he is seriously ill he does not fear death.

His hygienics amount to temperance, cleanliness and fresh air, this last
item in moderation: he takes the vicinity of the sea to be unwholesome
and is afraid of draughts. His friend Gilles, who is ill, he advises:
'Do not take too much medicine, keep quiet and do not get angry'. Though
there is a 'Praise of Medicine' among his works, he does not think
highly of physicians and satirizes them more than once in the

Also in his outward appearance there were certain features betraying his
delicacy. He was of medium height, well-made, of a fair complexion with
blond hair and blue eyes, a cheerful face, a very articulate mode of
speech, but a thin voice.

In the moral sphere Erasmus's delicacy is represented by his great need
of friendship and concord, his dislike of contention. With him peace and
harmony rank above all other considerations, and he confesses them to be
the guiding principles of his actions. He would, if it might be, have
all the world as a friend. 'Wittingly I discharge no one from my
friendship,' he says. And though he was sometimes capricious and
exacting towards his friends, yet a truly great friend he was: witness
the many who never forsook him, or whom he, after a temporary
estrangement, always won back--More, Peter Gilles, Fisher, Ammonius,
Budaeus, and others too numerous to mention. 'He was most constant in
keeping up friendships,' says Beatus Rhenanus, whose own attachment to
Erasmus is a proof of the strong affection he could inspire.

At the root of this desire of friendship lies a great and sincere need
of affection. Remember the effusions of almost feminine affection
towards Servatius during his monastic period. But at the same time it is
a sort of moral serenity that makes him so: an aversion to disturbance,
to whatever is harsh and inharmonious. He calls it 'a certain occult
natural sense' which makes him abhor strife. He cannot abide being at
loggerheads with anyone. He always hoped and wanted, he says, to keep
his pen unbloody, to attack no one, to provoke no one, even if he were
attacked. But his enemies had not willed it, and in later years he
became well accustomed to bitter polemics, with Lefèvre d'Étaples, with
Lee, with Egmondanus, with Hutten, with Luther, with Beda, with the
Spaniards, and the Italians. At first it is still noticeable how he
suffers by it, how contention wounds him, so that he cannot bear the
pain in silence. 'Do let us be friends again,' he begs Lefèvre, who does
not reply. The time which he had to devote to his polemics he regards as
lost. 'I feel myself getting more heavy every day,' he writes in 1520,
'not so much on account of my age as because of the restless labour of
my studies, nay more even by the weariness of disputes than by the work,
which, in itself, is agreeable.' And how much strife was still in store
for him then!

If only Erasmus had been less concerned about public opinion! But that
seemed impossible: he had a fear of men, or, we may call it, a fervent
need of justification. He would always see beforehand, and usually in
exaggerated colours, the effect his word or deed would have upon men. Of
himself, it was certainly true as he once wrote: that the craving for
fame has less sharp spurs than the fear of ignominy. Erasmus is with
Rousseau among those who cannot bear the consciousness of guilt, out of
a sort of mental cleanliness. Not to be able to repay a benefit with
interest, makes him ashamed and sad. He cannot abide 'dunning creditors,
unperformed duty, neglect of the need of a friend'. If he cannot
discharge the obligation, he explains it away. The Dutch historian Fruin
has quite correctly observed: 'Whatever Erasmus did contrary to his duty
and his rightly understood interests was the fault of circumstances or
wrong advice; he is never to blame himself'. And what he has thus
justified for himself becomes with him universal law: 'God relieves
people of pernicious vows, if only they repent of them,' says the man
who himself had broken a vow.

There is in Erasmus a dangerous fusion between inclination and
conviction. The correlations between his idiosyncrasies and his precepts
are undeniable. This has special reference to his point of view in the
matter of fasting and abstinence from meat. He too frequently vents his
own aversion to fish, or talks of his inability to postpone meals, not
to make this connection clear to everybody. In the same way his personal
experience in the monastery passes into his disapproval, on principle,
of monastic life.

The distortion of the image of his youth in his memory, to which we have
referred, is based on that need of self-justification. It is all
unconscious interpretation of the undeniable facts to suit the ideal
which Erasmus had made of himself and to which he honestly thinks he
answers. The chief features of that self-conceived picture are a
remarkable, simple sincerity and frankness, which make it impossible to
him to dissemble; inexperience and carelessness in the ordinary concerns
of life and a total lack of ambition. All this is true in the first
instance: there is a superficial Erasmus who answers to that image, but
it is not the whole Erasmus; there is a deeper one who is almost the
opposite and whom he himself does not know because he will not know him.
Possibly because behind this there is a still deeper being, which is
truly good.

Does he not ascribe weaknesses to himself? Certainly. He is, in spite of
his self-coddling, ever dissatisfied with himself and his work.
_Putidulus_, he calls himself, meaning the quality of never being
content with himself. It is that peculiarity which makes him
dissatisfied with any work of his directly after it has appeared, so
that he always keeps revising and supplementing. 'Pusillanimous' he
calls himself in writing to Colet. But again he cannot help giving
himself credit for acknowledging that quality, nay, converting that
quality itself into a virtue: it is modesty, the opposite of boasting
and self-love.

This bashfulness about himself is the reason that he does not love his
own physiognomy, and is only persuaded with difficulty by his friends to
sit for a portrait. His own appearance is not heroic or dignified enough
for him, and he is not duped by an artist who flatters him: 'Heigh-ho,'
he exclaims, on seeing Holbein's thumbnail sketch illustrating the
_Moria_: 'if Erasmus still looked like that, he would take a wife at
once'. It is that deep trait of dissatisfaction that suggests the
inscription on his portraits: 'his writings will show you a better

Erasmus's modesty and the contempt which he displays of the fame that
fell to his lot are of a somewhat rhetorical character. But in this we
should not so much see a personal trait of Erasmus as a general form
common to all humanists. On the other hand, this mood cannot be called
altogether artificial. His books, which he calls his children, have not
turned out well. He does not think they will live. He does not set store
by his letters: he publishes them because his friends insist upon it. He
writes his poems to try a new pen. He hopes that geniuses will soon
appear who will eclipse him, so that Erasmus will pass for a stammerer.
What is fame? A pagan survival. He is fed up with it to repletion and
would do nothing more gladly than cast it off.

Sometimes another note escapes him. If Lee would help him in his
endeavours, Erasmus would make him immortal, he had told the former in
their first conversation. And he threatens an unknown adversary, 'If you
go on so impudently to assail my good name, then take care that my
gentleness does not give way and I cause you to be ranked, after a
thousand years, among the venomous sycophants, among the idle boasters,
among the incompetent physicians'.

The self-centred element in Erasmus must needs increase accordingly as
he in truth became a centre and objective point of ideas and culture.
There really was a time when it must seem to him that the world hinged
upon him, and that it awaited the redeeming word from him. What a
widespread enthusiastic following he had, how many warm friends and
venerators! There is something naïve in the way in which he thinks it
requisite to treat all his friends, in an open letter, to a detailed,
rather repellent account of an illness that attacked him on the way back
from Basle to Louvain. _His_ part, _his_ position, _his_ name, this more
and more becomes the aspect under which he sees world-events. Years will
come in which his whole enormous correspondence is little more than one
protracted self-defence.

Yet this man who has so many friends is nevertheless solitary at heart.
And in the depth of that heart he desires to be alone. He is of a most
retiring disposition; he is _a recluse_. 'I have always wished to be
alone, and there is nothing I hate so much as sworn partisans.' Erasmus
is one of those whom contact with others weakens. The less he has to
address and to consider others, friends or enemies, the more truly he
utters his deepest soul. Intercourse with particular people always
causes little scruples in him, intentional amenities, coquetry,
reticences, reserves, spiteful hits, evasions. Therefore it should not
be thought that we get to know him to the core from his letters. Natures
like his, which all contact with men unsettles, give their best and
deepest when they speak impersonally and to all.

After the early effusions of sentimental affection he no longer opens
his heart unreservedly to others. At bottom he feels separated from all
and on the alert towards all. There is a great fear in him that others
will touch his soul or disturb the image he has made of himself. The
attitude of warding off reveals itself as fastidiousness and as
bashfulness. Budaeus hit the mark when he exclaimed jocularly:
'_Fastidiosule!_ You little fastidious person!' Erasmus himself
interprets the dominating trait of his being as maidenly coyness. The
excessive sensitiveness to the stain attaching to his birth results from
it. But his friend Ammonius speaks of his _subrustica verecundia_, his
somewhat rustic _gaucherie_. There is, indeed, often something of the
small man about Erasmus, who is hampered by greatness and therefore
shuns the great, because, at bottom, they obsess him and he feels them
to be inimical to his being.

It seems a hard thing to say that genuine loyalty and fervent
gratefulness were strange to Erasmus. And yet such was his nature. In
characters like his a kind of mental cramp keeps back the effusions of
the heart. He subscribes to the adage: 'Love so, as if you may hate one
day, and hate so, as if you may love one day'. He cannot bear benefits.
In his inmost soul he continually retires before everybody. He who
considers himself the pattern of simple unsuspicion, is indeed in the
highest degree suspicious towards all his friends. The dead Ammonius,
who had helped him so zealously in the most delicate concerns, is not
secure from it. 'You are always unfairly distrustful towards me,'
Budaeus complains. 'What!' exclaims Erasmus, 'you will find few people
who are so little distrustful in friendship as myself.'

When at the height of his fame the attention of the world was indeed
fixed on all he spoke or did, there was some ground for a certain
feeling on his part of being always watched and threatened. But when he
was yet an unknown man of letters, in his Parisian years, we continually
find traces in him of a mistrust of the people about him that can only
be regarded as a morbid feeling. During the last period of his life this
feeling attaches especially to two enemies, Eppendorf and Aleander.
Eppendorf employs spies everywhere who watch Erasmus's correspondence
with his friends. Aleander continually sets people to combat him, and
lies in wait for him wherever he can. His interpretation of the
intentions of his assailants has the ingenious self-centred element
which passes the borderline of sanity. He sees the whole world full of
calumny and ambuscades threatening his peace: nearly all those who once
were his best friends have become his bitterest enemies; they wag their
venomous tongues at banquets, in conversation, in the confessional, in
sermons, in lectures, at court, in vehicles and ships. The minor
enemies, like troublesome vermin, drive him to weariness of life, or to
death by insomnia. He compares his tortures to the martyrdom of Saint
Sebastian, pierced by arrows. But his is worse, for there is no end to
it. For years he has daily been dying a thousand deaths and that alone;
for his friends, if such there are, are deterred by envy.

He mercilessly pillories his patrons in a row for their stinginess. Now
and again there suddenly comes to light an undercurrent of aversion and
hatred which we did not suspect. Where had more good things fallen to
his lot than in England? Which country had he always praised more? But
suddenly a bitter and unfounded reproach escapes him. England is
responsible for his having become faithless to his monastic vows, 'for
no other reason do I hate Britain more than for this, though it has
always been pestilent to me'.

He seldom allows himself to go so far. His expressions of hatred or
spite are, as a rule, restricted to the feline. They are aimed at
friends and enemies, Budaeus, Lypsius, as well as Hutten and Beda.
Occasionally we are struck by the expression of coarse pleasure at
another's misfortune. But in all this, as regards malice, we should not
measure Erasmus by our ideas of delicacy and gentleness. Compared with
most of his contemporaries he remains moderate and refined.

       *       *       *       *       *

Erasmus never felt happy, was never content. This may perhaps surprise
us for a moment, when we think of his cheerful, never-failing energy, of
his gay jests and his humour. But upon reflection this unhappy feeling
tallies very well with his character. It also proceeds from his general
attitude of warding off. Even when in high spirits he considers himself
in all respects an unhappy man. 'The most miserable of all men, the
thrice-wretched Erasmus,' he calls himself in fine Greek terms. His life
'is an Iliad of calamities, a chain of misfortunes. How can anyone envy
_me_?' To no one has Fortune been so constantly hostile as to him. She
has sworn his destruction, thus he sang in his youth in a poetical
complaint addressed to Gaguin: from earliest infancy the same sad and
hard fate has been constantly pursuing him. Pandora's whole box seems to
have been poured out over him.

This unhappy feeling takes the special form of his having been charged
by unlucky stars with Herculean labour, without profit or pleasure to
himself:[16] troubles and vexations without end. His life might have
been so much easier if he had taken his chances. He should never have
left Italy; or he ought to have stayed in England. 'But an immoderate
love of liberty caused me to wrestle long with faithless friends and
inveterate poverty.' Elsewhere he says more resignedly: 'But we are
driven by fate'.

That immoderate love of liberty had indeed been as fate to him. He had
always been the great seeker of quiet and liberty who found liberty late
and quiet never. By no means ever to bind himself, to incur no
obligations which might become fetters--again that fear of the
entanglements of life. Thus he remained the great restless one. He was
never truly satisfied with anything, least of all with what he produced
himself. 'Why, then, do you overwhelm us with so many books', someone at
Louvain objected, 'if you do not really approve of any of them?' And
Erasmus answers with Horace's word: 'In the first place, because I
cannot sleep'.

A sleepless energy, it was that indeed. He cannot rest. Still half
seasick and occupied with his trunks, he is already thinking about an
answer to Dorp's letter, just received, censuring the _Moria_. We should
fully realize what it means that time after time Erasmus, who, by
nature, loved quiet and was fearful, and fond of comfort, cleanliness
and good fare, undertakes troublesome and dangerous journeys, even
voyages, which he detests, for the sake of his work and of that alone.

He is not only restless, but also precipitate. Helped by an incomparably
retentive and capacious memory he writes at haphazard. He never becomes
anacoluthic; his talent is too refined and sure for that; but he does
repeat himself and is unnecessarily circumstantial. 'I rather pour out
than write everything,' he says. He compares his publications to
parturitions, nay, to abortions. He does not select his subjects, he
tumbles into them, and having once taken up a subject he finishes
without intermission. For years he has read only _tumultuarie_, up and
down all literature; he no longer finds time really to refresh his mind
by reading, and to work so as to please himself. On that account he
envied Budaeus.

'Do not publish too hastily,' More warns him: 'you are watched to be
caught in inexactitudes.' Erasmus knows it: he will correct all later,
he will ever have to revise and to polish everything. He hates the
labour of revising and correcting, but he submits to it, and works
passionately, 'in the treadmill of Basle', and, he says, finishes the
work of six years in eight months.

In that recklessness and precipitation with which Erasmus labours there
is again one of the unsolved contradictions of his being. He _is_
precipitate and careless; he _wants_ to be careful and cautious; his
mind drives him to be the first, his nature restrains him, but usually
only after the word has been written and published. The result is a
continual intermingling of explosion and reserve.

The way in which Erasmus always tries to shirk definite statements
irritates us. How carefully he always tries to represent the
_Colloquies_, in which he had spontaneously revealed so much of his
inner convictions, as mere trifling committed to paper to please his
friends. They are only meant to teach correct Latin! And if anything is
said in them touching matters of faith, it is not I who say it, is it?
As often as he censures classes or offices in the _Adagia_, princes
above all, he warns the readers not to regard his words as aimed at
particular persons.

Erasmus was a master of reserve. He knew, even when he held definite
views, how to avoid direct decisions, not only from caution, but also
because he saw the eternal ambiguity of human issues.

Erasmus ascribes to himself an unusual horror of lies. On seeing a liar,
he says, he was corporeally affected. As a boy he already violently
disliked mendacious boys, such as the little braggart of whom he tells
in the _Colloquies_. That this reaction of aversion is genuine is not
contradicted by the fact that we catch Erasmus himself in untruths.
Inconsistencies, flattery, pieces of cunning, white lies, serious
suppression of facts, simulated sentiments of respect or sorrow--they
may all be pointed out in his letters. He once disavowed his deepest
conviction for a gratuity from Anne of Borselen by flattering her
bigotry. He requested his best friend Batt to tell lies in his behalf.
He most sedulously denied his authorship of the Julius dialogue, for
fear of the consequences, even to More, and always in such a way as to
avoid saying outright, 'I did not write it'. Those who know other
humanists, and know how frequently and impudently they lied, will
perhaps think more lightly of Erasmus's sins.

For the rest, even during his lifetime he did not escape punishment for
his eternal reserve, his proficiency in semi-conclusions and veiled
truths, insinuations and slanderous allusions. The accusation of perfidy
was often cast in his teeth, sometimes in serious indignation. 'You are
always engaged in bringing suspicion upon others,' Edward Lee exclaims.
'How dare you usurp the office of a general censor, and condemn what you
have hardly ever tasted? How dare you despise all but yourself? Falsely
and insultingly do you expose your antagonist in the _Colloquia_.' Lee
quotes the spiteful passage referring to himself, and then exclaims:
'Now from these words the world may come to know its divine, its censor,
its modest and sincere author, that Erasmian diffidence, earnest,
decency and honesty! Erasmian modesty has long been proverbial. You are
always using the words "false accusations". You say: if I was
consciously guilty of the smallest of all his (Lee's) false accusations,
I should not dare to approach the Lord's table!--O man, who are you, to
judge another, a servant who stands or falls before his Lord?'

This was the first violent attack from the conservative side, in the
beginning of 1520, when the mighty struggle which Luther's action had
unchained kept the world in ever greater suspense. Six months later
followed the first serious reproaches on the part of radical reformers.
Ulrich von Hutten, the impetuous, somewhat foggy-headed knight, who
wanted to see Luther's cause triumph as the national cause of Germany,
turns to Erasmus, whom, at one time, he had enthusiastically acclaimed
as the man of the new weal, with the urgent appeal not to forsake the
cause of the reformation or to compromise it. 'You have shown yourself
fearful in the affair of Reuchlin; now in that of Luther you do your
utmost to convince his adversaries that you are altogether averse from
it, though we know better. Do not disown us. You know how triumphantly
certain letters of yours are circulated, in which, to protect yourself
from suspicion, you rather meanly fasten it on others ... If you are now
afraid to incur a little hostility for _my_ sake, concede me at least
that you will not allow yourself, out of fear for another, to be tempted
to renounce me; rather be silent about me.'

Those were bitter reproaches. In the man who had to swallow them there
was a puny Erasmus who deserved those reproaches, who took offence at
them, but did not take them to heart, who continued to act with prudent
reserve till Hutten's friendship was turned to hatred. In him was also a
great Erasmus who knew how, under the passion and infatuation with which
the parties combated each other, the Truth he sought, and the Love he
hoped would subdue the world, were obscured; who knew the God whom he
professed too high to take sides. Let us try ever to see of that great
Erasmus as much as the petty one permits.


[15] Cf. the letter to Beatus Rhenanus, pp. 227-8.

[16] Ad. 2001 LB. II, 717B, 77 c. 58A. On the book which Erasmus holds
in his hand in Holbein's portrait at Longford Castle, we read in Greek:
The Labours of Hercules.




    Erasmus at Louvain, 1517--He expects the renovation of the
    Church as the fruit of good learning--Controversy with Lefèvre
    d'Étaples--Second journey to Basle, 1518--He revises the edition
    of the New Testament--Controversies with Latomus, Briard and
    Lee--Erasmus regards the opposition of conservative theology
    merely as a conspiracy against good learning

When Erasmus established himself at Louvain in the summer of 1517 he had
a vague presentiment that great changes were at hand. 'I fear', he
writes in September, 'that a great subversion of affairs is being
brought about here, if God's favour and the piety and wisdom of princes
do not concern themselves about human matters.' But the forms which that
great change would assume he did not in the least realize.

He regarded his removal as merely temporary. It was only to last 'till
we shall have seen which place of residence is best fit for old age,
which is already knocking'. There is something pathetic in the man who
desires nothing but quiet and liberty, and who through his own
restlessness, and his inability not to concern himself about other
people, never found a really fixed abode or true independence. Erasmus
is one of those people who always seem to say: tomorrow, tomorrow! I
must first deal with this, and then ... As soon as he shall be ready
with the new edition of the New Testament and shall have extricated
himself from troublesome and disagreeable theological controversies, in
which he finds himself entangled against his wish, he will sleep, hide
himself, 'sing for himself and the Muses'. But that time never came.

Where to live when he shall be free? Spain, to which Cardinal Ximenes
called him, did not appeal to him. From Germany, he says, the stoves and
the insecurity deter him. In England the servitude which was required of
him there revolted him. But in the Netherlands themselves, he did not
feel at his ease, either: 'Here I am barked at a great deal, and there
is no remuneration; though I desired it ever so much, I could not bear
to stay there long'. Yet he remained for four years.

Erasmus had good friends in the University of Louvain. At first he put
up with his old host Johannes Paludanus, Rhetor of the University, whose
house he exchanged that summer for quarters in the College of the Lily.
Martin Dorp, a Dutchman like himself, had not been estranged from him by
their polemics about the _Moria_; his good will was of great importance
to Erasmus, because of the important place Dorp occupied in the
theological faculty. And lastly, though his old patron, Adrian of
Utrecht, afterwards Pope, had by that time been called away from Louvain
to higher dignities, his influence had not diminished in consequence,
but rather increased; for just about that time he had been made a

Erasmus was received with great complaisance by the Louvain divines.
Their leader, the vice-chancellor of the University, Jean Briard of Ath,
repeatedly expressed his approval of the edition of the New Testament,
to Erasmus's great satisfaction. Soon Erasmus found himself a member of
the theological faculty. Yet he did not feel at his ease among the
Louvain theologians. The atmosphere was a great deal less congenial to
him than that of the world of the English scholars. Here he felt a
spirit which he did not understand and distrusted in consequence.

In the years in which the Reformation began, Erasmus was the victim of a
great misunderstanding, the result of the fact that his delicate,
aesthetic, hovering spirit understood neither the profoundest depths of
the faith nor the hard necessities of human society. He was neither
mystic nor realist. Luther was both. To Erasmus the great problem of
Church and State and society, seemed simple. Nothing was required but
restoration and purification by a return to the original, unspoilt
sources of Christianity. A number of accretions to the faith, rather
ridiculous than revolting, had to be cleared away. All should be reduced
to the nucleus of faith, Christ and the Gospel. Forms, ceremonies,
speculations should make room for the practice of true piety. The Gospel
was easily intelligible to everybody and within everybody's reach. And
the means to reach all this was good learning, _bonae literae_. Had he
not himself, by his editions of the New Testament and of Jerome, and
even earlier by the now famous _Enchiridion_, done most of what had to
be done? 'I hope that what now pleases the upright, will soon please
all.' As early as the beginning of 1517 Erasmus had written to Wolfgang
Fabricius Capito, in the tone of one who has accomplished the great
task. 'Well then, take you the torch from us. The work will henceforth
be a great deal easier and cause far less hatred and envy. _We_ have
lived through the first shock.'

Budaeus writes to Tunstall in May 1517: 'Was anyone born under such
inauspicious Graces that the dull and obscure discipline (scholasticism)
does not revolt him, since sacred literature, too, cleansed by Erasmus's
diligence, has regained its ancient purity and brightness? But it is
still much greater that he should have effected by the same labour the
emergence of sacred truth itself out of that Cimmerian darkness, even
though divinity is not yet quite free from the dirt of the sophist
school. If that should occur one day, it will be owing to the beginnings
made in our times.' The philologist Budaeus believed even more firmly
than Erasmus that faith was a matter of erudition.

It could not but vex Erasmus that not everyone accepted the cleansed
truth at once. How could people continue to oppose themselves to what,
to him, seemed as clear as daylight and so simple? He, who so sincerely
would have liked to live in peace with all the world, found himself
involved in a series of polemics. To let the opposition of opponents
pass unnoticed was forbidden not only by his character, for ever
striving to justify himself in the eyes of the world, but also by the
custom of his time, so eager for dispute.

There were, first of all, his polemics with Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples,
or in Latinized form, Faber Stapulensis, the Parisian theologian, who as
a preparer of the Reformation may, more than anyone else, be ranked with
Erasmus. At the moment when Erasmus got into the travelling cart which
was to take him to Louvain, a friend drew his attention to a passage in
the new edition of Faber's commentary on St. Paul's epistles, in which
he controverted Erasmus's note on the Second Epistle to the Hebrews,
verse 7. Erasmus at once bought Faber's book, and soon published an
_Apologia_. It concerned Christ's relation to God and the angels, but
the dogmatic point at issue hinged, after all, on a philological
interpretation of Erasmus.

Not yet accustomed to much direct wrangling, Erasmus was violently
agitated by the matter, the more as he esteemed Faber highly and
considered him a congenial spirit. 'What on earth has occurred to the
man? Have others set him on against me? All theologians agree that I am
right,' he asserts. It makes him nervous that Faber does not reply again
at once. Badius has told Peter Gilles that Faber is sorry about it.
Erasmus in a dignified letter appeals to their friendship; he will
suffer himself to be taught and censured. Then again he growls: Let him
be careful. And he thinks that his controversy with Faber keeps the
world in suspense: there is not a meal at which the guests do not side
with one or the other of them. But finally the combat abated and the
friendship was preserved.

Towards Easter 1518, Erasmus contemplated a new journey to Basle, there
to pass through the press, during a few months of hard labour, the
corrected edition of the New Testament. He did not fail to request the
chiefs of conservative divinity at Louvain beforehand to state their
objections to his work. Briard of Ath declared he had found nothing
offensive in it, after he had first been told all sorts of bad things
about it. 'Then the new edition will please you much better,' Erasmus
had said. His friend Dorp and James Latomus, also one of the chief
divines, had expressed themselves in the same sense, and the Carmelite
Nicholas of Egmond had said that he had never read Erasmus's work. Only
a young Englishman, Edward Lee, who was studying Greek at Louvain, had
summarized a number of criticisms into ten conclusions. Erasmus had got
rid of the matter by writing to Lee that he had not been able to get
hold of his conclusions and therefore could not make use of them. But
his youthful critic had not put up with being slighted so, and worked
out his objections in a more circumstantial treatise.

[Illustration: XVII. VIEW OF BASLE, 1548]

Thus Erasmus set out for Basle once more in May 1518. He had been
obliged to ask all his English friends (of whom Ammonius had been taken
from him by death in 1517) for support to defray the expenses of the
journey; he kept holding out to them the prospect that, after his work
was finished, he would return to England. In a letter to Martin Lypsius,
as he was going up the Rhine, he answered Lee's criticism, which had
irritated him extremely. In revising his edition he not only took it but
little into account, but ventured, moreover, this time to print his own
translation of the New Testament of 1506 without any alterations. At the
same time he obtained for the new edition a letter of approval from the
Pope, a redoubtable weapon against his cavillers.

At Basle Erasmus worked again like a horse in a treadmill. But he was
really in his element. Even before the second edition of the New
Testament, the _Enchiridion_ and the _Institutio Principis Christiani_
were reprinted by Froben. On his return journey, Erasmus, whose work had
been hampered all through the summer by indisposition, and who had, on
that account, been unable to finish it, fell seriously ill. He reached
Louvain with difficulty (21 September 1518). It might be the pestilence,
and Erasmus, ever much afraid of contagion himself, now took all
precautions to safeguard his friends against it. He avoided his quarters
in the College of the Lily, and found shelter with his most trusted
friend, Dirck Maertensz, the printer. But in spite of rumours of the
plague and his warnings, first Dorp and afterwards also Ath came, at
once, to visit him. Evidently the Louvain professors did not mean so
badly by him, after all.

[Illustration: XVIII. Title-page of the New Testament printed by Froben
in 1520]

But the differences between Erasmus and the Louvain faculty were deeply
rooted. Lee, hurt by the little attention paid by Erasmus to his
objections, prepared a new critique, but kept it from Erasmus, for the
present, which irritated the latter and made him nervous. In the
meantime a new opponent arose. Directly after his return to Louvain,
Erasmus had taken much trouble to promote the establishment of the
_Collegium Trilingue_, projected and endowed by Jerome Busleiden, in his
testament, to be founded in the university. The three biblical
languages, Hebrew, Greek and Latin, were to be taught there. Now when
James Latomus, a member of the theological faculty and a man whom he
esteemed, in a dialogue about the study of those three languages and of
theology, doubted the utility of the former, Erasmus judged himself
concerned, and answered Latomus in an _Apologia_. About the same time
(spring 1519) he got into trouble with the vice-chancellor himself.
Erasmus thought that Ath had publicly censured him with regard to his
'Praise of Marriage', which had recently appeared. Though Ath withdrew
at once, Erasmus could not abstain from writing an _Apologia_, however
moderate. Meanwhile the smouldering quarrel with Lee assumed ever more
hateful forms. In vain did Erasmus's English friends attempt to restrain
their young, ambitious compatriot. Erasmus on his part irritated him
furtively. He reveals in this whole dispute a lack of self-control and
dignity which shows his weakest side. Usually so anxious as to decorum
he now lapses into invectives: The British adder, Satan, even the old
taunt ascribing a tail to Englishmen has to serve once more. The points
at issue disappear altogether behind the bitter mutual reproaches. In
his unrestrained anger, Erasmus avails himself of the most unworthy
weapons. He eggs his German friends on to write against Lee and to
ridicule him in all his folly and brag, and then he assures all his
English friends: 'All Germany is literally furious with Lee; I have the
greatest trouble in keeping them back'.

Alack! Germany had other causes of disturbance: it is 1520 and the three
great polemics of Luther were setting the world on fire.

Though one may excuse the violence and the petty spitefulness of Erasmus
in this matter, as resulting from an over-sensitive heart falling
somewhat short in really manly qualities, yet it is difficult to deny
that he failed completely to understand both the arguments of his
adversaries and the great movements of his time.

It was very easy for Erasmus to mock the narrow-mindedness of
conservative divines who thought that there would be an end to faith in
Holy Scripture as soon as the emendation of the text was attempted.
'"They correct the Holy Gospel, nay, the Pater Noster itself!" the
preacher exclaims indignantly in the sermon before his surprised
congregation. As if I cavilled at Matthew and Luke, and not at those
who, out of ignorance and carelessness, have corrupted them. What do
people wish? That the Church should possess Holy Scripture as correct as
possible, or not?' This reasoning seemed to Erasmus, with his passionate
need of purity, a conclusive refutation. But instinct did not deceive
his adversaries, when it told them that doctrine itself was at stake if
the linguistic judgement of a single individual might decide as to the
correct version of a text. And Erasmus wished to avoid the inferences
which assailed doctrine. He was not aware of the fact that his
conceptions of the Church, the sacraments and the dogmas were no longer
purely Catholic, because they had become subordinated to his
philological insight. He could not be aware of it because, in spite of
all his natural piety and his fervent ethical sentiments, he lacked the
mystic insight which is the foundation of every creed.

It was this personal lack in Erasmus which made him unable to understand
the real grounds of the resistance of Catholic orthodoxy. How was it
possible that so many, and among them men of high consideration, refused
to accept what to him seemed so clear and irrefutable! He interpreted
the fact in a highly personal way. He, the man who would so gladly have
lived in peace with all the world, who so yearned for sympathy and
recognition, and bore enmity with difficulty, saw the ranks of haters
and opponents increase about him. He did not understand how they feared
his mocking acrimony, how many wore the scar of a wound that the _Moria_
had made. That real and supposed hatred troubled Erasmus. He sees his
enemies as a sect. It is especially the Dominicans and the Carmelites
who are ill-affected towards the new scientific theology. Just then a
new adversary had arisen at Louvain in the person of his compatriot
Nicholas of Egmond, prior of the Carmelites, henceforth an object of
particular abhorrence to him. It is remarkable that at Louvain Erasmus
found his fiercest opponents in some compatriots, in the narrower sense
of the word: Vincent Dirks of Haarlem, William of Vianen, Ruurd Tapper.
The persecution increases: the venom of slander spreads more and more
every day and becomes more deadly; the greatest untruths are impudently
preached about him; he calls in the help of Ath, the vice-chancellor,
against them. But it is no use; the hidden enemies laugh; let him write
for the erudite, who are few; we shall bark to stir up the people. After
1520 he writes again and again: 'I am stoned every day'.

But Erasmus, however much he might see himself, not without reason, at
the centre, could, in 1519 and 1520, no longer be blind to the fact that
the great struggle did not concern him alone. On all sides the battle
was being fought. What is it, that great commotion about matters of
spirit and of faith?

The answer which Erasmus gave himself was this: it is a great and wilful
conspiracy on the part of the conservatives to suffocate good learning
and make the old ignorance triumph. This idea recurs innumerable times
in his letters after the middle of 1518. 'I know quite certainly', he
writes on 21 March 1519 to one of his German friends, 'that the
barbarians on all sides have conspired to leave no stone unturned till
they have suppressed _bonae literae_.' 'Here we are still fighting with
the protectors of the old ignorance'; cannot Wolsey persuade the Pope to
stop it here? All that appertains to ancient and cultured literature is
called 'poetry' by those narrow-minded fellows. By that word they
indicate everything that savours of a more elegant doctrine, that is to
say all that they have not learned themselves. All the tumult, the whole
tragedy--under these terms he usually refers to the great theological
struggle--originates in the hatred of _bonae literae_. 'This is the
source and hot-bed of all this tragedy; incurable hatred of linguistic
study and the _bonae literae_.' 'Luther provokes those enemies, whom it
is impossible to conquer, though their cause is a bad one. And meanwhile
envy harasses the _bonae literae_, which are attacked at his (Luther's)
instigation by these gadflies. They are already nearly insufferable,
when things do not go well with them; but who can stand them when they
triumph? Either I am blind, or they aim at something else than Luther.
They are preparing to conquer the phalanx of the Muses.'

This was written by Erasmus to a member of the University of Leipzig in
December 1520. This one-sided and academic conception of the great
events, a conception which arose in the study of a recluse bending over
his books, did more than anything else to prevent Erasmus from
understanding the true nature and purport of the Reformation.



    Beginning of the relations between Erasmus and Luther--
    Archbishop Albert of Mayence, 1517--Progress of the
    Reformation--Luther tries to bring about a _rapprochement_ with
    Erasmus, March 1519--Erasmus keeps aloof; fancies he may yet act
    as a conciliator--His attitude becomes ambiguous--He denies ever
    more emphatically all relations with Luther and resolves to
    remain a spectator--He is pressed by either camp to take
    sides--Aleander in the Netherlands--The Diet of Worms,
    1521--Erasmus leaves Louvain to safeguard his freedom, October

About the close of 1516, Erasmus received a letter from the librarian
and secretary of Frederick, elector of Saxony, George Spalatinus,
written in the respectful and reverential tone in which the great man
was now approached. 'We all esteem you here most highly; the elector has
all your books in his library and intends to buy everything you may
publish in future.' But the object of Spalatinus's letter was the
execution of a friend's commission. An Augustinian ecclesiastic, a great
admirer of Erasmus, had requested him to direct his attention to the
fact that in his interpretation of St. Paul, especially in that of the
epistle to the Romans, Erasmus had failed to conceive the idea of
_justitia_ correctly, had paid too little attention to original sin: he
might profit by reading Augustine.

The nameless Austin Friar was Luther, then still unknown outside the
circle of the Wittenberg University, in which he was a professor, and
the criticism regarded the cardinal point of his hardly acquired
conviction: justification by faith.

Erasmus paid little attention to this letter. He received so many of
that sort, containing still more praise and no criticism. If he answered
it, the reply did not reach Spalatinus, and later Erasmus completely
forgot the whole letter.

Nine months afterwards, in September 1517, when Erasmus had been at
Louvain for a short time, he received an honourable invitation, written
by the first prelate of the Empire, the young Archbishop of Mayence,
Albert of Brandenburg. The archbishop would be pleased to see him on an
occasion: he greatly admired his work (he knew it so little as to speak
of Erasmus's emendation of the Old Testament, instead of the New) and
hoped that he would one day write some lives of saints in elegant style.

The young Hohenzoller, advocate of the new light of classical studies,
whose attention had probably been drawn to Erasmus by Hutten and Capito,
who sojourned at his court, had recently become engaged in one of the
boldest political and financial transactions of his time. His elevation
to the see of Mayence, at the age of twenty-four, had necessitated a
papal dispensation, as he also wished to keep the archbishopric of
Magdeburg and the see of Halberstadt. This accumulation of
ecclesiastical offices had to be made subservient to the Brandenburg
policy which opposed the rival house of Saxony. The Pope granted the
dispensation in return for a great sum of money, but to facilitate its
payment he accorded to the archbishop a liberal indulgence for the whole
archbishopric of Mayence, Magdeburg and the Brandenburg territories.
Albert, to whom half the proceeds were tacitly left, raised a loan with
the house of Fugger, and this charged itself with the indulgence

When in December 1517, Erasmus answered the archbishop, Luther's
propositions against indulgences, provoked by the Archbishop of
Mayence's instructions regarding their colportage, had already been
posted up (31 October 1517), and were circulated throughout Germany,
rousing the whole Church. They were levelled at the same abuses which
Erasmus combated, the mechanical, atomistical, and juridical conception
of religion. But how different was their practical effect, as compared
with Erasmus's pacific endeavour to purify the Church by lenient means!

'Lives of saints?' Erasmus asked replying to the archbishop. 'I have
tried in my poor way to add a little light to the prince of saints
himself. For the rest, your endeavour, in addition to so many difficult
matters of government, and at such an early age, to get the lives of the
saints purged of old women's tales and disgusting style, is extremely
laudable. For nothing should be suffered in the Church that is not
perfectly pure or refined,' And he concludes with a magnificent eulogy
of the excellent prelate.

During the greater part of 1518, Erasmus was too much occupied by his
own affairs--the journey to Basle and his red-hot labours there, and
afterwards his serious illness--to concern himself much with Luther's
business. In March he sends Luther's theses to More, without comment,
and, in passing, complains to Colet about the impudence with which Rome
disseminates indulgences. Luther, now declared a heretic and summoned to
appear at Augsburg, stands before the legate Cajetanus and refuses to
recant. Seething enthusiasm surrounds him. Just about that time Erasmus
writes to one of Luther's partisans, John Lang, in very favourable terms
about his work. The theses have pleased everybody. 'I see that the
monarchy of the Pope at Rome, as it is now, is a pestilence to
Christendom, but I do not know if it is expedient to touch that sore
openly. That would be a matter for princes, but I fear that these will
act in concert with the Pope to secure part of the spoils. I do not
understand what possessed Eck to take up arms against Luther.' The
letter did not find its way into any of the collections.

The year 1519 brought the struggle attending the election of an emperor,
after old Maximilian had died in January, and the attempt of the curia
to regain ground with lenity. Germany was expecting the long-projected
disputation between Johannes Eck and Andreas Karlstadt which, in truth,
would concern Luther. How could Erasmus, who himself was involved that
year in so many polemics, have foreseen that the Leipzig disputation,
which was to lead Luther to the consequence of rejecting the highest
ecclesiastical authority, would remain of lasting importance in the
history of the world, whereas his quarrel with Lee would be forgotten?

On 28 March 1519 Luther addressed himself personally to Erasmus for the
first time. 'I speak with you so often, and you with me, Erasmus, our
ornament and our hope; and we do not know each other as yet.' He
rejoices to find that Erasmus displeases many, for this he regards as a
sign that God has blessed him. Now that his, Luther's, name begins to
get known too, a longer silence between them might be wrongly
interpreted. 'Therefore, my Erasmus, amiable man, if you think fit,
acknowledge also this little brother in Christ, who really admires you
and feels friendly disposed towards you, and for the rest would deserve
no better, because of his ignorance, than to lie, unknown, buried in a

There was a very definite purpose in this somewhat rustically cunning
and half ironical letter. Luther wanted, if possible, to make Erasmus
show his colours, to win him, the powerful authority, touchstone of
science and culture, for the cause which he advocated. In his heart
Luther had long been aware of the deep gulf separating him from Erasmus.
As early as March 1517, six months before his public appearance, he
wrote about Erasmus to John Lang: 'human matters weigh heavier with him
than divine,' an opinion that so many have pronounced about
Erasmus--obvious, and yet unfair.

The attempt, on the part of Luther, to effect a _rapprochement_ was a
reason for Erasmus to retire at once. Now began that extremely ambiguous
policy of Erasmus to preserve peace by his authority as a light of the
world and to steer a middle course without committing himself. In that
attitude the great and the petty side of his personality are
inextricably intertwined. The error because of which most historians
have seen Erasmus's attitude towards the Reformation either in far too
unfavourable a light or--as for instance the German historian
Kalkoff--much too heroic and far-seeing, is that they erroneously regard
him as psychologically homogeneous. Just that he is not. His
double-sidedness roots in the depths of his being. Many of his
utterances during the struggle proceed directly from his fear and lack
of character, also from his inveterate dislike of siding with a person
or a cause; but behind that is always his deep and fervent conviction
that neither of the conflicting opinions can completely express the
truth, that human hatred and purblindness infatuate men's minds. And
with that conviction is allied the noble illusion that it might yet be
possible to preserve the peace by moderation, insight, and kindliness.

In April 1519 Erasmus addressed himself by letter to the elector
Frederick of Saxony, Luther's patron. He begins by alluding to his
dedication of Suetonius two years before; but his real purpose is to say
something about Luther. Luther's writings, he says, have given the
Louvain obscurants plenty of reason to inveigh against the _bonae
literae_, to decry all scholars. He himself does not know Luther and has
glanced through his writings only cursorily as yet, but everyone praises
his life. How little in accordance with theological gentleness it is to
condemn him offhand, and that before the indiscreet vulgar! For has he
not proposed a dispute, and submitted himself to everybody's judgement?
No one has, so far, admonished, taught, convinced him. Every error is
not at once heresy.

The best of Christianity is a life worthy of Christ. Where we find that,
we should not rashly suspect people of heresy. Why do we so uncharitably
persecute the lapses of others, though none of us is free from error?
Why do we rather want to conquer than cure, suppress than instruct?

But he concludes with a word that could not but please Luther's friends,
who so hoped for his support. 'May the duke prevent an innocent man from
being surrendered under the cloak of piety to the impiety of a few. This
is also the wish of Pope Leo, who has nothing more at heart than that
innocence be safe.'

At this same time Erasmus does his best to keep Froben back from
publishing Luther's writings, 'that they may not fan the hatred of the
_bonae literae_ still more'. And he keeps repeating: I do not know
Luther, I have not read his writings. He makes this declaration to
Luther himself, in his reply to the latter's epistle of 28 March. This
letter of Erasmus, dated 30 May 1519, should be regarded as a newspaper
leader[17], to acquaint the public with his attitude towards the Luther
question. Luther does not know the tragedies which his writings have
caused at Louvain. People here think that Erasmus has helped him in
composing them and call him the standard bearer of the party! That
seemed to them a fitting pretext to suppress the _bonae literae_. 'I
have declared that you are perfectly unknown to me, that I have not yet
read your books and therefore neither approve nor disapprove anything.'
'I reserve myself, so far as I may, to be of use to the reviving
studies. Discreet moderation seems likely to bring better progress than
impetuosity. It was by this that Christ subjugated the world.'

On the same day he writes to John Lang, one of Luther's friends and
followers, a short note, not meant for publication: 'I hope that the
endeavours of yourself and your party will be successful. Here the
Papists rave violently.... All the best minds are rejoiced at Luther's
boldness: I do not doubt he will be careful that things do not end in a
quarrel of parties!... We shall never triumph over feigned Christians
unless we first abolish the tyranny of the Roman see, and of its
satellites, the Dominicans, the Franciscans and the Carmelites. But no
one could attempt that without a serious tumult.'

As the gulf widens, Erasmus's protestations that he has nothing to do
with Luther become much more frequent. Relations at Louvain grow ever
more disagreeable and the general sentiment about him ever more unkind.
In August 1519 he turns to the Pope himself for protection against his
opponents. He still fails to see how wide the breach is. He still takes
it all to be quarrels of scholars. King Henry of England and King
Francis of France in their own countries have imposed silence upon the
quarrellers and slanderers; if only the Pope would do the same!

In October he was once more reconciled with the Louvain faculty. It was
just at this time that Colet died in London, the man who had, better
perhaps than anyone else, understood Erasmus's standpoint. Kindred
spirits in Germany still looked up to Erasmus as the great man who was
on the alert to interpose at the right moment and who had made
moderation the watchword, until the time should come to give his friends
the signal.

But in the increasing noise of the battle his voice already sounded less
powerfully than before. A letter to Cardinal Albert of Mayence, 19
October 1519, of about the same content as that of Frederick of Saxony
written in the preceding spring, was at once circulated by Luther's
friends; and by the advocates of conservatism, in spite of the usual
protestation, 'I do not know Luther', it was made to serve against

It became more and more clear that the mediating and conciliatory
position which Erasmus wished to take up would soon be altogether
untenable. The inquisitor Jacob Hoogstraten had come from Cologne, where
he was a member of the University, to Louvain, to work against Luther
there, as he had worked against Reuchlin. On 7 November 1519 the Louvain
faculty, following the example of that of Cologne, proceeded to take the
decisive step: the solemn condemnation of a number of Luther's opinions.
In future no place could be less suitable to Erasmus than Louvain, the
citadel of action against reformers. It is surprising that he remained
there another two years.

The expectation that he would be able to speak the conciliating word was
paling. For the rest he failed to see the true proportions. During the
first months of 1520 his attention was almost entirely taken up by his
own polemics with Lee, a paltry incident in the great revolution. The
desire to keep aloof got more and more the upper hand of him. In June he
writes to Melanchthon: 'I see that matters begin to look like sedition.
It is perhaps necessary that scandals occur, but I should prefer not to
be the author.' He has, he thinks, by his influence with Wolsey,
prevented the burning of Luther's writings in England, which had been
ordered. But he was mistaken. The burning had taken place in London, as
early as 12 May.

The best proof that Erasmus had practically given up his hope to play a
conciliatory part may be found in what follows. In the summer of 1520
the famous meeting between the three monarchs, Henry VIII, Francis I and
Charles V, took place at Calais. Erasmus was to go there in the train of
his prince. How would such a congress of princes--where in peaceful
conclave the interests of France, England, Spain, the German Empire, and
a considerable part of Italy, were represented together--have affected
Erasmus's imagination, if his ideal had remained unshaken! But there are
no traces of this. Erasmus was at Calais in July 1520, had some
conversation with Henry VIII there, and greeted More, but it does not
appear that he attached any other importance to the journey than that of
an opportunity, for the last time, to greet his English friends.

It was awkward for Erasmus that just at this time, when the cause of
faith took so much harsher forms, his duties as counsellor to the
youthful Charles, now back from Spain to be crowned as emperor,
circumscribed his liberty more than before. In the summer of 1520
appeared, based on the incriminating material furnished by the Louvain
faculty, the papal bull declaring Luther to be a heretic, and, unless he
should speedily recant, excommunicating him. 'I fear the worst for the
unfortunate Luther,' Erasmus writes, 9 September 1520, 'so does
conspiracy rage everywhere, so are princes incensed with him on all
sides, and, most of all, Pope Leo. Would Luther had followed my advice
and abstained from those hostile and seditious actions!... They will not
rest until they have quite subverted the study of languages and the good
learning.... Out of the hatred against these and the stupidity of monks
did this tragedy first arise.... I do not meddle with it. For the rest,
a bishopric is waiting for me if I choose to write against Luther.'

Indeed, Erasmus had become, by virtue of his enormous celebrity, as
circumstances would have it, more and more a valuable asset in the great
policy of emperor and pope. People wanted to use his name and make him
choose sides. And that he would not do for any consideration. He wrote
evasively to the Pope about his relations with Luther without altogether
disavowing him. How zealously he defends himself from the suspicion of
being on Luther's side as noisy monks make out in their sermons, who
summarily link the two in their scoffing disparagement.

But by the other side also he is pressed to choose sides and to speak
out. Towards the end of October 1520 the coronation of the emperor took
place at Aix-la-Chapelle. Erasmus was perhaps present; in any case he
accompanied the Emperor to Cologne. There, on 5 November, he had an
interview about Luther with the Elector Frederick of Saxony. He was
persuaded to write down the result of that discussion in the form of
twenty-two _Axiomata concerning Luther's cause_. Against his intention
they were printed at once.

Erasmus's hesitation in those days between the repudiation and the
approbation of Luther is not discreditable to him. It is the tragic
defect running through his whole personality: his refusal or inability
ever to draw ultimate conclusions. Had he only been a calculating and
selfish nature, afraid of losing his life, he would long since have
altogether forsaken Luther's cause. It is his misfortune affecting his
fame, that he continually shows his weaknesses, whereas what is great in
him lies deep.

At Cologne Erasmus also met the man with whom, as a promising young
humanist, fourteen years younger than himself, he had, for some months,
shared a room in the house of Aldus's father-in-law, at Venice:
Hieronymus Aleander, now sent to the Emperor as a papal nuncio, to
persuade him to conform his imperial policy to that of the Pope, in the
matter of the great ecclesiastical question, and give effect to the
papal excommunication by the imperial ban.

It must have been somewhat painful for Erasmus that his friend had so
far surpassed him in power and position, and was now called to bring by
diplomatic means the solution which he himself would have liked to see
achieved by ideal harmony, good will and toleration. He had never
trusted Aleander, and was more than ever on his guard against him. As a
humanist, in spite of brilliant gifts, Aleander was by far Erasmus's
inferior, and had never, like him, risen from literature to serious
theological studies; he had simply prospered in the service of Church
magnates (whom Erasmus had given up early). This man was now invested
with the highest mediating powers.

To what degree of exasperation Erasmus's most violent antagonists at
Louvain had now been reduced is seen from the witty and slightly
malicious account he gives Thomas More of his meeting with Egmondanus
before the Rector of the university, who wanted to reconcile them. Still
things did not look so black as Ulrich von Hutten thought, when he wrote
to Erasmus: 'Do you think that you are still safe, now that Luther's
books are burned? Fly, and save yourself for us!'

Ever more emphatic do Erasmus's protestations become that he has nothing
to do with Luther. Long ago he had already requested him not to mention
his name, and Luther promised it: 'Very well, then, I shall not again
refer to you, neither will other good friends, since it troubles you'.
Ever louder, too, are Erasmus's complaints about the raving of the monks
at him, and his demands that the mendicant orders be deprived of the
right to preach.

In April 1521 comes the moment in the world's history to which
Christendom has been looking forward: Luther at the Diet of Worms,
holding fast to his opinions, confronted by the highest authority in the
Empire. So great is the rejoicing in Germany that for a moment it may
seem that the Emperor's power is in danger rather than Luther and his
adherents. 'If I had been present', writes Erasmus, 'I should have
endeavoured that this tragedy would have been so tempered by moderate
arguments that it could not afterwards break out again to the still
greater detriment of the world.'

The imperial sentence was pronounced: within the Empire (as in the
Burgundian Netherlands before that time) Luther's books were to be
burned, his adherents arrested and their goods confiscated, and Luther
was to be given up to the authorities. Erasmus hopes that now relief
will follow. 'The Luther tragedy is at an end with us here; would it had
never appeared on the stage.' In these days Albrecht Dürer, on hearing
the false news of Luther's death, wrote in the diary of his journey that
passionate exclamation: 'O Erasmus of Rotterdam, where will you be?
Hear, you knight of Christ, ride forth beside the Lord Christ, protect
the truth, obtain the martyr's crown. For you are but an old manikin. I
have heard you say that you have allowed yourself two more years, in
which you are still fit to do some work; spend them well, in behalf of
the Gospel and the true Christian faith.... O Erasmus, be on this side,
that God may be proud of you.'

It expresses confidence in Erasmus's power, but at bottom is the
expectation that he will not do all this. Dürer had rightly understood

The struggle abated nowise, least of all at Louvain. Latomus, the most
dignified and able of Louvain divines, had now become one of the most
serious opponents of Luther and, in so doing, touched Erasmus, too,
indirectly. To Nicholas of Egmond, the Carmelite, another of Erasmus's
compatriots had been added as a violent antagonist, Vincent Dirks of
Haarlem, a Dominican. Erasmus addresses himself to the faculty, to
defend himself against the new attacks, and to explain why he has never
written against Luther. He will read him, he will soon take up something
to quiet the tumult. He succeeds in getting Aleander, who arrived at
Louvain in June, to prohibit preaching against him. The Pope still hopes
that Aleander will succeed in bringing back Erasmus, with whom he is
again on friendly terms, to the right track.

But Erasmus began to consider the only exit which was now left to him:
to leave Louvain and the Netherlands to regain his menaced independence.
The occasion to depart had long ago presented itself: the third edition
of his New Testament called him to Basle once more. It would not be a
permanent departure, and he purposed to return to Louvain. On 28 October
(his birthday) he left the town where he had spent four difficult years.
His chambers in the College of the Lily were reserved for him and he
left his books behind. On 15 November he reached Basle.

Soon the rumour spread that out of fear of Aleander he had saved himself
by flight. But the idea, revived again in our days in spite of Erasmus's
own painstaking denial, that Aleander should have cunningly and
expressly driven him from the Netherlands, is inherently improbable. So
far as the Church was concerned, Erasmus would at almost any point be
more dangerous than at Louvain, in the headquarters of conservatism,
under immediate control of the strict Burgundian government, where, it
seemed, he could sooner or later be pressed into the service of the
anti-Lutheran policy.

It was this contingency, as Dr. Allen has correctly pointed out, which
he feared and evaded. Not for his bodily safety did he emigrate; Erasmus
would not have been touched--he was far too valuable an asset for such
measures. It was his mental independence, so dear to him above all else,
that he felt to be threatened; and, to safeguard that, he did not return
to Louvain.




[17] Translation on pp. 229 ff.




    Basle his dwelling-place for nearly eight years:
    1521-9--Political thought of Erasmus--Concord and
    peace--Anti-war writings--Opinions concerning princes and
    government--New editions of several Fathers--The
    _Colloquia_--Controversies with Stunica, Beda, etc.--Quarrel
    with Hutten--Eppendorff

It is only towards the evening of life that the picture of Erasmus
acquires the features with which it was to go down to posterity. Only at
Basle--delivered from the troublesome pressure of parties wanting to
enlist him, transplanted from an environment of haters and opponents at
Louvain to a circle of friends, kindred spirits, helpers and admirers,
emancipated from the courts of princes, independent of the patronage of
the great, unremittingly devoting his tremendous energy to the work that
was dear to him--did he become Holbein's Erasmus. In those late years he
approaches most closely to the ideal of his personal life.

He did not think that there were still fifteen years in store for him.
Long before, in fact, since he became forty years old in 1506, Erasmus
had been in an old-age mood. 'The last act of the play has begun,' he
keeps saying after 1517.

He now felt practically independent as to money matters. Many years had
passed before he could say that. But peace of mind did not come with
competence. It never came. He never became truly placid and serene, as
Holbein's picture seems to represent him. He was always too much
concerned about what people said or thought of him. Even at Basle he did
not feel thoroughly at home. He still speaks repeatedly of a removal in
the near future to Rome, to France, to England, or back to the
Netherlands. Physical rest, at any rate, which was not in him, was
granted him by circumstances: for nearly eight years he now remained at
Basle, and then he lived at Freiburg for six.

Erasmus at Basle is a man whose ideals of the world and society have
failed him. What remains of that happy expectation of a golden age of
peace and light, in which he had believed as late as 1517? What of his
trust in good will and rational insight, in which he wrote the
_Institutio Principis Christiani_ for the youthful Charles V? To Erasmus
all the weal of state and society had always been merely a matter of
personal morality and intellectual enlightenment. By recommending and
spreading those two he at one time thought he had introduced the great
renovation himself. From the moment when he saw that the conflict would
lead to an exasperated struggle he refused any longer to be anything but
a spectator. As an actor in the great ecclesiastical combat Erasmus had
voluntarily left the stage.

But he does not give up his ideal. 'Let us resist,' he concludes an
Epistle about gospel philosophy, 'not by taunts and threats, not by
force of arms and injustice, but by simple discretion, by benefits, by
gentleness and tolerance.' Towards the close of his life, he prays: 'If
Thou, O God, deignst to renew that Holy Spirit in the hearts of all,
then also will those external disasters cease.... Bring order to this
chaos, Lord Jesus, let Thy Spirit spread over these waters of sadly
troubled dogmas.'

Concord, peace, sense of duty and kindliness, were all valued highly by
Erasmus; yet he rarely saw them realized in practical life. He becomes
disillusioned. After the short spell of political optimism he never
speaks of the times any more but in bitter terms--a most criminal age,
he says--and again, the most unhappy and most depraved age imaginable.
In vain had he always written in the cause of peace: _Querela pacis_,
the complaint of peace, the adage _Dulce bellum inexpertis_, war is
sweet to those who have not known it, _Oratio de pace et discordia_, and
more still. Erasmus thought rather highly of his pacifistic labours:
'that polygraph, who never leaves off persecuting war by means of his
pen', thus he makes a character of the _Colloquies_ designate himself.
According to a tradition noted by Melanchthon, Pope Julius is said to
have called him before him in connection with his advice about the war
with Venice,[18] and to have remarked to him angrily that he should stop
writing on the concerns of princes: 'You do not understand those

Erasmus had, in spite of a certain innate moderation, a wholly
non-political mind. He lived too much outside of practical reality, and
thought too naïvely of the corrigibility of mankind, to realize the
difficulties and necessities of government. His ideas about a good
administration were extremely primitive, and, as is often the case with
scholars of a strong ethical bias, very revolutionary at bottom, though
he never dreamed of drawing the practical inferences. His friendship
with political and juridical thinkers, as More, Budaeus and Zasius, had
not changed him. Questions of forms of government, law or right, did not
exist for him. Economic problems he saw in idyllic simplicity. The
prince should reign gratuitously and impose as few taxes as possible.
'The good prince has all that loving citizens possess.' The unemployed
should be simply driven away. We feel in closer contact with the world
of facts when he enumerates the works of peace for the prince: the
cleaning of towns, building of bridges, halls, and streets, draining of
pools, shifting of river-beds, the diking and reclamation of moors. It
is the Netherlander who speaks here, and at the same time the man in
whom the need of cleansing and clearing away is a fundamental trait of

Vague politicians like Erasmus are prone to judge princes very severely,
since they take them to be responsible for all wrongs. Erasmus praises
them personally, but condemns them in general. From the kings of his
time he had for a long time expected peace in Church and State. They had
disappointed him. But his severe judgement of princes he derived rather
from classical reading than from political experience of his own times.
In the later editions of the _Adagia_ he often reverts to princes, their
task and their neglect of duty, without ever mentioning special princes.
'There are those who sow the seeds of dissension between their townships
in order to fleece the poor unhindered and to satisfy their gluttony by
the hunger of innocent citizens.' In the adage _Scarabeus aquilam
quaerit_ he represents the prince under the image of the Eagle as the
great cruel robber and persecutor. In another, _Aut regem aut fatuum
nasci oportere_, and in _Dulce bellum inexpertis_ he utters his
frequently quoted dictum: 'The people found and develop towns, the folly
of princes devastates them.' 'The princes conspire with the Pope, and
perhaps with the Turk, against the happiness of the people,' he writes
to Colet in 1518.

He was an academic critic writing from his study. A revolutionary
purpose was as foreign to Erasmus as it was to More when writing the
_Utopia_. 'Bad monarchs should perhaps be suffered now and then. The
remedy should not be tried.' It may be doubted whether Erasmus exercised
much real influence on his contemporaries by means of his diatribes
against princes. One would fain believe that his ardent love of peace
and bitter arraignment of the madness of war had some effect. They have
undoubtedly spread pacific sentiments in the broad circles of
intellectuals who read Erasmus, but unfortunately the history of the
sixteenth century shows little evidence that such sentiments bore fruit
in actual practice. However this may be, Erasmus's strength was not in
these political declamations. He could never be a leader of men with
their passions and their harsh interests.

His life-work lay elsewhere. Now, at Basle, though tormented more and
more frequently by his painful complaint which he had already carried
for so many years, he could devote himself more fully than ever before
to the great task he had set himself: the opening up of the pure sources
of Christianity, the exposition of the truth of the Gospel in all the
simple comprehensibility in which he saw it. In a broad stream flowed
the editions of the Fathers, of classic authors, the new editions of the
New Testament, of the _Adagia_, of his own Letters, together with
Paraphrases of the New Testament, Commentaries on Psalms, and a number
of new theological, moral and philological treatises. In 1522 he was ill
for months on end; yet in that year Arnobius and the third edition of
the New Testament succeeded Cyprian, whom he had already annotated at
Louvain and edited in 1520, closely followed by Hilary in 1523 and next
by a new edition of Jerome in 1524. Later appeared Irenaeus, 1526;
Ambrose, 1527; Augustine, 1528-9, and a Latin translation of Chrysostom
in 1530. The rapid succession of these comprehensive works proves that
the work was done as Erasmus always worked: hastily, with an
extraordinary power of concentration and a surprising command of his
mnemonic faculty, but without severe criticism and the painful accuracy
that modern philology requires in such editions.

Neither the polemical Erasmus nor the witty humorist had been lost in
the erudite divine and the disillusioned reformer. The paper-warrior we
would further gladly have dispensed with, but not the humorist, for many
treasures of literature. But the two are linked inseparably as the
_Colloquies_ prove.

What was said about the _Moria_ may be repeated here: if in the
literature of the world only the _Colloquies_ and the _Moria_ have
remained alive, that choice of history is right. Not in the sense that
in literature only Erasmus's pleasantest, lightest and most readable
works were preserved, whereas the ponderous theological erudition was
silently relegated to the shelves of libraries. It was indeed Erasmus's
best work that was kept alive in the _Moria_ and the _Colloquies_. With
these his sparkling wit has charmed the world. If only we had space here
to assign to the Erasmus of the _Colloquies_ his just and lofty place in
that brilliant constellation of sixteenth-century followers of
Democritus: Rabelais, Ariosto, Montaigne, Cervantes, and Ben Jonson!

When Erasmus gave the _Colloquies_ their definite form at Basle, they
had already had a long and curious genesis. At first they had been no
more than _Familiarium colloquiorum formulae_, models of colloquial
Latin conversation, written at Paris before 1500, for the use of his
pupils. Augustine Caminade, the shabby friend who was fond of living on
young Erasmus's genius, had collected them and had turned them to
advantage within a limited compass. He had long been dead when one
Lambert Hollonius of Liége sold the manuscript that he had got from
Caminade to Froben at Basle. Beatus Rhenanus, although then already
Erasmus's trusted friend, had it printed at once without the latter's
knowledge. That was in 1518. Erasmus was justly offended at it, the more
so as the book was full of slovenly blunders and solecisms. So he at
once prepared a better edition himself, published by Maertensz at
Louvain in 1519. At that time the work really contained but one true
dialogue, the nucleus of the later _Convivium profanum_. The rest were
formulae of etiquette and short talks. But already in this form it was,
apart from its usefulness to latinists, so full of happy wit and
humorous invention that it became very popular. Even before 1522 it had
appeared in twenty-five editions, mostly reprints, at Antwerp, Paris,
Strassburg, Cologne, Cracow, Deventer, Leipzig, London, Vienna, Mayence.

At Basle Erasmus himself revised an edition which was published in March
1522 by Froben, dedicated to the latter's six-year-old son, the author's
godchild, Johannes Erasmius Froben. Soon after he did more than revise.
In 1523 and 1524 first ten new dialogues, afterwards four, and again
six, were added to the _Formulae_, and at last in 1526 the title was
changed to _Familiarium colloquiorum opus_. It remained dedicated to the
boy Froben and went on growing with each new edition: a rich and motley
collection of dialogues, each a masterpiece of literary form, well-knit,
spontaneous, convincing, unsurpassed in lightness, vivacity and fluent
Latin; each one a finished one-act play. From that year on, the stream
of editions and translations flowed almost uninterruptedly for two

Erasmus's mind had lost nothing of its acuteness and freshness when, so
many years after the _Moria_, he again set foot in the field of satire.
As to form, the _Colloquies_ are less confessedly satirical than the
_Moria_. With its telling subject, the _Praise of Folly_, the latter at
once introduces itself as a satire: whereas, at first sight, the
_Colloquies_ might seem to be mere innocent genre-pieces. But as to the
contents, they are more satirical, at least more directly so. The
_Moria_, as a satire, is philosophical and general; the _Colloquia_ are
up to date and special. At the same time they combine more the positive
and negative elements. In the _Moria_ Erasmus's own ideal dwells
unexpressed behind the representation; in the _Colloquia_ he continually
and clearly puts it in the foreground. On this account they form,
notwithstanding all the jests and mockery, a profoundly serious moral
treatise and are closely akin to the _Enchiridion militis Christiani_.
What Erasmus really demanded of the world and of mankind, how he
pictured to himself that passionately desired, purified Christian
society of good morals, fervent faith, simplicity and moderation,
kindliness, toleration and peace--this we can nowhere else find so
clearly and well-expressed as in the _Colloquia_. In these last fifteen
years of his life Erasmus resumes, by means of a series of
moral-dogmatic disquisitions, the topics he broached in the
_Enchiridion_: the exposition of simple, general Christian conduct;
untrammelled and natural ethics. That is his message of redemption. It
came to many out of _Exomologesis_, _De esu carnium_, _Lingua_,
_Institutio christiani matrimonii_, _Vidua christiana_, _Ecclesiastes_.
But, to far larger numbers, the message was contained in the

The _Colloquia_ gave rise to much more hatred and contest than the
_Moria_, and not without reason, for in them Erasmus attacked persons.
He allowed himself the pleasure of ridiculing his Louvain antagonists.
Lee had already been introduced as a sycophant and braggart into the
edition of 1519, and when the quarrel was assuaged, in 1522, the
reference was expunged. Vincent Dirks was caricatured in _The Funeral_
(1526) as a covetous friar, who extorts from the dying testaments in
favour of his order. He remained. Later sarcastic observations were
added about Beda and numbers of others. The adherents of Oecolampadius
took a figure with a long nose in the _Colloquies_ for their leader:
'Oh, no,' replied Erasmus, 'it is meant for quite another person.'
Henceforth all those who were at loggerheads with Erasmus, and they were
many, ran the risk of being pilloried in the _Colloquia_. It was no
wonder that this work, especially with its scourging mockery of the
monastic orders, became the object of controversy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Erasmus never emerged from his polemics. He was, no doubt, serious when
he said that, in his heart, he abhorred and had never desired them; but
his caustic mind often got the better of his heart, and having once
begun to quarrel he undoubtedly enjoyed giving his mockery the rein and
wielding his facile dialectic pen. For understanding his personality it
is unnecessary here to deal at large with all those fights on paper.
Only the most important ones need be mentioned.

Since 1516 a pot had been boiling for Erasmus in Spain. A theologian of
the University at Alcalá, Diego Lopez Zuñiga, or, in Latin, Stunica, had
been preparing Annotations to the edition of the New Testament: 'a
second Lee', said Erasmus. At first Cardinal Ximenes had prohibited the
publication, but in 1520, after his death, the storm broke. For some
years Stunica kept persecuting Erasmus with his criticism, to the
latter's great vexation; at last there followed a _rapprochement_,
probably as Erasmus became more conservative, and a kindly attitude on
the part of Stunica.

No less long and violent was the quarrel with the syndic of the
Sorbonne, Noel Bedier or Beda, which began in 1522. The Sorbonne was
prevailed upon to condemn several of Erasmus's dicta as heretical in
1526. The effort of Beda to implicate Erasmus in the trial of Louis de
Berquin, who had translated the condemned writings and who was
eventually burned at the stake for faith's sake in 1529, made the matter
still more disagreeable for Erasmus.

It is clear enough that both at Paris and at Louvain in the circles of
the theological faculties the chief cause of exasperation was in the
_Colloquia_. Egmondanus and Vincent Dirks did not forgive Erasmus for
having acridly censured their station and their personalities.

More courteous than the aforementioned polemics was the fight with a
high-born Italian, Alberto Pio, prince of Carpi; acrid and bitter was
one with a group of Spanish monks, who brought the Inquisition to bear
upon him. In Spain 'Erasmistas' was the name of those who inclined to
more liberal conceptions of the creed.

In this way the matter accumulated for the volume of Erasmus's works
which contains, according to his own arrangement, all his _Apologiae_:
not 'excuses', but 'vindications'. 'Miserable man that I am; they just
fill a volume,' exclaimed Erasmus.

Two of his polemics merit a somewhat closer examination: that with
Ulrich von Hutten and that with Luther.



Hutten, knight and humanist, the enthusiastic herald of a national
German uplift, the ardent hater of papacy and supporter of Luther, was
certainly a hot-head and perhaps somewhat of a muddle-head. He had
applauded Erasmus when the latter still seemed to be the coming man and
had afterwards besought him to take Luther's side. Erasmus had soon
discovered that this noisy partisan might compromise him. Had not one of
Hutten's rash satires been ascribed to him, Erasmus? There came a time
when Hutten could no longer abide Erasmus. His knightly instinct reacted
on the very weaknesses of Erasmus's character: the fear of committing
himself and the inclination to repudiate a supporter in time of danger.
Erasmus knew that weakness himself: 'Not all have strength enough for
martyrdom,' he writes to Richard Pace in 1521. 'I fear that I shall, in
case it results in a tumult, follow St. Peter's example.' But this
acknowledgement does not discharge him from the burden of Hutten's
reproaches which he flung at him in fiery language in 1523. In this
quarrel Erasmus's own fame pays the penalty of his fault. For nowhere
does he show himself so undignified and puny as in that 'Sponge against
Hutten's mire', which the latter did not live to read. Hutten,
disillusioned and forsaken, died at an early age in 1523, and Erasmus
did not scruple to publish the venomous pamphlet against his former
friend after his demise.

Hutten, however, was avenged upon Erasmus living. One of his adherents,
Henry of Eppendorff, inherited Hutten's bitter disgust with Erasmus and
persecuted him for years. Getting hold of one of Erasmus's letters in
which he was denounced, he continually threatened him with an action for
defamation of character. Eppendorff's hostility so thoroughly
exasperated Erasmus that he fancied he could detect his machinations and
spies everywhere even after the actual persecution had long ceased.


[18] Melanchthon, _Opera, Corpus Reformatorum_, XII 266, where he refers
to _Querela pacis_, which, however, was not written before 1517; _vide_
A. 603 and I p. 37.10.




    Erasmus persuaded to write against Luther--_De Libero Arbitrio_:
    1524--Luther's answer: _De Servo Arbitrio_--Erasmus's
    indefiniteness contrasted with Luther's extreme rigour--Erasmus
    henceforth on the side of conservatism--The Bishop of Basle and
    Oecolampadius--Erasmus's half-hearted dogmatics: confession,
    ceremonies, worship of the Saints, Eucharist--_Institutio
    Christiani Matrimonii_: 1526--He feels surrounded by enemies

At length Erasmus was led, in spite of all, to do what he had always
tried to avoid: he wrote against Luther. But it did not in the least
resemble the _geste_ Erasmus at one time contemplated, in the cause of
peace in Christendom and uniformity of faith, to call a halt to the
impetuous Luther, and thereby to recall the world to its senses. In the
great act of the Reformation their polemics were merely an after-play.
Not Erasmus alone was disillusioned and tired--Luther too was past his
heroic prime, circumscribed by conditions, forced into the world of
affairs, a disappointed man.

Erasmus had wished to persevere in his resolution to remain a spectator
of the great tragedy. 'If, as appears from the wonderful success of
Luther's cause, God wills all this'--thus did Erasmus reason--'and He
has perhaps judged such a drastic surgeon as Luther necessary for the
corruption of these times, then it is not my business to withstand him.'
But he was not left in peace. While he went on protesting that he had
nothing to do with Luther and differed widely from him, the defenders of
the old Church adhered to the standpoint urged as early as 1520 by
Nicholas of Egmond before the rector of Louvain: 'So long as he refuses
to write against Luther, we take him to be a Lutheran'. So matters
stood. 'That you are looked upon as a Lutheran here is certain,' Vives
writes to him from the Netherlands in 1522.

Ever stronger became the pressure to write against Luther. From Henry
VIII came a call, communicated by Erasmus's old friend Tunstall, from
George of Saxony, from Rome itself, whence Pope Adrian VI, his old
patron, had urged him shortly before his death.

Erasmus thought he could refuse no longer. He tried some dialogues in
the style of the _Colloquies_, but did not get on with them; and
probably they would not have pleased those who were desirous of
enlisting his services. Between Luther and Erasmus himself there had
been no personal correspondence, since the former had promised him, in
1520; 'Well then, Erasmus, I shall not mention your name again.' Now
that Erasmus had prepared to attack Luther, however, there came an
epistle from the latter, written on 15 April 1524, in which the
reformer, in his turn, requested Erasmus in his own words: 'Please
remain now what you have always professed yourself desirous of being: a
mere spectator of our tragedy'. There is a ring of ironical contempt in
Luther's words, but Erasmus called the letter 'rather humane; I had not
the courage to reply with equal humanity, because of the sycophants'.

In order to be able to combat Luther with a clear conscience Erasmus had
naturally to choose a point on which he differed from Luther in his
heart. It was not one of the more superficial parts of the Church's
structure. For these he either, with Luther, cordially rejected, such as
ceremonies, observances, fasting, etc., or, though more moderately than
Luther, he had his doubts about them, as the sacraments or the primacy
of St. Peter. So he naturally came to the point where the deepest gulf
yawned between their natures, between their conceptions of the essence
of faith, and thus to the central and eternal problem of good and evil,
guilt and compulsion, liberty and bondage, God and man. Luther confessed
in his reply that here indeed the vital point had been touched.

_De libero arbitrio diatribe_ (_A Disquisition upon Free Will_) appeared
in September 1524. Was Erasmus qualified to write about such a subject?
In conformity with his method and with his evident purpose to vindicate
authority and tradition, this time, Erasmus developed the argument that
Scripture teaches, doctors affirm, philosophers prove, and human reason
testifies man's will to be free. Without acknowledgement of free will
the terms of God's justice and God's mercy remain without meaning. What
would be the sense of the teachings, reproofs, admonitions of Scripture
(Timothy iii.) if all happened according to mere and inevitable
necessity? To what purpose is obedience praised, if for good and evil
works we are equally but tools to God, as the hatchet to the carpenter?
And if this were so, it would be dangerous to reveal such a doctrine to
the multitude, for morality is dependent on the consciousness of

Luther received the treatise of his antagonist with disgust and
contempt. In writing his reply, however, he suppressed these feelings
outwardly and observed the rules of courtesy. But his inward anger is
revealed in the contents itself of _De servo arbitrio_ (_On the Will not
free_). For here he really did what Erasmus had just reproached him
with--trying to heal a dislocated member by tugging at it in the
opposite direction. More fiercely than ever before, his formidable
boorish mind drew the startling inferences of his burning faith. Without
any reserve he now accepted all the extremes of absolute determinism. In
order to confute indeterminism in explicit terms, he was now forced to
have recourse to those primitive metaphors of exalted faith striving to
express the inexpressible: God's two wills, which do not coincide, God's
'eternal hatred of mankind, a hatred not only on account of demerits and
the works of free will, but a hatred that existed even before the world
was created', and that metaphor of the human will, which, as a riding
beast, stands in the middle between God and the devil and which is
mounted by one or the other without being able to move towards either of
the two contending riders. If anywhere, Luther's doctrine in _De Servo
Arbitrio_ means a recrudescence of faith and a straining of religious

But it was Luther who here stood on the rockbed of a profound and mystic
faith in which the absolute conscience of the eternal pervades all. In
him all conceptions, like dry straw, were consumed in the glow of God's
majesty, for him each human co-operation to attain to salvation was a
profanation of God's glory. Erasmus's mind after all did not truly
_live_ in the ideas which were here disputed, of sin and grace, of
redemption and the glory of God as the final cause of all that is.

Was, then, Erasmus's cause in all respects inferior? Was Luther right at
the core? Perhaps. Dr. Murray rightly reminds us of Hegel's saying that
tragedy is not the conflict between right and wrong, but the conflict
between right and right. The combat of Luther and Erasmus proceeded
beyond the point at which our judgement is forced to halt and has to
accept an equivalence, nay, a compatibility of affirmation and negation.
And this fact, that they here were fighting with words and metaphors in
a sphere beyond that of what may be known and expressed, was understood
by Erasmus. Erasmus, the man of the fine shades, for whom ideas
eternally blended into each other and interchanged, called a Proteus by
Luther; Luther the man of over-emphatic expression about all matters.
The Dutchman, who sees the sea, was opposed to the German, who looks out
on mountain tops.

'This is quite true that we cannot speak of God but with inadequate
words.' 'Many problems should be deferred, not to the oecumenical
Council, but till the time when, the glass and the darkness having been
taken away, we shall see God face to face.' 'What is free of error?'
'There are in sacred literature certain sanctuaries into which God has
not willed that we should penetrate further.'

The Catholic Church had on the point of free will reserved to itself
some slight proviso, left a little elbow-room to the consciousness of
human liberty _under_ grace. Erasmus conceived that liberty in a
considerably broader spirit. Luther absolutely denied it. The opinion of
contemporaries was at first too much dominated by their participation in
the great struggle as such: they applauded Erasmus, because he struck
boldly at Luther, or the other way about, according to their sympathies.
Not only Vives applauded Erasmus, but also more orthodox Catholics such
as Sadolet. The German humanists, unwilling, for the most part, to break
with the ancient Church, were moved by Erasmus's attack to turn their
backs still more upon Luther: Mutianus, Zasius, and Pirckheimer. Even
Melanchthon inclined to Erasmus's standpoint. Others, like Capito, once
a zealous supporter, now washed their hands of him. Soon Calvin with the
iron cogency of his argument was completely to take Luther's side.

It is worth while to quote the opinion of a contemporary Catholic
scholar about the relations of Erasmus and Luther. 'Erasmus,' says F. X.
Kiefl,[19] 'with his concept of free, unspoiled human nature was
intrinsically much more foreign to the Church than Luther. He only
combated it, however, with haughty scepticism: for which reason Luther
with subtle psychology upbraided him for liking to speak of the
shortcomings and the misery of the Church of Christ in such a way that
his readers could not help laughing, instead of bringing his charges,
with deep sighs, as beseemed before God.'

The _Hyperaspistes_, a voluminous treatise in which Erasmus again
addressed Luther, was nothing but an epilogue, which need not be
discussed here at length.

Erasmus had thus, at last, openly taken sides. For, apart from the
dogmatical point at issue itself, the most important part about _De
libero arbitrio_ was that in it he had expressly turned against the
individual religious conceptions and had spoken in favour of the
authority and tradition of the Church. He always regarded himself as a
Catholic. 'Neither death nor life shall draw me from the communion of
the Catholic Church,' he writes in 1522, and in the _Hyperaspistes_ in
1526: 'I have never been an apostate from the Catholic Church. I know
that in this Church, which you call the Papist Church, there are many
who displease me, but such I also see in your Church. One bears more
easily the evils to which one is accustomed. Therefore I bear with this
Church, until I shall see a better, and it cannot help bearing with me,
until I shall myself be better. And he does not sail badly who steers a
middle course between two several evils.'

But was it possible to keep to that course? On either side people turned
away from him. 'I who, formerly, in countless letters was addressed as
thrice great hero, Prince of letters, Sun of studies, Maintainer of true
theology, am now ignored, or represented in quite different colours,' he
writes. How many of his old friends and congenial spirits had already

A sufficient number remained, however, who thought and hoped as Erasmus
did. His untiring pen still continued to propagate, especially by means
of his letters, the moderating and purifying influence of his mind
throughout all the countries of Europe. Scholars, high church
dignitaries, nobles, students, and civil magistrates were his
correspondents. The Bishop of Basle himself, Christopher of Utenheim,
was a man after Erasmus's heart. A zealous advocate of humanism, he had
attempted, as early as 1503, to reform the clergy of his bishopric by
means of synodal statutes, without much success; afterwards he had
called scholars like Oecolampadius, Capito and Wimpfeling to Basle. That
was before the great struggle began, which was soon to carry away
Oecolampadius and Capito much further than the Bishop of Basle or
Erasmus approved. In 1522 Erasmus addressed the bishop in a treatise _De
interdicto esu carnium_ (_On the Prohibition of eating Meat_). This was
one of the last occasions on which he directly opposed the established

The bishop, however, could no longer control the movement. A
considerable number of the commonalty of Basle and the majority of the
council, were already on the side of radical Reformation. About a year
after Erasmus, Johannes Oecolampadius, whose first residence at Basle
had also coincided with his (at that time he had helped Erasmus with
Hebrew for the edition of the New Testament), returned to the town with
the intention of organizing the resistance to the old order there. In
1523 the council appointed him professor of Holy Scripture in the
University; at the same time four Catholic professors lost their places.
He succeeded in obtaining general permission for unlicensed preaching.
Soon a far more hot-headed agitator, the impetuous Guillaume Farel, also
arrived for active work at Basle and in the environs. He is the man who
will afterwards reform Geneva and persuade Calvin to stay there.

Though at first Oecolampadius began to introduce novelties into the
church service with caution, Erasmus saw these innovations with alarm.
Especially the fanaticism of Farel, whom he hated bitterly. It was these
men who retarded what he still desired and thought possible: a
compromise. His lambent spirit, which never fully decided in favour of a
definite opinion, had, with regard to most of the disputed points,
gradually fixed on a half-conservative midway standpoint, by means of
which, without denying his deepest conviction, he tried to remain
faithful to the Church. In 1524 he had expressed his sentiments about
confession in the treatise _Exomologesis_ (_On the Way to confess_). He
accepts it halfway: if not instituted by Christ or the Apostles, it was,
in any case, by the Fathers. It should be piously preserved. Confession
is of excellent use, though, at times, a great evil. In this way he
tries 'to admonish either party', 'neither to agree with nor to assail'
the deniers, 'though inclining to the side of the believers'.

In the long list of his polemics he gradually finds opportunities to
define his views somewhat; circumstantially, for instance, in the
answers to Alberto Pio, of 1525 and 1529. Subsequently it is always done
in the form of an _Apologia_, whether he is attacked for the
_Colloquia_, for the _Moria_, Jerome, the _Paraphrases_ or anything
else. At last he recapitulates his views to some extent in _De amabili
Ecclesiae concordia_ (_On the Amiable Concord of the Church_), of 1533,
which, however, ranks hardly any more among his reformatory endeavours.

On most points Erasmus succeeds in finding moderate and conservative
formulae. Even with regard to ceremonies he no longer merely rejects. He
finds a kind word to say even for fasting, which he had always abhorred,
for the veneration of relics and for Church festivals. He does not want
to abolish the worship of the Saints: it no longer entails danger of
idolatry. He is even willing to admit the images: 'He who takes the
imagery out of life deprives it of its highest pleasure; we often
discern more in images than we conceive from the written word'.
Regarding Christ's substantial presence in the sacrament of the altar he
holds fast to the Catholic view, but without fervour, only on the ground
of the Church's consensus, and because he cannot believe that Christ,
who is truth and love, would have suffered His bride to cling so long to
so horrid an error as to worship a crust of bread instead of Him. But
for these reasons he might, at need, accept Oecolampadius's view.

From the period at Basle dates one of the purest and most beneficent
moral treatises of Erasmus's, the _Institutio Christiani matrimonii_
(_On Christian Marriage_) of 1526, written for Catherine of Aragon,
Queen of England, quite in the spirit of the _Enchiridion_, save for a
certain diffuseness betraying old age. Later follows _De vidua
Christiana_, _The Christian Widow_, for Mary of Hungary, which is as
impeccable but less interesting.

All this did not disarm the defenders of the old Church. They held fast
to the clear picture of Erasmus's creed that arose from the _Colloquies_
and that could not be called purely Catholic. There it appeared only too
clearly that, however much Erasmus might desire to leave the letter
intact, his heart was not in the convictions which were vital to the
Catholic Church. Consequently the _Colloquies_ were later, when
Erasmus's works were expurgated, placed on the index in the lump, with
the _Moria_ and a few other works. The rest is _caute legenda_, to be
read with caution. Much was rejected of the Annotations to the New
Testament, of the _Paraphrases_ and the _Apologiae_, very little of the
_Enchiridion_, of the _Ratio verae theologiae_, and even of the
_Exomologesis_. But this was after the fight against the living Erasmus
had long been over.

So long as he remained at Basle, or elsewhere, as the centre of a large
intellectual group whose force could not be estimated, just because it
did not stand out as a party--it was not known what turn he might yet
take, what influence his mind might yet have on the Church. He remained
a king of minds in his quiet study. The hatred that was felt for him,
the watching of all his words and actions, were of a nature as only
falls to the lot of the acknowledged great. The chorus of enemies who
laid the fault of the whole Reformation on Erasmus was not silenced. 'He
laid the eggs which Luther and Zwingli have hatched.' With vexation
Erasmus quoted ever new specimens of narrow-minded, malicious and stupid
controversy. At Constance there lived a doctor who had hung his portrait
on the wall merely to spit at it as often as he passed it. Erasmus
jestingly compares his fate to that of Saint Cassianus, who was stabbed
to death by his pupils with pencils. Had he not been pierced to the
quick for many years by the pens and tongues of countless people and did
he not live in that torment without death bringing the end? The keen
sensitiveness to opposition was seated very deeply with Erasmus. And he
could never forbear irritating others into opposing him.


[19] _Luther's religiöse Psyche_, Hochland XV, 1917, p. 21.




    Erasmus turns against the excesses of humanism: its paganism and
    pedantic classicism--_Ciceronianus_: 1528--It brings him new
    enemies--The Reformation carried through at Basle--He emigrates
    to Freiburg: 1529--His view concerning the results of the

Nothing is more characteristic of the independence which Erasmus
reserved for himself regarding all movements of his time than the fact
that he also joined issue in the camp of the humanists. In 1528 there
were published by Froben (the chief of the firm of Johannes Froben had
just died) two dialogues in one volume from Erasmus's hand: one about
the correct pronunciation of Latin and Greek, and one entitled
_Ciceronianus_ or _On the Best Diction_, i.e. in writing and speaking
Latin. Both were proofs that Erasmus had lost nothing of his liveliness
and wit. The former treatise was purely philological, and as such has
had great influence; the other was satirical as well. It had a long

Erasmus had always regarded classical studies as the panacea of
civilization, provided they were made serviceable to pure Christianity.
His sincere ethical feeling made him recoil from the obscenity of a
Poggio and the immorality of the early Italian humanists. At the same
time his delicate and natural taste told him that a pedantic and servile
imitation of antique models could never produce the desired result.
Erasmus knew Latin too well to be strictly classical; his Latin was
alive and required freedom. In his early works we find taunts about the
over-precise Latin purists: one had declared a newly found fragment of
Cicero to be thoroughly barbaric; 'among all sorts of authors none are
so insufferable to me as those apes of Cicero'.

In spite of the great expectations he cherished of classical studies for
pure Christianity, he saw one danger: 'that under the cloak of reviving
ancient literature paganism tries to rear its head, as there are those
among Christians who acknowledge Christ only in name but inwardly
breathe heathenism'. This he writes in 1517 to Capito. In Italy scholars
devote themselves too exclusively and in too pagan guise to _bonae
literae_. He considered it his special task to assist in bringing it
about that those _bonae literae_ 'which with the Italians have thus far
been almost pagan, shall get used to speaking of Christ'.

How it must have vexed Erasmus that in Italy of all countries he was, at
the same time and in one breath, charged with heresy and questioned in
respect to his knowledge and integrity as a scholar. Italians accused
him of plagiarism and trickery. He complained of it to Aleander, who, he
thought, had a hand in it.

In a letter of 13 October 1527, to a professor at Toledo, we find the
_ébauche_ of the _Ciceronianus_. In addition to the haters of classic
studies for the sake of orthodox belief, writes Erasmus, 'lately another
and new sort of enemies has broken from their ambush. These are troubled
that the _bonae literae_ speak of Christ, as though nothing can be
elegant but what is pagan. To their ears _Jupiter optimus maximus_
sounds more pleasant than _Jesus Christus redemptor mundi_, and _patres
conscripti_ more agreeable than _sancti apostoli_.... They account it a
greater dishonour to be no Ciceronian than no Christian, as if Cicero,
if he should now come to life again, would not speak of Christian things
in other words than in his time he spoke of his own religion!... What is
the sense of this hateful swaggering with the name Ciceronian? I will
tell you briefly, in your ear. With that pearl-powder they cover the
paganism that is dearer to them than the glory of Christ.' To Erasmus
Cicero's style is by no means the ideal one. He prefers something more
solid, succinct, vigorous, less polished, more manly. He who sometimes
has to write a book in a day has no time to polish his style, often not
even to read it over.... 'What do I care for an empty dish of words, ten
words here and there mumped from Cicero: I want all Cicero's spirit.'
These are apes at whom one may laugh, for far more serious than these
things are the tumults of the so-called new Gospel, to which he next
proceeds in this letter.

And so, in the midst of all his polemics and bitter vindication, he
allowed himself once more the pleasure of giving the reins to his love
of scoffing, but, as in the _Moria_ and _Colloquia_, ennobled by an
almost passionate sincerity of Christian disposition and a natural sense
of measure. The _Ciceronianus_ is a masterpiece of ready, many-sided
knowledge, of convincing eloquence, and of easy handling of a wealth of
arguments. With splendid, quiet and yet lively breadth flows the long
conversation between Bulephorus, representing Erasmus's opinions,
Hypologus, the interested inquirer, and Nosoponus, the zealous
Ciceronian, who, to preserve a perfect purity of mind, breakfasts off
ten currants.

Erasmus in drawing Nosoponus had evidently, in the main, alluded to one
who could no longer reply: Christopher Longolius, who had died in 1522.

The core of the _Ciceronianus_ is where Erasmus points out the danger to
Christian faith of a too zealous classicism. He exclaims urgently: 'It
is paganism, believe me, Nosoponus, it is paganism that charms our ear
and our soul in such things. We are Christians in name alone.' Why does
a classic proverb sound better to us than a quotation from the Bible:
_corchorum inter olera_, 'chick-weed among the vegetables', better than
'Saul among the prophets'? As a sample of the absurdity of
Ciceronianism, he gives a translation of a dogmatic sentence in
classical language: 'Optimi maximique Jovis interpres ac filius,
servator, rex, juxta vatum responsa, ex Olympo devolavit in terras,'
for: Jesus Christ, the Word and the Son of the eternal Father, came into
the world according to the prophets. Most humanists wrote indeed in that

Was Erasmus aware that he here attacked his own past? After all, was it
not exactly the same thing which he had done, to the indignation of his
opponents, when translating _Logos_ by _Sermo_ instead of by _Verbum_?
Had he not himself desired that in the church hymns the metre should be
corrected, not to mention his own classical odes and paeans to Mary and
the Saints? And was his warning against the partiality for classic
proverbs and turns applicable to anything more than to the _Adagia_?

We here see the aged Erasmus on the path of reaction, which might
eventually have led him far from humanism. In his combat with humanistic
purism he foreshadows a Christian puritanism.

As always his mockery procured him a new flood of invectives. Bembo and
Sadolet, the masters of pure Latin, could afford to smile at it, but the
impetuous Julius Caesar Scaliger violently inveighed against him,
especially to avenge Longolius's memory. Erasmus's perpetual feeling of
being persecuted got fresh food: he again thought that Aleander was at
the bottom of it. 'The Italians set the imperial court against me,' he
writes in 1530. A year later all is quiet again. He writes jestingly:
'Upon my word, I am going to change my style after Budaeus's model and
to become a Ciceronian according to the example of Sadolet and Bembo'.
But even near the close of his life he was engaged in a new contest with
Italians, because he had hurt their national pride; 'they rage at me on
all sides with slanderous libels, as at the enemy of Italy and Cicero'.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were, as he had said himself, other difficulties touching him more
closely. Conditions at Basle had for years been developing in a
direction which distressed and alarmed him. When he established himself
there in 1521, it might still have seemed to him as if the bishop, old
Christopher of Utenheim, a great admirer of Erasmus and a man after his
heart, would succeed in effecting a reformation at Basle, as he desired
it; abolishing acknowledged abuses, but remaining within the fold of the
Church. In that very year, 1521, however, the emancipation of the
municipality from the bishop's power--it had been in progress since
Basle, in 1501, had joined the Swiss Confederacy--was consummated.
Henceforth the council was number one, now no longer exclusively made up
of aristocratic elements. In vain did the bishop ally himself with his
colleagues of Constance and Lausanne to maintain Catholicism. In the
town the new creed got more and more the upper hand. When, however, in
1525, it had come to open tumults against the Catholic service, the
council became more cautious and tried to reform more heedfully.

Oecolampadius desired this, too. Relations between him and Erasmus were
precarious. Erasmus himself had at one time directed the religious
thought of the impulsive, sensitive, restless young man. When he had, in
1520, suddenly sought refuge in a convent, he had expressly justified
that step towards Erasmus, the condemner of binding vows. And now they
saw each other again at Basle, in 1522: Oecolampadius having left the
monastery, a convinced adherent and apostle of the new doctrine;
Erasmus, the great spectator which he wished to be. Erasmus treated his
old coadjutor coolly, and as the latter progressed, retreated more and
more. Yet he kept steering a middle course and in 1525 gave some
moderate advice to the council, which meanwhile had turned more Catholic

The old bishop, who for some years had no longer resided in his town, in
1527 requested the chapter to relieve him of his office, and died
shortly afterwards. Then events moved very quickly. After Berne had,
meanwhile, reformed itself in 1528, Oecolampadius demanded a decision
also for Basle. Since the close of 1528 the town had been on the verge
of civil war. A popular rising put an end to the resistance of the
Council and cleared it of Catholic members; and in February 1529 the old
service was prohibited, the images were removed from the churches, the
convents abolished, and the University suspended. Oecolampadius became
the first minister in the 'Münster' and leader of the Basle church, for
which he soon drew up a reformatory ordinance. The new bishop remained
at Porrentruy, and the chapter removed to Freiburg.


The moment of departure had now come for Erasmus. His position at Basle
in 1529 somewhat resembled, but in a reversed sense, the one at Louvain
in 1521. Then the Catholics wanted to avail themselves of his services
against Luther, now the Evangelicals would fain have kept him at Basle.
For his name was still as a banner. His presence would strengthen the
position of reformed Basle; on the one hand, because, as people
reasoned, if he were not of the same mind as the reformers, he would
have left the town long ago; on the other hand, because his figure
seemed to guarantee moderation and might attract many hesitating minds.

It was, therefore, again to safeguard his independence that Erasmus
changed his residence. It was a great wrench this time. Old age and
invalidism had made the restless man a stay-at-home. As he foresaw
trouble from the side of the municipality, he asked Archduke
Ferdinand--who for his brother Charles V governed the German empire and
just then presided over the Diet of Speyer--to send him a safe conduct
for the whole empire and an invitation, moreover, to come to court,
which he did not dream of accepting. As place of refuge he had selected
the not far distant town of Freiburg im Breisgau, which was directly
under the strict government of the Austrian house, and where he,
therefore, need not be afraid of such a turn of affairs as that at
Basle. It was, moreover, a juncture at which the imperial authority and
the Catholic cause in Germany seemed again to be gaining ground rapidly.

Erasmus would not or could not keep his departure a secret. He sent the
most precious of his possessions in advance, and when this had drawn
attention to his plan, he purposely invited Oecolampadius to a farewell
talk. The reformer declared his sincere friendship for Erasmus, which
the latter did not decline, provided he granted him to differ on certain
points of dogma. Oecolampadius tried to keep him from leaving the town,
and, when it proved too late for that, to persuade him to return later.
They took leave with a handshake. Erasmus had desired to join his boat
at a distant landing-stage, but the Council would not allow this: he had
to start from the usual place near the Rhine bridge. A numerous crowd
witnessed his embarkation, 13 April 1529. Some friends were there to see
him off. No unfavourable demonstration occurred.

His reception at Freiburg convinced him that, in spite of all, he was
still the celebrated and admired prince of letters. The Council placed
at his disposal the large, though unfinished, house built for the
Emperor Maximilian himself; a professor of theology offered him his
garden. Anthony Fugger had tried to draw him to Augsburg by means of a
yearly allowance. For the rest he considered Freiburg by no means a
permanent place of abode. 'I have resolved to remain here this winter
and then to fly with the swallows to the place whither God shall call
me.' But he soon recognized the great advantage which Freiburg offered.
The climate, to which he was so sensitive, turned out better than he
expected, and the position of the town was extremely favourable for
emigrating to France, should circumstances require this, or for dropping
down the Rhine back to the Netherlands, whither many always called him.
In 1531 he bought a house at Freiburg.

The old Erasmus at Freiburg, ever more tormented by his painful malady,
much more disillusioned than when he left Louvain in 1521, of more
confirmed views as to the great ecclesiastical strife, will only be
fully revealed to us when his correspondence with Boniface Amerbach, the
friend whom he left behind at Basle--a correspondence not found complete
in the older collections--has been edited by Dr. Allen's care. From no
period of Erasmus's life, it seems, may so much be gleaned, in point of
knowledge of his daily habits and thoughts, as from these very years.
Work went on without a break in that great scholar's workshop where he
directs his famuli, who hunt manuscripts for him, and then copy and
examine them, and whence he sends forth his letters all over Europe. In
the series of editions of the Fathers followed Basil and new editions of
Chrysostom and Cyprian; his editions of classic authors were augmented
by the works of Aristotle. He revised and republished the _Colloquies_
three more times, the _Adages_ and the New Testament once more.
Occasional writings of a moral or politico-theological nature kept
flowing from his pen.

From the cause of the Reformation he was now quite estranged.
'Pseudevangelici', he contumeliously calls the reformed. 'I might have
been a corypheus in Luther's church,' he writes in 1528, 'but I
preferred to incur the hatred of all Germany to being separate from the
community of the Church.' The authorities should have paid a little less
attention at first to Luther's proceedings; then the fire would never
have spread so violently. He had always urged theologians to let minor
concerns which only contain an appearance of piety rest, and to turn to
the sources of Scripture. Now it was too late. Towns and countries
united ever more closely for or against the Reformation. 'If, what I
pray may never happen,' he writes to Sadolet in 1530, 'you should see
horrible commotions of the world arise, not so fatal for Germany as for
the Church, then remember Erasmus prophesied it.' To Beatus Rhenanus he
frequently said that, had he known that an age like theirs was coming,
he would never have written many things, or would not have written them
as he had.

'Just look,' he exclaims, 'at the Evangelical people, have they become
any better? Do they yield less to luxury, lust and greed? Show me a man
whom that Gospel has changed from a toper to a temperate man, from a
brute to a gentle creature, from a miser into a liberal person, from a
shameless to a chaste being. I will show you many who have become even
worse than they were.' Now they have thrown the images out of the
churches and abolished mass (he is thinking of Basle especially): has
anything better come instead? 'I have never entered their churches, but
I have seen them return from hearing the sermon, as if inspired by an
evil spirit, the faces of all showing a curious wrath and ferocity, and
there was no one except one old man who saluted me properly, when I
passed in the company of some distinguished persons.'

He hated that spirit of absolute assuredness so inseparably bound up
with the reformers. 'Zwingli and Bucer may be inspired by the Spirit,
Erasmus from himself is nothing but a man and cannot comprehend what is
of the Spirit.'

There was a group among the reformed to whom Erasmus in his heart of
hearts was more nearly akin than to the Lutherans or Zwinglians with
their rigid dogmatism: the Anabaptists. He rejected the doctrine from
which they derived their name, and abhorred the anarchic element in
them. He remained far too much the man of spiritual decorum to identify
himself with these irregular believers. But he was not blind to the
sincerity of their moral aspirations and sympathized with their dislike
of brute force and the patience with which they bore persecution. 'They
are praised more than all others for the innocence of their life,' he
writes in 1529. Just in the last part of his life came the episode of
the violent revolutionary proceedings of the fanatic Anabaptists; it
goes without saying that Erasmus speaks of it only with horror.

One of the best historians of the Reformation, Walter Köhler, calls
Erasmus one of the spiritual fathers of Anabaptism. And certain it is
that in its later, peaceful development it has important traits in
common with Erasmus: a tendency to acknowledge free will, a certain
rationalistic trend, a dislike of an exclusive conception of a Church.
It seems possible to prove that the South German Anabaptist Hans Denk
derived opinions directly from Erasmus. For a considerable part,
however, this community of ideas must, no doubt, have been based on
peculiarities of religious consciousness in the Netherlands, whence
Erasmus sprang, and where Anabaptism found such a receptive soil.
Erasmus was certainly never aware of these connections.

Some remarkable evidence regarding Erasmus's altered attitude towards
the old and the new Church is shown by what follows.

The reproach he had formerly so often flung at the advocates of
conservatism that they hated the _bonae literae_, so dear to him, and
wanted to stifle them, he now uses against the evangelical party.
'Wherever Lutherism is dominant the study of literature is extinguished.
Why else,' he continues, using a remarkable sophism, 'are Luther and
Melanchthon compelled to call back the people so urgently to the love of
letters?' 'Just compare the University of Wittenberg with that of
Louvain or Paris!... Printers say that before this Gospel came they used
to dispose of 3,000 volumes more quickly than now of 600. A sure proof
that studies flourish!'



    Religious and political contrasts grow sharper--The coming
    strife in Germany still suspended--Erasmus finishes his
    _Ecclesiastes_--Death of Fisher and More--Erasmus back at Basle:
    1535--Pope Paul III wants to make him write in favour of the
    cause of the Council--Favours declined by Erasmus--_De Puritate
    Ecclesiae_--The end: 12 July 1536

During the last years of Erasmus's life all the great issues which kept
the world in suspense were rapidly taking threatening forms. Wherever
compromise or reunion had before still seemed possible, sharp conflicts,
clearly outlined party-groupings, binding formulae were now barring the
way to peace. While in the spring of 1529 Erasmus prepared for his
departure from Basle, a strong Catholic majority of the Diet at Speyer
got the 'recess' of 1526, favourable for the Evangelicals, revoked, only
the Lutherans among them keeping what they had obtained; and secured a
prohibition of any further changes or novelties. The Zwinglians and
Anabaptists were not allowed to enjoy the least tolerance. This was
immediately followed by the Protest of the chief evangelical princes and
towns, which henceforth was to give the name to all anti-Catholics
together (19 April 1529). And not only between Catholics and Protestants
in the Empire did the rupture become complete. Even before the end of
that year the question of the Lord's supper proved an insuperable
stumbling-block in the way of a real union of Zwinglians and Lutherans.
Luther parted from Zwingli at the colloquy of Marburg with the words,
'Your spirit differs from ours'.

In Switzerland civil war had openly broken out between the Catholic and
the Evangelical cantons, only calmed for a short time by the first peace
of Kappel. The treaties of Cambray and Barcelona, which in 1529 restored
at least political peace in Christendom for the time being, could no
longer draw from old Erasmus jubilations about a coming golden age, like
those with which the concord of 1516 had inspired him. A month later the
Turks appeared before Vienna.

All these occurrences could not but distress and alarm Erasmus. But he
was outside them. When reading his letters of that period we are more
than ever impressed by the fact that, for all the width and liveliness
of his mind, he is remote from the great happenings of his time. Beyond
a certain circle of interests, touching his own ideas or his person, his
perceptions are vague and weak. If he still meddles occasionally with
questions of the day, he does so in the moralizing manner, by means of
generalities, without emphasis: his 'Advice about declaring war on the
Turks' (March 1530) is written in the form of an interpretation of Psalm
28, and so vague that, at the close, he himself anticipates that the
reader may exclaim: 'But now say clearly: do you think that war should
be declared or not?'

In the summer of 1530 the Diet met again at Augsburg under the auspices
of the Emperor himself to try once more 'to attain to a good peace and
Christian truth'. The Augsburg Confession, defended all too weakly by
Melanchthon, was read here, disputed, and declared refuted by the

Erasmus had no share in all this. Many had exhorted him in letters to
come to Augsburg; but he had in vain expected a summons from the
Emperor. At the instance of the Emperor's counsellors he had postponed
his proposed removal to Brabant in that autumn till after the decision
of the Diet. But his services were not needed for the drastic resolution
of repression with which the Emperor closed the session in November.

The great struggle in Germany seemed to be approaching: the resolutions
of Augsburg were followed by the formation of the League of Schmalkalden
uniting all Protestant territories and towns of Germany in their
opposition to the Emperor. In the same year (1531) Zwingli was killed in
the battle of Kappel against the Catholic cantons, soon to be followed
by Oecolampadius, who died at Basle. 'It is right', writes Erasmus,
'that those two leaders have perished. If Mars had been favourable to
them, we should now have been done for.'

In Switzerland a sort of equilibrium had set in; at any rate matters had
come to a standstill; in Germany the inevitable struggle was postponed
for many years. The Emperor had understood that, to combat the German
Protestants effectively, he should first get the Pope to hold the
Council which would abolish the acknowledged abuses of the Church. The
religious peace of Nuremberg (1532) put the seal upon this turn of
imperial policy.

It might seem as if before long the advocates of moderate reform and of
a compromise might after all get a chance of being heard. But Erasmus
had become too old to actively participate in the decisions (if he had
ever seriously considered such participation). He does write a treatise,
though, in 1533, 'On the sweet concord of the Church', like his 'Advice
on the Turks' in the form of an interpretation of a psalm (83). But it
would seem as if the old vivacity of his style and his power of
expression, so long unimpaired, now began to flag. The same remark
applies to an essay 'On the preparation for death', published the same
year. His voice was growing weaker.

During these years he turned his attention chiefly to the completion of
the great work which more than any other represented for him the summing
up and complete exposition of his moral-theological ideas:
_Ecclesiastes_ or, _On the Way to preach_. Erasmus had always regarded
preaching as the most dignified part of an ecclesiastic's duties. As
preachers, he had most highly valued Colet and Vitrarius. As early as
1519 his friend, John Becar of Borselen, urged him to follow up the
_Enchiridion_ of the Christian soldier and the _Institutio_ of the
Christian prince, by the true instruction of the Christian preacher.
'Later, later,' Erasmus had promised him, 'at present I have too much
work, but I hope to undertake it soon.' In 1523 he had already made a
sketch and some notes for it. It was meant for John Fisher, the Bishop
of Rochester, Erasmus's great friend and brother-spirit, who eagerly
looked forward to it and urged the author to finish it. The work
gradually grew into the most voluminous of Erasmus's original writings:
a forest of a work, _operis sylvam_, he calls it himself. In four books
he treated his subject, the art of preaching well and decorously, with
an inexhaustible abundance of examples, illustrations, schemes, etc. But
was it possible that a work, conceived already by the Erasmus of 1519,
and upon which he had been so long engaged, while he himself had
gradually given up the boldness of his earlier years, could still be a
revelation in 1533, as the _Enchiridion_ had been in its day?

_Ecclesiastes_ is the work of a mind fatigued, which no longer sharply
reacts upon the needs of his time. As the result of a correct,
intellectual, tasteful instruction in a suitable manner of preaching, in
accordance with the purity of the Gospel, Erasmus expects to see society
improve. 'The people become more obedient to the authorities, more
respectful towards the law, more peaceable. Between husband and wife
comes greater concord, more perfect faithfulness, greater dislike of
adultery. Servants obey more willingly, artisans work better, merchants
cheat no more.'

At the same time that Erasmus took this work to Froben, at Basle, to
print, a book of a young Frenchman, who had recently fled from France to
Basle, passed through the press of another Basle printer, Thomas
Platter. It too was to be a manual of the life of faith: the
_Institution of the Christian Religion_, by Calvin.

       *       *       *       *       *

Even before Erasmus had quite completed the _Ecclesiastes_, the man for
whom the work had been meant was no more. Instead of to the Bishop of
Rochester, Erasmus dedicated his voluminous work to the Bishop of
Augsburg, Christopher of Stadion. John Fisher, to set a seal on his
spiritual endeavours, resembling those of Erasmus in so many respects,
had left behind, as a testimony to the world, for which Erasmus knew
himself too weak, that of martyrdom. On 22 June 1535, he was beheaded by
command of Henry VIII. He died for being faithful to the old Church.
Together with More he had steadfastly refused to take the oath to the
Statute of Supremacy. Not two weeks after Fisher, Thomas More mounted
the scaffold. The fate of those two noblest of his friends grieved
Erasmus. It moved him to do what for years he had no longer done: to
write a poem. But rather than in the fine Latin measure of that _Carmen
heroïcum_ one would have liked to hear his emotion in language of
sincere dismay and indignation in his letters. They are hardly there. In
the words devoted to Fisher's death in the preface to the _Ecclesiastes_
there is no heartfelt emotion. Also in his letters of those days, he
speaks with reserve. 'Would More had never meddled with that dangerous
business, and left the theological cause to the theologians.' As if More
had died for aught but simply for his conscience!

       *       *       *       *       *

When Erasmus wrote these words, he was no longer at Freiburg. He had in
June 1535 gone to Basle, to work in Froben's printing-office, as of old;
the _Ecclesiastes_ was at last going to press and still required careful
supervision and the final touches during the process; the _Adagia_ had
to be reprinted, and a Latin edition of Origenes was in preparation. The
old, sick man was cordially received by the many friends who still lived
at Basle. Hieronymus Froben, Johannes's son, who after his father's
death managed the business with two relatives, sheltered him in his
house _Zum Luft_. In the hope of his return a room had been built
expressly for him and fitted up as was convenient for him. Erasmus found
that at Basle the ecclesiastical storms which had formerly driven him
away had subsided. Quiet and order had returned. He did feel a spirit of
distrust in the air, it is true, 'but I think that, on account of my
age, of habit, and of what little erudition I possess, I have now got so
far that I may live in safety anywhere'. At first he had regarded the
removal as an experiment. He did not mean to stay at Basle. If his
health could not stand the change of air, he would return to his fine,
well-appointed, comfortable house at Freiburg. If he should prove able
to bear it, then the choice was between the Netherlands (probably
Brussels, Malines or Antwerp, perhaps Louvain) or Burgundy, in
particular Besançon. Towards the end of his life he clung to the
illusion which he had been cherishing for a long time that Burgundy wine
alone was good for him and kept his malady in check. There is something
pathetic in the proportions which this wine-question gradually assumes:
that it is so dear at Basle might be overlooked, but the thievish
wagoners drink up or spoil what is imported.

In August he doubted greatly whether he will return to Freiburg. In
October he sold his house and part of his furniture and had the rest
transported to Basle. After the summer he hardly left his room, and was
mostly bedridden.

Though the formidable worker in him still yearned for more years and
time to labour, his soul was ready for death. Happy he had never felt;
only during the last years he utters his longing for the end. He was
still, curiously enough, subject to the delusion of being in the thick
of the struggle. 'In this arena I shall have to fall,' he writes in
1533. 'Only this consoles me, that near at hand already, the general
haven comes in sight, which, if Christ be favourable, will bring the end
of all labour and trouble.' Two years later his voice sounds more
urgent: 'That the Lord might deign to call me out of this raving world
to His rest'.

Most of his old friends were gone. Warham and Mountjoy had passed away
before More and Fisher; Peter Gilles, so many years younger than he, had
departed in 1533; also Pirckheimer had been dead for years. Beatus
Rhenanus shows him to us, during the last months of his life,
re-perusing his friends' letters of the last few years, and repeating:
'This one, too, is dead'. As he grew more solitary, his suspiciousness
and his feeling of being persecuted became stronger. 'My friends
decrease, my enemies increase,' he writes in 1532, when Warham has died
and Aleander has risen still higher. In the autumn of 1535 he thinks
that all his former servant-pupils betray him, even the best beloved
ones like Quirin Talesius and Charles Utenhove. They do not write to
him, he complains.


In October 1534, Pope Clement VII was succeeded by Paul III, who at once
zealously took up the Council-question. The meeting of a Council was, in
the eyes of many, the only means by which union could be restored to the
Church, and now a chance of realizing this seemed nigh. At once the most
learned theologians were invited to help in preparing the great work.
Erasmus did not omit, in January 1535, to address to the new Pope a
letter of congratulation, in which he professed his willingness to
co-operate in bringing about the pacification of the Church, and warned
the Pope to steer a cautious middle course. On 31 May followed a reply
full of kindliness and acknowledgement. The Pope exhorted Erasmus, 'that
you too, graced by God with so much laudable talent and learning, may
help Us in this pious work, which is so agreeable to your mind, to
defend, with Us, the Catholic religion, by the spoken and the written
word, before and during the Council, and in this manner by this last
work of piety, as by the best act to close a life of religion and so
many writings, to refute your accusers and rouse your admirers to fresh

Would Erasmus in years of greater strength have seen his way to
co-operate actively in the council of the great? Undoubtedly, the Pope's
exhortation correctly represented his inclination. But once faced by the
necessity of hard, clear resolutions, what would he have effected? Would
his spirit of peace and toleration, of reserve and compromise, have
brought alleviation and warded off the coming struggle? He was spared
the experiment.

He knew himself too weak to be able to think of strenuous
church-political propaganda any more. Soon there came proofs that the
kindly feelings at Rome were sincere. There had been some question also
of numbering Erasmus among the cardinals who were to be nominated with a
view to the Council; a considerable benefice connected with the church
of Deventer was already offered him. But Erasmus urged the Roman friends
who were thus active in his behalf to cease their kind offices; he would
accept nothing, he a man who lived from day to day in expectation of
death and often hoping for it, who could hardly ever leave his
room--would people instigate _him_ to hunt for deaneries and cardinals'
hats! He had subsistence enough to last him. He wanted to die

Yet his pen did not rest. The _Ecclesiastes_ had been printed and
published and _Origenes_ was still to follow. Instead of the important
and brilliant task to which Rome called him, he devoted his last
strength to a simple deed of friendly cordiality. The friend to whose
share the honour fell to receive from the old, death-sick author a last
composition prepared expressly for him, amidst the most terrible pains,
was the most modest of the number who had not lost their faith in him.
No prelate or prince, no great wit or admired divine, but Christopher
Eschenfelder, customs officer at Boppard on the Rhine. On his passage in
1518 Erasmus had, with glad surprise, found him to be a reader of his
work and a man of culture.[20] That friendship had been a lasting one.
Eschenfelder had asked Erasmus to dedicate the interpretation of some
psalm to him (a form of composition often preferred by Erasmus of late).
About the close of 1535 he remembered that request. He had forgotten
whether Eschenfelder had indicated a particular psalm and chose one at
haphazard, Psalm 14, calling the treatise 'On the purity of the
Christian Church'. He expressly dedicated it to 'the publican' in
January 1536. It is not remarkable among his writings as to contents and
form, but it was to be his last.

On 12 February 1536, Erasmus made his final preparations. In 1527 he had
already made a will with detailed clauses for the printing of his
complete works by Froben. In 1534 he drew up an accurate inventory of
his belongings. He sold his library to the Polish nobleman Johannes a
Lasco. The arrangements of 1536 testify to two things which had played
an important part in his life: his relations with the house of Froben
and his need of friendship. Boniface Amerbach is his heir. Hieronymus
Froben and Nicholas Episcopius, the managers of the business, are his
executors. To each of the good friends left to him he bequeathed one of
the trinkets which spoke of his fame with princes and the great ones of
the earth, in the first place to Louis Ber and Beatus Rhenanus. The poor
and the sick were not forgotten, and he remembered especially girls
about to marry and youths of promise. The details of this charity he
left to Amerbach.

In March 1536, he still thinks of leaving for Burgundy. Money matters
occupy him and he speaks of the necessity of making new friends, for the
old ones leave him: the Bishop of Cracow, Zasius at Freiburg. According
to Beatus Rhenanus, the Brabant plan stood foremost at the end of
Erasmus's life. The Regent, Mary of Hungary, did not cease to urge him
to return to the Netherlands. Erasmus's own last utterance leaves us in
doubt whether he had made up his mind. 'Though I am living here with the
most sincere friends, such as I did not possess at Freiburg, I should
yet, on account of the differences of doctrine, prefer to end my life
elsewhere. If only Brabant were nearer.'

This he writes on 28 June 1536. He had felt so poorly for some days that
he had not even been able to read. In the letter we again trace the
delusion that Aleander persecutes him, sets on opponents against him,
and even lays snares for his friends. Did his mind at last give way too?

On 12 July the end came. The friends around his couch heard him groan
incessantly: 'O Jesu, misericordia; Domine libera me; Domine miserere
mei!' And at last in Dutch: 'Lieve God.'


[20] See Erasmus's letter, p. 224.



    Conclusion--Erasmus and the spirit of the sixteenth century--His
    weak points--A thorough idealist and yet a moderate mind--The
    enlightener of a century--He anticipates tendencies of two
    centuries later--His influence affects both Protestantism and
    Catholic reform--The Erasmian spirit in the Netherlands

Looking back on the life of Erasmus the question still arises: why has
he remained so great? For ostensibly his endeavours ended in failure. He
withdraws in alarm from that tremendous struggle which he rightly calls
a tragedy; the sixteenth century, bold and vehement, thunders past him,
disdaining his ideal of moderation and tolerance. Latin literary
erudition, which to him was the epitome of all true culture, has gone
out as such. Erasmus, so far as regards the greater part of his
writings, is among the great ones who are no longer read. He has become
a name. But why does that name still sound so clear and articulate? Why
does he keep regarding us, as if he still knew a little more than he has
ever been willing to utter?

What has he been to his age, and what was he to be for later
generations? Has he been rightly called a precursor of the modern

Regarded as a child of the sixteenth century, he does seem to differ
from the general tenor of his times. Among those vehemently passionate,
drastically energetic and violent natures of the great ones of his day,
Erasmus stands as the man of too few prejudices, with a little too much
delicacy of taste, with a deficiency, though not, indeed, in every
department, of that _stultitia_ which he had praised as a necessary
constituent of life. Erasmus is the man who is too sensible and moderate
for the heroic.

What a surprising difference there is between the _accent_ of Erasmus
and that of Luther, Calvin, and Saint Teresa! What a difference, also,
between his accent, that is, the accent of humanism, and that of
Albrecht Dürer, of Michelangelo, or of Shakespeare.

Erasmus seems, at times, the man who was not strong enough for his age.
In that robust sixteenth century it seems as if the oaken strength of
Luther was necessary, the steely edge of Calvin, the white heat of
Loyola; not the velvet softness of Erasmus. Not only were their force
and their fervour necessary, but also their depth, their unsparing,
undaunted consistency, sincerity and outspokenness.

They cannot bear that smile which makes Luther speak of the guileful
being looking out of Erasmus's features. His piety is too even for them,
too limp. Loyola has testified that the reading of the _Enchiridion
militis Christiani_ relaxed his fervour and made his devotion grow cold.
He saw that warrior of Christ differently, in the glowing colours of the
Spanish-Christian, medieval ideal of chivalry.

Erasmus had never passed through those depths of self-reprobation and
that consciousness of sin which Luther had traversed with toil; he saw
no devil to fight with, and tears were not familiar to him. Was he
altogether unaware of the deepest mystery? Or did it rest in him too
deep for utterance?

Let us not suppose too quickly that we are more nearly allied to Luther
or Loyola because their figures appeal to us more. If at present our
admiration goes out again to the ardently pious, and to spiritual
extremes, it is partly because our unstable time requires strong
stimuli. To appreciate Erasmus we should begin by giving up our
admiration of the extravagant, and for many this requires a certain
effort at present. It is extremely easy to break the staff over Erasmus.
His faults lie on the surface, and though he wished to hide many things,
he never hid his weaknesses.

He was too much concerned about what people thought, and he could not
hold his tongue. His mind was _too_ rich and facile, always suggesting a
superfluity of arguments, cases, examples, quotations. He could never
let things slide. All his life he grudged himself leisure to rest and
collect himself, to see how unimportant after all was the commotion
round about him, if only he went his own way courageously. Rest and
independence he desired most ardently of all things; there was no more
restless and dependent creature. Judge him as one of a too delicate
constitution who ventures out in a storm. His will-power was great
enough. He worked night and day, amidst the most violent bodily
suffering, with a great ideal steadfastly before him, never satisfied
with his own achievements. He was not self-sufficient.

       *       *       *       *       *

As an intellectual type Erasmus was one of a rather small group: the
absolute idealists who, at the same time, are thoroughly moderate. They
can not bear the world's imperfections; they feel constrained to oppose.
But extremes are uncongenial to them; they shrink back from action,
because they know it pulls down as much as it erects, and so they
withdraw themselves, and keep calling that everything should be
different; but when the crisis comes, they reluctantly side with
tradition and conservatism. Here too is a fragment of Erasmus's
life-tragedy: he was the man who saw the new and coming things more
clearly than anyone else--who must needs quarrel with the old and yet
could not accept the new. He tried to remain in the fold of the old
Church, after having damaged it seriously, and renounced the
Reformation, and to a certain extent even Humanism, after having
furthered both with all his strength.

[Illustration: XXV. ERASMUS AT THE AGE OF 65]

       *       *       *       *       *

Our final opinion about Erasmus has been concerned with negative
qualities, so far. What was his positive importance?

Two facts make it difficult for the modern mind to understand Erasmus's
positive importance: first that his influence was extensive rather than
intensive, and therefore less historically discernible at definite
points, and second, that his influence has ceased. He has done his work
and will speak to the world no more. Like Saint Jerome, his revered
model, and Voltaire, with whom he has been occasionally compared, 'he
has his reward'. But like them he has been the enlightener of an age
from whom a broad stream of culture emanated.


As historic investigation of the French Revolution is becoming more and
more aware that the true history of France during that period should be
looked for in those groups which as 'Centre' or 'Marais' seemed for a
long time but a drove of supernumeraries, and understands that it should
occasionally protect its eyes a little from the lightning flashes of the
Gironde and Mountain thunderstorm; so the history of the Reformation
period should pay attention--and it has done so for a long time--to the
broad central sphere permeated by the Erasmian spirit. One of his
opponents said: 'Luther has drawn a large part of the Church to himself,
Zwingli and Oecolampadius also some part, but Erasmus the largest'.
Erasmus's public was numerous and of high culture. He was the only one
of the Humanists who really wrote for all the world, that is to say, for
all educated people. He accustomed a whole world to another and more
fluent mode of expression: he shifted the interest, he influenced by his
perfect clarity of exposition, even through the medium of Latin, the
style of the vernacular languages, apart from the numberless
translations of his works. For his contemporaries Erasmus put on many
new stops, one might say, of the great organ of human expression, as
Rousseau was to do two centuries later.

He might well think with some complacency of the influence he had
exerted on the world. 'From all parts of the world'--he writes towards
the close of his life--'I am daily thanked by many, because they have
been kindled by my works, whatever may be their merit, into zeal for a
good disposition and sacred literature; and they who have never seen
Erasmus, yet know and love him from his books.' He was glad that his
translations from the Greek had become superfluous; he had everywhere
led many to take up Greek and Holy Scripture, 'which otherwise they
would never have read'. He had been an introducer and an initiator. He
might leave the stage after having said his say.

His word signified something beyond a classical sense and biblical
disposition. It was at the same time the first enunciation of the creed
of education and perfectibility, of warm social feeling and of faith in
human nature, of peaceful kindliness and toleration. 'Christ dwells
everywhere; piety is practised under every garment, if only a kindly
disposition is not wanting.'

In all these ideas and convictions Erasmus really heralds a later age.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries those thoughts remained an
undercurrent: in the eighteenth Erasmus's message of deliverance bore
fruit. In this respect he has most certainly been a precursor and
preparer of the modern mind: of Rousseau, Herder, Pestalozzi and of the
English and American thinkers. It is only part of the modern mind which
is represented by all this. To a number of its developments Erasmus was
wholly a stranger, to the evolution of natural science, of the newer
philosophy, of political economy. But in so far as people still believe
in the ideal that moral education and general tolerance may make
humanity happier, humanity owes much to Erasmus.

       *       *       *       *       *

This does not imply that Erasmus's mind did not directly and fruitfully
influence his own times. Although Catholics regarded him in the heat of
the struggle as the corrupter of the Church, and Protestants as the
betrayer of the Gospel, yet his word of moderation and kindliness did
not pass by unheard or unheeded on either side. Eventually neither camp
finally rejected Erasmus. Rome did not brand him as an arch-heretic, but
only warned the faithful to read him with caution. Protestant history
has been studious to reckon him as one of the Reformers. Both obeyed in
this the pronouncement of a public opinion which was above parties and
which continued to admire and revere Erasmus.

To the reconstruction of the Catholic Church and the erection of the
evangelical churches not only the names of Luther and Loyola are linked.
The moderate, the intellectual, the conciliating have also had their
share of the work; figures like Melanchthon here, Sadolet there, both
nearly allied to Erasmus and sympathetically disposed towards him. The
frequently repeated attempts to arrive at some compromise in the great
religious conflict, though they might be doomed to end in failure,
emanated from the Erasmian spirit.

Nowhere did that spirit take root so easily as in the country that gave
Erasmus birth. A curious detail shows us that it was not the exclusive
privilege of either great party. Of his two most favoured pupils of
later years, both Netherlanders, whom as the actors of the colloquy
_Astragalismus_ (_The Game of Knucklebones_), he has immortalized
together, the one, Quirin Talesius, died for his attachment to the
Spanish cause and the Catholic faith: he was hanged in 1572 by the
citizens of Haarlem, where he was a burgomaster. The other, Charles
Utenhove, was sedulous on the side of the revolt and the Reformed
religion. At Ghent, in concert with the Prince of Orange, he turned
against the narrow-minded Protestant terrorism of the zealots.

A Dutch historian recently tried to trace back the opposition of the
Dutch against the king of Spain to the influence of Erasmus's political
thought in his arraignment of bad princes--wrongly as I think. Erasmus's
political diatribes were far too academic and too general for that. The
desire of resistance and revolt arose from quite other causes. The
'Gueux' were not Erasmus's progeny. But there is much that is Erasmian
in the spirit of their great leader, William of Orange, whose vision
ranged so widely beyond the limitations of religious hatred. Thoroughly
permeated by the Erasmian spirit, too, was that class of municipal
magistrates who were soon to take the lead and to set the fashion in the
established Republic. History is wont, as always with an aristocracy, to
take their faults very seriously. After all, perhaps no other
aristocracy, unless it be that of Venice, has ruled a state so long, so
well and with so little violence. If in the seventeenth century the
institutions of Holland, in the eyes of foreigners, were the admired
models of prosperity, charity and social discipline, and patterns of
gentleness and wisdom, however defective they may seem to us--then the
honour of all this is due to the municipal aristocracy. If in the Dutch
patriciate of that time those aspirations lived and were translated into
action, it was Erasmus's spirit of social responsibility which inspired
them. The history of Holland is far less bloody and cruel than that of
any of the surrounding countries. Not for naught did Erasmus praise as
truly Dutch those qualities which we might also call truly Erasmian:
gentleness, kindliness, moderation, a generally diffused moderate
erudition. Not romantic virtues, if you like; but are they the less

One more instance. In the Republic of the Seven Provinces the atrocious
executions of witches and wizards ceased more than a century before they
did in all other countries. This was not owing to the merit of the
Reformed pastors. They shared the popular belief which demanded
persecution. It was the magistrates whose enlightenment even as early as
the beginning of the seventeenth century no longer tolerated these
things. Again, we are entitled to say, though Erasmus was not one of
those who combated this practice: the spirit which breathes from this is
that of Erasmus.

Cultured humanity has cause to hold Erasmus's memory in esteem, if for
no other reason than that he was the fervently sincere preacher of that
general kindliness which the world still so urgently needs.


_This selection from the vast correspondence of Erasmus is intended to
exhibit him at a few points in his strenuous and rather comfortless
life, always overworked, often ill, and perpetually hurried--many of his
letters have the postscript 'In haste' or 'I had no time to read this
over'--but holding always tenaciously to his aim of steering a middle
course; in religion between the corruption and fossilization of the old
and the uncompromising violence of the new: in learning between
neo-paganism on the one hand and the indolent refusal, under the pretext
of piety, to apply critical methods to sacred texts on the other. The
first letter has been included because it may provide a clue to his
later reluctance to trust his feelings when self-committal to any cause
seemed to be required of him, a reluctance not unnaturally interpreted
by his enemies as an arrogant refusal to 'yield to any'._

_The notes have been compiled from P. S. and H. M. Allen's_ Opus
epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami, _Oxford, 1906-47, by the kind
permission of the Delegates of the Clarendon Press, and references are
to the numbers of the letters in that edition_.


[Steyn, _c._ 1487]

To his friend Servatius, greetings:

... You say there is something which you take very hard, which torments
you wretchedly, which in short makes life a misery to you. Your looks
and your carriage betray this, even if you were silent. Where is your
wonted and beloved cheerful countenance gone, your former beauty, your
lively glance? Whence come these sorrowful downcast eyes, whence this
perpetual silence, so unlike you, whence the look of a sick man in your
expression? Assuredly as the poet says, 'the sick body betrays the
torments of the lurking soul, likewise its joys: it is to the mind that
the face owes its looks, well or ill'.[22]

It is certain then, my Servatius, that there is something which troubles
you, which is destroying your former good health. But what am I to do
now? Must I comfort you or scold you? Why do you hide your pain from me
as if we did not know each other by this time? You are so deep that you
do not believe your closest friend, or trust even the most trustworthy;
or do you not know that the hidden fire burns stronger?... And for the
rest, my Servatius, what is it makes you draw in and hide yourself like
a snail? I suspect what the matter is: you have not yet convinced
yourself that I love you very much. So I entreat you by the things
sweetest to you in life, by our great love, if you have any care for
your safety, if you want me to live unharmed, not to be at such pains to
hide your feelings, but whatever it is, entrust it to my safe ears. I
will assist you in whatever way I can with help or counsel. But if I
cannot provide either, still it will be sweet to rejoice with you, to
weep with you, to live and die with you. Farewell, my Servatius, and
look after your health.


Paris, 13 September [1496]

To the religious Father Nicholas Werner, greetings:

... If you are all well there, things are as I wish and hope; I myself
am very well, the gods be thanked. I have now made clear by my
actions--if it was not clear to anyone before this--how much theology is
coming to mean to me. A somewhat arrogant claim; but it ill becomes
Erasmus to hide anything from his most loving Father. Lately I had
fallen in with certain Englishmen, of noble birth, and all of them
wealthy. Very recently I was approached by a young priest,[24] very
rich, who said he had refused a bishopric offered him, as he knew that
he was not well educated; nevertheless he is to be recalled by the King
to take a bishopric within a year, although, apart from any bishopric
even, he has a yearly income of more than 2000 _scudi_. As soon as he
heard of my learning he proceeded in unbelievably affectionate fashion
to devote himself to me, to frequent and revere me--he lived for a while
in my house. He offered 100 _scudi_, if I would teach him for a year; he
offered a benefice in a few months' time; he offered to lend me 300
_scudi_, if I should need them to procure the office, until I could pay
them back out of the benefice. By this service I could have laid all the
English in this city under an obligation to me--they are all of the
first families--and through them all England, had I so wished. But I
cared nothing for the splendid income and the far more splendid
prospects; I cared nothing for their entreaties and the tears which
accompanied them. I am telling the truth, exaggerating not at all; the
English realize that the money of all England means nothing to me. This
refusal, which I still maintain, was not made without due consideration;
not for any reward will I let myself be drawn away from theological
studies. I did not come here to teach or to pile up gold, but to learn.
Indeed I shall seek a Doctorate in Theology, if the gods so will it.

The Bishop of Cambrai is marvellously fond of me: he makes liberal
promises; the remittances are not so liberal, to tell the truth. I wish
you good health, excellent Father. I beg and entreat you to commend me
in your prayers to God: I shall do likewise for you. From my library in


London, 5 December [1499]

To Robert Fisher, Englishman, abiding in Italy, greetings:

... I hesitated not a little to write to you, beloved Robert, not that I
feared lest so great a sunderance in time and place had worn away
anything of your affection towards me, but because you are in a country
where even the house-walls are more learned and more eloquent than are
our men here, so that what is here reckoned polished, fine and
delectable cannot there appear anything but crude, mean and insipid.
Wherefore your England assuredly expects you to return not merely very
learned in the law but also equally eloquent in both the Greek and the
Latin tongues. You would have seen me also there long since, had not my
friend Mountjoy carried me off to his country when I was already packed
for the journey into Italy. Whither indeed shall I not follow a youth so
polite, so kindly, so lovable? I swear I would follow him even into
Hades. You indeed had most handsomely commended him and, in a word,
precisely delineated him; but believe me, he every day surpasses both
your commendation and my opinion of him.

But you ask how England pleases me. If you have any confidence in me,
dear Robert, I would have you believe me when I say that I have never
yet liked anything so well. I have found here a climate as delightful as
it is wholesome; and moreover so much humane learning, not of the
outworn, commonplace sort, but the profound, accurate, ancient Greek and
Latin learning, that I now scarcely miss Italy, but for the sight of it.
When I listen to my friend Colet, I seem to hear Plato himself. Who
would not marvel at the perfection of encyclopaedic learning in
Grocyn?[26] What could be keener or nobler or nicer than Linacre's[27]
judgement? What has Nature ever fashioned gentler or sweeter or happier
than the character of Thomas More? But why should I catalogue the rest?
It is marvellous how thick upon the ground the harvest of ancient
literature is here everywhere flowering forth: all the more should you
hasten your return hither. Your friend's affection and remembrance of
you is so strong that he speaks of none so often or so gladly. Farewell.
Written in haste in London on the 5th of December.


Orléans [_c._ 12 December] 1500

... If you care sincerely what becomes of your Erasmus, do you act thus:
plead my shyness before my Lady[29] in pleasant phrases, as if I had not
been able to bring myself to reveal my poverty to her in person. But you
must write that I am now in a state of extreme poverty, owing to the
great expense of this flight to Orléans, as I had to leave people from
whom I was making some money. Tell her that Italy is by far the most
suitable place in which to take the Degree of Doctor, and that it is
impossible for a fastidious man to go to Italy without a large sum of
money; particularly because I am not even at liberty to live meanly, on
account of my reputation, such as it is, for learning. You will explain
how much greater fame I am likely to bring my Lady by my learning than
are the other theologians maintained by her. They compose commonplace
harangues: I write works destined to live for ever. Their ignorant
triflings are heard by one or two persons in church: my books will be
read by Latins, Greeks, by every race all over the world. Tell her that
this kind of unlearned theologian is to be found in hordes everywhere,
whereas a man like myself is hardly to be found once in many centuries;
unless indeed you are so superstitious that you scruple to employ a few
harmless lies to help a friend. Then you must point out that she will
not be a whit the poorer if, with a few gold pieces, she helps to
restore the corrupt text of St. Jerome and the true Theology, when so
much of her wealth is being shamelessly dissipated. After dilating on
this with your customary ingenuity and writing at length on my
character, my expectations, my affection for my Lady and my shyness, you
must then add that I have written to say that I need 200 francs in all,
and request her to grant me next year's payment now; I am not inventing
this, my dear Batt; to go to Italy with 100 francs, no, less than 100
francs, seems to me a hazardous enterprise, unless I want to enslave
myself to someone once more; may I die before I do this. Then how little
difference it will make to her whether she gives me the money this year
or next, and how much it means to me! Next urge her to look out for a
benefice for me, so that on my return I may have some place where I can
pursue learning in peace. Do not stop at this, but devise on your own
the most convenient method of indicating to her that she should promise
me, before all the other candidates, at least a reasonable, if not a
splendid, benefice which I can change as soon as a better one appears. I
am well aware that there are many candidates for benefices; but you must
say that I am the one man, whom, compared with the rest, etc., etc. You
know your old way of lying profusely about Erasmus.... You will add at
the end that I have made the same complaint in my letter which Jerome
makes more than once in his letters, that study is tearing my eyes out,
that things look as if I shall have to follow his example and begin to
study with my ears and tongue only; and persuade her, in the most
amusing words at your command, to send me some sapphire or other gem
wherewith to fortify my eyesight. I would have told you myself which
gems have this virtue, but I have not Pliny at hand; get the information
out of your doctor.... Let me tell you what else I want you to attempt
still further--to extract a grant from the Abbot. You know him--invent
some modest and persuasive argument for making this request. Tell him
that I have a great design in hand--to constitute in its entirety the
text of Jerome, which has been corrupted, mutilated, and thrown into
disorder through the ignorance of the theologians (I have detected many
false and spurious pieces among his writings), and to restore the
Greek.[30] I shall reveal [in him] an ingenuity and a knowledge of
antiquities which no one, I venture to claim, has yet realized. Explain
that for this undertaking many books are needed, also Greek works, so
that I may receive a grant. Here you will not be lying, Batt; I am
wholly engaged on this work. Farewell, my best and dearest Batt, and put
all of Batt into this business. I mean Batt the friend, not Batt the


[Paris?] [16 March? 1501]

To the most illustrious prelate Antony, Abbot of St. Bertin, greetings:

... I have accidentally happened upon some Greek books, and am busy day
and night secretly copying them out. I shall be asked why I am so
delighted with Cato the Censor's example that I want to turn Greek at my
age. Indeed, most excellent Father, if in my boyhood I had been of this
mind, or rather if time had not been wanting, I should be the happiest
of men. As things are, I think it better to learn, even if a little
late, than not to know things which it is of the first importance to
have at one's command. I have already tasted of Greek literature in the
past, but merely (as the saying goes) sipped at it; however, having
lately gone a little deeper into it, I perceive--as one has often read
in the best authorities--that Latin learning, rich as it is, is
defective and incomplete without Greek; for we have but a few small
streams and muddy puddles, while they have pure springs and rivers
rolling gold. I see that it is utter madness even to touch the branch of
theology which deals chiefly with the mysteries unless one is also
provided with the equipment of Greek, as the translators of the
Scriptures, owing to their conscientious scruples, render Greek forms in
such a fashion that not even the primary sense (what our theologians
call the _literal_ sense) can be understood by persons ignorant of
Greek. Who could understand the sentence in the Psalm [Ps. 50.4 (51.3)]
_Et peccatum meum contra me est semper_,[32] unless he has read the
Greek? This runs as follows: [Greek: kai hê hamartia mou enôpion mou
esti diapantos]. At this point some theologian will spin a long story of
how the flesh is perpetually in conflict with the spirit, having been
misled by the double meaning of the preposition, that is, _contra_, when
the word [Greek: enôpion] refers not to _conflict_ but to _position_, as
if you were to say _opposite_, i.e., _in sight_: so that the Prophet's
meaning was that his fault was so hateful to him that the memory of it
never left him, but floated always before his mind as if it were
present. Further in a passage elsewhere [Ps. 91 (92. 14)], _Bene
patientes erunt ut annuncient_, everyone will be misled by the deceptive
form, unless he has learned from the Greek that, just as according to
Latin usage we say _bene facere_ of those who _do good to_ someone, so
the Greeks call [Greek: eupathountas] (_bene patientes_) those who
_suffer good to be done them_. So that the sense is, 'They will be well
treated and will be helped by my benefactions, so that they will make
mention of my beneficence towards them'. But why do I pick out a few
trifling examples from so many important ones, when I have on my side
the venerable authority of the papal Curia? There is a Curial Decree[33]
still extant in the Decretals, ordaining that persons should be
appointed in the chief academies (as they were then) capable of giving
accurate instruction in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin literature, since, as
they believed, the Scriptures could not be understood, far less
discussed, without this knowledge. This most sound and most holy decree
we so far neglect that we are perfectly satisfied with the most
elementary knowledge of the Latin language, being apparently convinced
that everything can be extracted from Duns Scotus, as it were from a

For myself I do not fight with men of this sort; each man to his taste,
as far as I am concerned; let the old man marry the old woman. It is my
delight to set foot on the path into which Jerome and the splendid host
of so many ancients summon me; so help me God, I would sooner be mad
with them than as sane as you like with the mob of modern theologians.
Besides I am attempting an arduous and, so to say, Phaethontean task--to
do my best to restore the works of Jerome, which have been partly
corrupted by those half-learned persons, and are partly--owing to the
lack of knowledge of antiquities and of Greek literature--forgotten or
mangled or mutilated or at least full of mistakes and monstrosities; not
merely to restore them but to elucidate them with commentaries, so that
each reader will acknowledge to himself that the great Jerome,
considered by the ecclesiastical world as the most perfect in both
branches of learning, the sacred and the profane, can indeed be read by
all, but can only be understood by the most learned. As I am working
hard on this design and see that I must in the first place acquire
Greek, I have decided to study for some months under a Greek
teacher,[34] a real Greek, no, twice a Greek, always hungry,[35] who
charges an immoderate fee for his lessons. Farewell.


London, 24 January [1506]

To the Reverend Father in Christ, William, Archbishop of Canterbury,
Primate of England, many greetings from Erasmus of Rotterdam, Canon of
the Order of St. Augustine:

... Having made up my mind, most illustrious prelate, to translate the
Greek authors and by so doing to revive or, if you will, promote as far
as I could theological studies--and God immortal, how miserably they
have been corrupted by sophistical nonsensicalities!--I did not wish to
give the impression that I was attempting forthwith to learn the
potter's art on a winejar[37] (as the Greek adage goes) and rushing in
with unwashen feet, as they say, on so vast an undertaking; so I decided
to begin by testing how far I had profited by my studies in both
languages, and that in a material difficult indeed, but not sacred; so
that the difficulty of the undertaking might be useful for practice and
at the same time if I made any mistakes these mistakes should involve
only the risk of my talent and leave the Holy Scriptures undamaged. And
so I endeavoured to render in Latin two tragedies of Euripides, the
_Hecuba_ and the _Iphigeneia in Aulis_, in the hope that perchance some
god might favour so bold a venture with fair breezes. Then, seeing that
a specimen of the work begun found favour with persons excellently well
versed in both tongues (assuredly England by now possesses several of
these, if I may acknowledge the truth without envy, men deserving of the
admiration even of all Italy in any branch of learning), I brought the
work to a finish, with the good help of the Muses, within a few short
months. At what a cost in exertion, those will best feel who enter the
same lists.

Why so? Because the mere task of putting real Greek into real Latin is
such that it requires an extraordinary artist, and not only a man with a
rich store of scholarship in both languages at his fingertips, but one
exceedingly alert and observant; so that for several centuries now none
has appeared whose efforts in this field were unanimously approved by
scholars. It is surely easy then to conjecture what a heavy task it has
proved to render verse in verse, particularly verse so varied and
unfamiliar, and to do this from a writer not merely so remote in time,
and withal a tragedian, but also marvellously concise, taut and
unadorned, in whom there is nothing otiose, nothing which it would not
be a crime to alter or remove; and besides, one who treats rhetorical
topics so frequently and so acutely that he appears to be everywhere
declaiming. Add to all this the choruses, which through I know not what
striving after effect are so obscure that they need not so much a
translator as an Oedipus or priest of Apollo to interpret them. In
addition there is the corrupt state of the manuscripts, the dearth of
copies, the absence of any translators to whom one can have recourse. So
I am not so much surprised that even in this most prolific age none of
the Italians has ventured to attempt the task of translating any tragedy
or comedy, whereas many have set their hand to Homer (among these even
Politian[38] failed to satisfy himself); one man[39] has essayed Hesiod,
and that without much success; another[40] has attempted Theocritus, but
with even far more unfortunate results: and finally Francesco Filelfo
has translated the first scene of the Hecuba in one of his funeral
orations.[41] (I first learned this after I had begun my version), but
in such a way that, great as he is, his work gave me courage enough to
proceed, overprecise as I am in other respects.

Then for me the lure of this poet's more than honeyed eloquence, which
even his enemies allow him, proved stronger than the deterrent of these
great examples and the many difficulties of the work, so that I have
been bold to attack a task never before attempted, in the hope that,
even if I failed, my honest readers would consider even this poor effort
of mine not altogether unpraiseworthy, and the more grudging would at
least be lenient to an inexperienced translator of a work so difficult:
in particular because I have deliberately added no light burden to my
other difficulties through my conscientiousness as a translator, in
attempting so far as possible to reproduce the shape and as it were
contours of the Greek verse, by striving to render line for line and
almost word for word, and everywhere seeking with the utmost fidelity to
convey to Latin ears the force and value of the sentence: whether it be
that I do not altogether approve of the freedom in translation which
Cicero allows others and practised himself (I would almost say to an
immoderate degree), or that as an inexperienced translator I preferred
to err on the side of seeming over-scrupulous rather than
over-free--hesitating on the sandy shore instead of wrecking my ship and
swimming in the midst of the billows; and I preferred to run the risk of
letting scholars complain of lack of brilliance and poetic beauty in my
work rather than of lack of fidelity to the original. Finally I did not
want to set myself up as a paraphraser, thus securing myself that
retreat which many use to cloak their ignorance, wrapping themselves
like the cuttle-fish in darkness of their own making to avoid detection.
Now, if readers do not find here the grandiloquence of Latin tragedy,
'the bombast and the words half a yard long,' as Horace calls it, they
must not blame me if in performing my function of translator I have
preferred to reproduce the concise simplicity and elegance of my
original, and not the bombast to which he is a stranger, and which I do
not greatly admire at any time.

Furthermore, I am encouraged to hope with all certainty that these
labours of mine will be most excellently protected against the calumnies
of the unjust, as their publication will be most welcome to the honest
and just, if you, most excellent Father, have voted them your approval.
For me it was not difficult to select you from the great host of
illustrious and distinguished men to be the recipient of this product of
my vigils, as the one man I have observed to be--aside from the
brilliance of your fortune--so endowed, adorned and showered with
learning, eloquence, good sense, piety, modesty, integrity, and lastly
with an extraordinary liberality towards those who cultivate good
letters, that the word Primate suits none better than yourself, who hold
the first place not solely by reason of your official dignity, but far
more because of all your virtues, while at the same time you are the
principal ornament of the Court and the sole head of the ecclesiastical
hierarchy. If I have the fortune to win for this my work the
commendation of a man so highly commended I shall assuredly not repent
of the exertions I have so far expended, and will be forward to promote
theological studies with even more zeal for the future.

Farewell, and enrol Erasmus in the number of those who are
wholeheartedly devoted to Your Fathership.


On the reverse his device and motto]



Bologna, 28 October [1507]

To Aldus Manutius of Rome, many greetings:

... I have often wished, most learned Manutius, that the light you have
cast on Greek and Latin literature, not by your printing alone and your
splendid types, but by your brilliance and your uncommon learning, could
have been matched by the profit you in your turn drew from them. So far
as _fame_ is concerned, the name of Aldus Manutius will without doubt be
on the lips of all devotees of sacred literature unto all posterity; and
your memory will be--as your fame now is--not merely illustrious but
loved and cherished as well, because you are engaged, as I hear, in
reviving and disseminating the good authors--with extreme diligence but
not at a commensurate profit--undergoing truly Herculean labours,
labours splendid indeed and destined to bring you immortal glory, but
meanwhile more profitable to others than to yourself. I hear that you
are printing Plato[43] in Greek types; very many scholars eagerly await
the book. I should like to know what medical authors you have printed; I
wish you would give us Paul of Aegina.[44] I wonder what has prevented
you from publishing the New Testament[45] long since--a work which would
delight even the common people (if I conjecture aright) but particularly
my own class, the theologians.

I send you two tragedies[46] which I have been bold enough to translate,
whether with success you yourself shall judge. Thomas Linacre, William
Grocyn, William Latimer, Cuthbert Tunstall, friends of yours as well as
of mine, thought highly of them; you know yourself that they are too
learned to be deceived in their judgement, and too sincere to want to
flatter a friend--unless their affection for me has somewhat blinded
them; the Italians to whom I have so far shown my attempt do not condemn
it. It has been printed by Badius, successfully as far as he is
concerned, so he writes, for he has now sold all the copies to his
satisfaction. But my reputation has not been enhanced thereby, so full
is it all of mistakes, and in fact he offers his services to repair the
first edition by printing a second. But I am afraid of his mending ill
with ill, as the Sophoclean saying goes. I should consider my labours to
have been immortalized if they could come out printed in your types,
particularly the smaller types, the most beautiful of all. This will
result in the volume being very small and the business being concluded
at little expense. If you think it convenient to undertake the affair, I
will supply you with a corrected copy, which I send by the bearer,
_gratis_, except that you may wish to send me a few volumes as gifts for
my friends.

I should not have hesitated to attempt the publication at my own risk
and expense, were it not that I have to leave Italy within a few months:
so I should much like to have the business concluded as soon as
possible; in fact it is hardly ten days' work. If you insist on my
taking a hundred or two hundred volumes, though the god of gain does not
usually favour me and it will be most inconvenient to transport the
package, I shall not refuse, if only you fix a horse as the price.
Farewell, most learned Aldus, and reckon Erasmus as one of your

If you have any rare authors in your press, I shall be obliged if you
will indicate this--my learned British friends have asked me to search
for them. If you decide not to print the _Tragedies_, will you return
the copy to the bearer to bring back to me?


[Paris?] 9 June [1511]

To his friend Thomas More, greetings:

... In days gone by, on my journey back from Italy into England, in
order not to waste all the time that must needs be spent on horseback in
dull and unlettered gossiping, I preferred at times either to turn over
in my mind some topic of our common studies or to give myself over to
the pleasing recollection of the friends, as learned as they are
beloved, whom I had left behind me in England. You were among the very
first of these to spring to mind, my dear More; indeed I used to enjoy
the memory of you in absence even as I was wont to delight in your
present company, than which I swear I never in my life met anything
sweeter. Therefore, since I thought that I must at all hazards do
_something_, and that time seemed ill suited to serious meditation, I
determined to amuse myself with the _Praise of Folly_. You will ask what
goddess put this into my mind. In the first place it was your family
name of More, which comes as near to the word _moria_ [folly] as you
yourself are far from the reality--everyone agrees that you are far
removed from it. Next I suspected that you above all would approve this
_jeu d'esprit_ of mine, in that you yourself do greatly delight in jests
of this kind, that is, jests learned (if I mistake not) and at no time
insipid, and altogether like to play in some sort the Democritus[48] in
the life of society. Although you indeed, owing to your incredibly sweet
and easy-going character, are both able and glad to be all things to all
men, even as your singularly penetrating intellect causes you to dissent
widely from the opinions of the herd. So you will not only gladly accept
this little declamation as a memento of your comrade, but will also take
it under your protection, inasmuch as it is dedicated to you and is now
no longer mine but yours.

And indeed there will perhaps be no lack of brawlers to represent that
trifles are more frivolous than becomes a theologian, or more mordant
than suits with Christian modesty, and they will be crying out that I am
reviving the Old Comedy or Lucian and assailing everything with biting
satire. But I would have those who are offended by the levity and
sportiveness of my theme reflect that it was not I that began this, but
that the same was practised by great writers in former times; seeing
that so many centuries ago Homer made his trifle _The Battle of Frogs
and Mice_, Virgil his _Gnat_ and _Dish of Herbs_ and Ovid his _Nut_;
seeing that Busiris was praised by Polycrates and his critic Isocrates,
Injustice by Glaucon, Thersites and the Quartan Fever by Favorinus,
Baldness by Synesius, the Fly and the Art of Being a Parasite by Lucian;
and that Seneca devised the Apotheosis of the Emperor Claudius, Plutarch
the Dialogue of Gryllus and Ulysses, Lucian and Apuleius the Ass, and
someone unknown the Testament of Grunnius Corocotta the Piglet,
mentioned even by St. Jerome.

So, if they will, let my detractors imagine that I have played an
occasional game of draughts for a pastime or, if they prefer, taken a
ride on a hobby-horse. How unfair it is truly, when we grant every
calling in life its amusements, not to allow the profession of learning
any amusement at all, particularly if triflings bring serious thoughts
in their train and frivolous matters are so treated that a reader not
altogether devoid of perception wins more profit from these than from
the glittering and portentous arguments of certain persons--as when for
instance one man eulogizes rhetoric or philosophy in a painfully
stitched-together oration, another rehearses the praises of some prince,
another urges us to begin a war with the Turks, another foretells the
future, and another proposes a new method of splitting hairs. Just as
there is nothing so trifling as to treat serious matters triflingly, so
there is nothing so delightful as to treat trifling matters in such
fashion that it appears that you have been doing anything but trifle. As
to me, the judgement is in other hands--and yet, unless I am altogether
misled by self-love, I have sung the praise of Folly and that not
altogether foolishly.

And now to reply to the charge of mordacity. It has ever been the
privilege of wits to satirize the life of society with impunity,
provided that licence does not degenerate into frenzy. Wherefore the
more do I marvel at the fastidiousness of men's ears in these times, who
by now can scarce endure anything but solemn appellations. Further, we
see some men so perversely religious that they will suffer the most
hideous revilings against Christ sooner than let prince or pope be
sullied by the lightest jest, particularly if this concerns monetary
gain. But if a man censures men's lives without reproving anyone at all
by name, pray do you think this man a satirist, and not rather a teacher
and admonisher? Else on how many counts do I censure myself? Moreover he
who leaves no class of men unmentioned is clearly foe to no man but to
all vices. Therefore anyone who rises up and cries out that he is
insulted will be revealing a bad conscience, or at all events fear. St.
Jerome wrote satire in this kind far more free and biting, not always
abstaining from the mention of names, whereas I myself, apart from not
mentioning anyone by name, have moreover so tempered my pen that the
sagacious reader will easily understand that my aim has been to give
pleasure, not pain; for I have at no point followed Juvenal's example in
'stirring up the murky bilge of crime', and I have sought to survey the
laughable, not the disgusting. If there is anyone whom even this cannot
appease, at least let him remember that it is a fine thing to be reviled
by Folly; in bringing her upon the stage I had to suit the words to the
character. But why need I say all this to you, an advocate so remarkable
that you can defend excellently even causes far from excellent?
Farewell, most eloquent More, and be diligent in defending your _moria_.


Cambridge, 29 October [1511]

To his friend Colet, greetings:

... Something came into my mind which I know will make you laugh. In the
presence of several Masters [of Arts] I was putting forward a view on
the Assistant Teacher, when one of them, a man of some repute, smiled
and said: 'Who could bear to spend his life in that school among boys,
when he could live anywhere in any way he liked?' I answered mildly that
it seemed to me a very honourable task to train young people in manners
and literature, that Christ himself did not despise the young, that no
age had a better right to help, and that from no quarter was a richer
return to be expected, seeing that young people were the harvest-field
and raw material of the nation. I added that all truly religious people
felt that they could not better serve God in any other duty than the
bringing of children to Christ. He wrinkled his nose and said with a
scornful gesture: 'If any man wishes to serve Christ altogether, let him
go into a monastery and enter a religious order.' I answered that St.
Paul said that true religion consisted in the offices of
charity--charity consisting in doing our best to help our neighbours.
This he rejected as an ignorant remark. 'Look,' said he, 'we have
forsaken everything: in this is perfection.' 'That man has not forsaken
everything,' said I, 'who, when he could help very many by his labours,
refuses to undertake a duty because it is regarded as humble.' And with
that, to prevent a quarrel arising, I let the man go. There you have the
dialogue. You see the Scotist philosophy! Once again, farewell.


Hammes Castle [near Calais],

8 July 1514

To the Reverend Father Servatius, many greetings:

... Most humane father, your letter has at last reached me, after
passing through many hands, when I had already left England, and it has
afforded me unbelievable delight, as it still breathes your old
affection for me. However, I shall answer briefly, as I am writing just
after the journey, and shall reply in particular on those matters which
are, as you write, strictly to the point. Men's thoughts are so varied,
'to each his own bird-song', that it is impossible to satisfy everyone.
My own feelings are that I want to follow what is best to do, God is my
witness. Those feelings which I had in my youth have been corrected
partly by age, partly by experience of the world. I have never intended
to change my mode of life or my habit--not that I liked them, but to
avoid scandal. You are aware that I was not so much led as driven to
this mode of life by the obstinate determination of my guardians and the
wrongful urgings of others, and that afterwards, when I realized that
this kind of life was quite unsuited to me (for not all things suit all
men), I was held back by Cornelius of Woerden's reproaches and by a
certain boyish sense of shame. I was never able to endure fasting,
through some peculiarity of my constitution. Once roused from sleep I
could never fall asleep again for several hours. I was so drawn towards
literature, which is not practised in the monastery, that I do not doubt
that if I had chanced on some free mode of life I could have been
numbered not merely among the happy but even among the good.

So, when I realized that I was by no means fit for this mode of life,
that I had taken it up under compulsion and not of my own free will,
nevertheless, as public opinion in these days regards it as a crime to
break away from a mode of life once taken up, I had resolved to endure
with fortitude this part of my unhappiness also--you know that I am in
many things unfortunate. But I have always regarded this one thing as
harder than all the rest, that I had been forced into a mode of life for
which I was totally unfit both in body and in mind: in mind, because I
abhorred ritual and loved liberty; in body, because even had I been
perfectly satisfied with the life, my constitution could not endure such
labours. One may object that I had a year of probation, as it is called,
and that I was of ripe age. Ridiculous! As if anyone could expect a boy
of sixteen, particularly one with a literary training, to know himself
(an achievement even for an old man), or to have succeeded in learning
in a single year what many do not yet understand in their grey hairs.
Though I myself never liked the life, still less after I had tried it,
but was trapped in the way I have mentioned; although I confess that the
truly good man will live a good life in any calling. And I do not deny
that I was prone to grievous vices, but not of so utterly corrupt a
nature that I could not have come to some good, had I found a kindly
guide, a true Christian, not one given to Jewish scruples.

Meanwhile I looked about to find in what kind of life I could be least
bad, and I believe indeed that I have attained this. I have spent my
life meantime among sober men, in literary studies, which have kept me
off many vices. I have been able to associate with true followers of
Christ, whose conversation has made me a better man. I do not now boast
of my books, which you at Steyn perhaps despise.

But many confess that they have become not merely more knowledgeable,
but even better men through reading them. Passion for money has never
affected me. I am quite untouched by the thirst for fame. I have never
been a slave to pleasures, although I was formerly inclined to them.
Over-indulgence and drunkenness I have ever loathed and avoided. But
whenever I thought of returning to your society, I remembered the
jealousy of many, the contempt of all, the conversations how dull, how
foolish, how un-Christlike, the feasts how unclerical! In short the
whole way of life, from which if you remove the ritual, I do not see
what remains that one could desire. Lastly I remembered my frail
constitution, now weakened by age, disease and hard work, as a result of
which I should fail to satisfy you and kill myself. For several years
now I have been subject to the stone, a severe and deadly illness, and
for several years I have drunk nothing but wine, and not all kinds of
wine at that, owing to my disease; I cannot endure all kinds of food nor
indeed all climates. The illness is very liable to recur and demands a
very careful regimen; and I know the climate in Holland and your style
of living, not to mention your ways. So, had I come back to you, all I
would have achieved would have been to bring trouble on you and death on

But perhaps you think it a great part of happiness to die amid one's
fellow-brethren? This belief deceives and imposes not on you alone but
on nearly everyone. We make Christian piety depend on place, dress,
style of living and on certain little rituals. We think a man lost who
changes his white dress for black, or his cowl for a cap, or
occasionally moves from place to place. I should dare to say that
Christian piety has suffered great damage from these so-called religious
practices, although it may be that their first introduction was due to
pious zeal. They then gradually increased and divided into thousands of
distinctions; this was helped by a papal authority which was too lax and
easy-going in many cases. What more defiled or more impious than these
lax rituals? And if you turn to those that are commended, no, to the
most highly commended, apart from some dreary Jewish rituals, I know not
what image of Christ one finds in them. It is these on which they preen
themselves, these by which they judge and condemn others. How much more
in conformity with the spirit of Christ to consider the whole Christian
world one home and as it were one monastery, to regard all men as one's
fellow-monks and fellow-brethren, to hold the sacrament of Baptism as
the supreme rite, and not to consider where one lives but how well one
lives! You want me to settle on a permanent abode, a course which my
very age also suggests. But the travellings of Solon, Pythagoras and
Plato are praised; and the Apostles, too, were wanderers, in particular
Paul. St. Jerome also was a monk now in Rome, now in Syria, now in
Antioch, now here, now there, and even in his old age pursued literary

But I am not to be compared with St. Jerome--I agree; yet I have never
moved unless forced by the plague or for reasons of study or health, and
wherever I have lived (I shall say this of myself, arrogantly perhaps,
but truthfully) I have been commended by the most highly commended and
praised by the most praised. There is no land, neither Spain nor Italy
nor Germany nor France nor England nor Scotland, which does not summon
me to partake of its hospitality. And if I am not liked by all (which is
not my aim), at all events I am liked in the highest places of all. At
Rome there was no cardinal who did not welcome me like a brother; in
particular the Cardinal of St. George,[50] the Cardinal of Bologna,[51]
Cardinal Grimani, the Cardinal of Nantes,[52] and the present Pope,[53]
not to mention bishops, archdeacons and men of learning. And this honour
was not a tribute to wealth, which even now I neither possess nor
desire; nor to ambition, a failing to which I have ever been a stranger;
but solely to learning, which our countrymen ridicule, while the
Italians worship it. In England there is no bishop who is not glad to be
greeted by me, who does not desire my company, who does not want me in
his home. The King himself, a little before his father's death, when I
was in Italy, wrote a most affectionate letter to me with his own hand,
and now too speaks often of me in the most honourable and affectionate
terms; and whenever I greet him he welcomes me most courteously and
looks at me in a most friendly fashion, making it plain that his
feelings for me are as friendly as his speeches. And he has often
commissioned his Almoner[54] to find a benefice for me. The Queen sought
to take me as her tutor. Everyone knows that, if I were prepared to live
even a few months at Court, he would heap on me as many benefices as I
cared for; but I put my leisure and my learned labours before
everything. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of all England and
Chancellor of the Realm, a good and learned man, could not treat me with
more affection were I his father or brother. And that you may understand
that he is sincere in this, he gave me a living of nearly 100 nobles,
which afterwards at my wish he changed into a pension of 100 crowns on
my resignation; in addition he has given me more than 400 nobles during
the last few years, although I never asked for anything. He gave me 150
nobles in one day. I received more than 100 nobles from other bishops in
freely offered gifts. Mountjoy, a baron of the realm, formerly my pupil,
gives me annually a pension of 100 crowns. The King and the Bishop of
Lincoln, who has great influence through the King, make many splendid
promises. There are two universities in England, Oxford and Cambridge,
and both of them want me; at Cambridge I taught Greek and sacred
literature for several months, for nothing, and have resolved always to
do this. There are colleges here so religious, and of such modesty in
living, that you would spurn any other religious life, could you see
them. In London there is John Colet, Dean of St. Paul's, who has
combined great learning with a marvellous piety, a man greatly respected
by all. He is so fond of me, as all know, that he prefers my company
above all others'; I do not mention many others, lest I doubly vex you
with my loquacity as well as my boasting.

Now to say something of my works--I think you have read the
_Enchiridion_,[55] through which not a few confess themselves inspired
to the study of piety; I make no claim for myself, but give thanks to
Christ for any good which has come to pass through me by His giving. I
do not know whether you have seen the _Adagia_,[56] printed by Aldus. It
is not a theological work, but most useful for every branch of learning;
at least it cost me countless labours and sleepless nights. I have
published a work _De rerum verborumque copia_,[57] dedicated to my
friend Colet, very useful for those who desire to speak in public; but
all these are despised by those who despise all good learning. During
the last two years, apart from much else, I have emended the _Letters_
of St. Jerome, obelizing what was false and spurious and explaining the
obscure passages with notes. I have corrected the whole of the New
Testament from collations of the Greek and ancient manuscripts, and have
annotated more than a thousand passages, not without some benefit to
theologians. I have begun commentaries on the _Epistles_ of St. Paul,
which I shall complete when I have published these. For I have resolved
to live and die in the study of the Scriptures. I make these my work and
my leisure. Men of consequence say that I can do what others cannot in
this field; in your mode of life I shall be able to do nothing. Although
I have been intimate with so many grave and learned men, here and in
Italy and France, I have not yet found anyone who advised me to return
to you or thought this the better course. Nay, even Nicholas Werner of
blessed memory, your predecessor, would always dissuade me from this,
advising me to attach myself rather to some bishop; he would add that he
knew my mind and his little brothers' ways: those were the words he
used, in the vernacular. In the life I live now I see what I should
avoid, but do not see what would be a better course.

It now remains to satisfy you on the question of my dress. I have always
up to now worn the canon's dress, and when I was at Louvain I obtained
permission from the Bishop of Utrecht to wear a linen scapular instead
of a complete linen garment, and a black capuce instead of a black
cloak, after the Parisian custom. But on my journey to Italy, seeing the
monks all along the way wearing a black garment with a scapular, I there
took to wearing black, with a scapular, to avoid giving offence by any
unusual dress. Afterwards the plague broke out at Bologna, and there
those who nurse the sick of the plague customarily wear a white linen
cloth depending from the shoulder--these avoid contact with people.
Consequently when one day I went to call on a learned friend some
rascals drew their swords and were preparing to set about me, and would
have done so, had not a certain matron warned them that I was an
ecclesiastic. Again the next day, when I was on my way to visit the
Treasurer's sons, they rushed at me with bludgeons from all directions
and attacked me with horrible cries. So on the advice of good men I
concealed my scapular, and obtained a dispensation from Pope Julius II
allowing me to wear the religious dress or not, as seemed good, provided
that I wore clerical garb; and in this document he condoned any previous
offences in the matter. In Italy I continued to wear clerical garb, lest
the change cause offence to anyone. On my return to England I decided to
wear my usual dress, and I invited to my lodging a friend of excellent
repute for his learning and mode of life and showed him the dress I had
decided to wear; I asked him whether this was suitable in England. He
approved, so I appeared in public in this dress. I was at once warned by
other friends that this dress could not be tolerated in England, that I
had better conceal it. I did so; and as it cannot be concealed without
causing scandal if it is eventually discovered, I stored it away in a
box, and up to now have taken advantage of the Papal dispensation
received formerly. Ecclesiastical law excommunicates anyone who casts
off the religious habit so as to move more freely in secular society. I
put it off under compulsion in Italy, to escape being killed; and
likewise under compulsion in England, because it was not tolerated
there, although myself I should much prefer to have worn it. To adopt it
again now would cause more scandal than did the change itself.

There you have an account of my whole life, there you have my plans. I
should like to change even this present mode of life, if I see a better.
But I do not see what I am to do in Holland. I know that the climate and
way of living will not agree with me; I shall have everyone looking at
me. I shall return a white-haired old man, having gone away as a
youth--I shall return a valetudinarian; I shall be exposed to the
contempt of the lowest, used as I am to the respect of the highest. I
shall exchange my studies for drinking-parties. As to your promising me
your help in finding me a place where I can live with an excellent
income, as you write, I cannot conjecture what this can be, unless
perhaps you intend to place me among some community of nuns, to serve
women--I who have never been willing to serve kings nor archbishops. I
want no pay; I have no desire for riches, if only I have money enough to
provide for my health and my literary leisure, to enable me to live
without burdening anyone. I wish we could discuss these things together
face to face; it cannot be done in a letter conveniently or safely. Your
letter, although it was sent by most reliable persons, went so far
astray that if I had not accidentally come to this castle I should never
have seen it; and many people had looked at it before I received it. So
do not mention anything secret unless you know for certain where I am
and have a very trustworthy messenger. I am now on my way to Germany,
that is, Basle, to have my works published, and this winter I shall
perhaps be in Rome. On my return journey I shall see to it that we meet
and talk somewhere. But now the summer is nearly over and it is a long
journey. Farewell, once my sweetest comrade, now my esteemed father.


Antwerp, 26 February 1516/17

To the distinguished theologian Wolfgang Fabricius Capito of Hagenau,
skilled in the three languages, greetings:

... Now that I see that the mightiest princes of the earth, King Francis
of France, Charles the Catholic King, King Henry of England and the
Emperor Maximilian have drastically cut down all warlike preparations
and concluded a firm and, I hope, unbreakable treaty of peace, I feel
entitled to hope with confidence that not only the moral virtues and
Christian piety but also the true learning, purified of corruption, and
the fine disciplines will revive and blossom forth; particularly as this
aim is being prosecuted with equal zeal in different parts of the world,
in Rome by Pope Leo, in Spain by the Cardinal of Toledo,[59] in England
by King Henry VIII, himself no mean scholar, here by King Charles, a
young man admirably gifted, in France by King Francis, a man as it were
born for this task, who besides offers splendid rewards to attract and
entice men distinguished for virtue and learning from all parts, in
Germany by many excellent princes and bishops and above all by the
Emperor Maximilian, who, wearied in his old age of all these wars, has
resolved to find rest in the arts of peace: a resolve at once more
becoming to himself at his age and more fortunate for Christendom. It is
to these men's piety then that we owe it that all over the world, as if
on a given signal, splendid talents are stirring and awakening and
conspiring together to revive the best learning. For what else is this
but a conspiracy, when all these great scholars from different lands
share out the work among themselves and set about this noble task, not
merely with enthusiasm but with a fair measure of success, so that we
have an almost certain prospect of seeing all disciplines emerge once
more into the light of day in a far purer and more genuine form? In the
first place polite letters, for long reduced almost to extinction, are
being taken up and cultivated by the Scots, the Danes and the Irish. As
for medicine, how many champions has she found! Nicholas Leonicenus[60]
in Rome, Ambrose Leo of Nola[61] at Venice, William Cop[62] and John
Ruell[63] in France, and Thomas Linacre in England. Roman law is being
revived in Paris by William Budaeus[64] and in Germany by Ulrich
Zasius,[65] mathematics at Basle by Henry Glareanus.[66]

In theology there was more to do, for up till now its professors have
almost always been men with an ingrained loathing for good learning, men
who conceal their ignorance the more successfully as they do this on
what they call a religious pretext, so that the ignorant herd is
persuaded by them to believe it a violation of religion if anyone
proceeds to attack their barbarism; for they prefer to wail for help to
the uneducated mob and incite it to stone-throwing if they see any
danger of their ignorance on any point coming to light. But I am
confident that here, too, all will go well as soon as the knowledge of
the three languages [Greek, Latin and Hebrew] becomes accepted publicly
in the schools, as it has begun to be.... The humblest share in this
work has fallen on me, as is fitting; I know not whether I have
contributed anything of value; at all events I have infuriated those who
do not want the world to come to its senses, so that it seems as if my
poor efforts also have not been ineffective: although I have not
undertaken the work in the belief that, I could teach anything
magnificent, but I wanted to open a road for others, destined to attempt
greater things, that they might with greater ease ascend the shining
heights without running into so many rough and quaggy places. Yet this
humble diligence of mine is not disdained by the honest and learned, and
none complain of it but a few so stupid that they are hissed off the
stage by even ordinary persons of any intelligence. Here not long ago
someone complained tearfully before the people, in a sermon of course,
that it was all over with the Scriptures and the theologians who had
hitherto upheld the Christian faith on their shoulders, now that men had
arisen to emend the Holy Gospel and the very words of Our Lord: just as
if I was rebuking Matthew or Luke instead of those whose ignorance or
negligence had corrupted what they wrote correctly. In England one or
two persons complain loudly that it is a shameful thing that _I_ should
dare to teach a great man like St. Jerome: as if I had changed what St.
Jerome wrote, instead of restoring it!

Yet those who snarl out suchlike dirges, which any laundryman with a
little sense would scoff at, think themselves great theologians ... Not
that I want the kind of theology which is customary in the schools
nowadays consigned to oblivion; I wish it to be rendered more
trustworthy and more correct by the accession of the old, true learning.
It will not weaken the authority of the Scriptures or theologians if
certain passages hitherto considered corrupt are henceforth read in an
emended form, or if passages are more correctly understood on which up
till now the mass of theologians have entertained delusions: no, it will
give greater weight to their authority, the more genuine their
understanding of the Scriptures. I have sustained the shock of the first
meeting, which Terence calls the sharpest.... One doubt still troubles
me; I fear that under cover of the rebirth of ancient learning paganism
may seek to rear its head, as even among Christians there are those who
acknowledge Christ in name only, but in their hearts are Gentiles; or
that with the renascence of Hebrew studies Judaism may seek to use this
opportunity of revival; and there can be nothing more contrary or more
hostile to the teaching of Christ than this plague. This is the nature
of human affairs--nothing good has ever so flourished but some evil has
attempted to use it as a pretext for insinuating itself. I could wish
that those dreary quibblings could be either done away with or at least
cease to be the sole activity of theologians, and that the simplicity
and purity of Christ could penetrate deeply into the minds of men; and
this I think can best be brought to pass if with the help provided by
the three languages we exercise our minds in the actual sources. But I
pray that we may avoid this evil without falling into another perhaps
graver error. Recently several pamphlets have been published reeking of
unadulterated Judaism.


Louvain, 5 March 1518

To his friend More, greeting:

... First of all I ask you to entrust to the bearer, my servant John,
any letters of mine or yours which you consider fit for publication with
the alteration of some passages; I am simply compelled to publish my
letters whether I like it or not. Send off the lad so that he returns
here as quickly as possible. If you discover that Urswick is
ill-disposed towards me perhaps he should not be troubled; otherwise,
help me in the matter of a horse--I shall need one just now when I am
about to go to Basle or Venice, chiefly for the purpose of bringing out
the New Testament.[67] Such is my fate, dear More. I shall enact this
part of my play also. Afterwards, I almost feel inclined to sing 'for
myself and the Muses'; my age and my health, which grows daily worse,
almost require this. Over here scoundrels in disguise are so
all-powerful, and no one here makes money but innkeepers, advocates, and
begging friars. It is unendurable when many speak ill and none do good.

At Basle they make the elegant preface added by Budaeus the excuse for
the delay over your Utopia. They have now received it and have started
on the work. Then Froben's father-in-law Lachner died. But Froben's
press will be sweating over our studies none the less. I have not yet
had a chance of seeing Linacre's _Therapeutice_,[68] through some
conspiracy of the Parisians against me. Inquire courteously of Lupset on
the Appendix[69] to my _Copia_ and send it.

The Pope and the princes are up to some new tricks on the pretext of the
savagery of the war against the Turks. Wretched Turks! May we Christians
not be too cruel! Even wives are affected. All married men between the
ages of twenty-six and fifty will be compelled to take up arms.
Meanwhile the Pope forbids the wives of men absent at the war to indulge
in pleasure at home; they are to eschew elegant apparel, must not wear
silk, gold or any jewellery, must not touch rouge or drink wine, and
must fast every other day, that God may favour their husbands engaged in
this cruel war. If there are men tied at home by necessary business,
their wives must none the less observe the same rules as they would have
had to observe if their husbands had gone to the war. They are to sleep
in the same room but in different beds; and not a kiss is to be given
meanwhile until this terrible war reaches a successful conclusion under
Christ's favour. I know that these enactments will irritate wives who do
not sufficiently ponder the importance of the business; though I know
that your wife, sensible as she is, and obedient in regard to a matter
of Christian observance, will even be glad to obey.

I send Pace's pamphlet, the _Conclusions on Papal Indulgences_,[70] and
the _Proposal for Undertaking a War against the Turks_,[71] as I suspect
that they have not yet reached England. They write from Cologne that
some pamphlet about an argument between Julius and Peter at the gates of
Paradise[72] has now been printed; they do not add the author's name.
The German presses will not cease from their mad pranks until their
rashness is restrained by some law; this does me much harm, who am
endeavouring to help the world....

I beg you to let my servant sleep one or two nights with yours, to
prevent his chancing on an infected house, and to afford him anything he
may need, although I have supplied him with travelling money myself. I
have at last seen the _Utopia_ at Paris printed, but with many
misprints. It is now in the press at Basle; I had threatened to break
with them unless they took more trouble with that business than with
mine. Farewell, most sincere of friends.


Louvain [_c._ 15 October] 1518

To his friend Rhenanus, greetings:

... Let me describe to you, my dear Beatus, the whole tragi-comedy of my
journey. I was still weak and listless, as you know, when I left Basle,
not having come to terms with the climate, after skulking at home so
long, and occupied in uninterrupted labors at that. The river voyage was
not unpleasant, but that around midday the heat of the sun was somewhat
trying. We had a meal at Breisach, the most unpleasant meal I have ever
had. The smell of food nearly finished me, and then the flies, worse
than the smell. We sat at table doing nothing for more than half an
hour, waiting for them to produce their banquet, if you please. In the
end nothing fit to eat was served; filthy porridge with lumps in it and
salt fish reheated not for the first time, enough to make one sick. I
did not call on Gallinarius. The man who brought word that he was
suffering from a slight fever also told me a pretty story; that Minorite
theologian with whom I had disputed about _heceitas_[74] had taken it on
himself to pawn the church chalices. Scotist ingenuity! Just before
nightfall we were put out at a dull village; I did not feel like
discovering its name, and if I knew I should not care to tell you it. I
nearly perished there. We had supper in a small room like a
sweating-chamber, more than sixty of us, I should say, an indiscriminate
collection of rapscallions, and this went on till nearly ten o'clock;
oh, the stench, and the noise, particularly after they had become
intoxicated! Yet we had to remain sitting to suit their clocks.

In the morning while it was still quite dark we were driven from bed by
the shouting of the sailors. I went on board without having either
supped or slept. We reached Strasbourg before lunch, at about nine
o'clock; there we had a more comfortable reception, particularly as
Schürer produced some wine. Some of the Society[75] were there, and
afterwards they all came to greet me, Gerbel outdoing all the rest in
politeness. Gebwiler and Rudolfingen did not want me to pay, no new
thing with them. Thence we proceeded on horseback as far as Speyer; we
saw no sign of soldiers anywhere, although there had been alarming
rumours. The English horse completely collapsed and hardly got to
Speyer; that criminal smith had handled him so badly that he ought to
have both his ears branded with red-hot iron. At Speyer I slipped away
from the inn and took myself to my neighbour Maternus. There Decanus, a
learned and cultivated man, entertained me courteously and agreeably for
two days. Here I accidentally found Hermann Busch.

From Speyer I travelled by carriage to Worms, and from there again to
Mainz. There was an Imperial secretary, Ulrich Varnbüler,[76] travelling
by chance in the same carriage. He devoted himself to me with incredible
assiduity over the whole journey, and at Mainz would not allow me to go
into the inn but took me to the house of a canon; on my departure he
accompanied me to the boat. The voyage was not unpleasant as the weather
was fine, excepting that the crew took care to make it somewhat long; in
addition to this the stench of the horses incommoded me. For the first
day John Langenfeld, who formerly taught at Louvain, and a lawyer friend
of his came with me as a mark of politeness. There was also a
Westphalian, John, a canon at St. Victor's outside Mainz, a most
agreeable and entertaining man.

After arriving at Boppard, as I was taking a walk along the bank while a
boat was being procured, someone recognized me and betrayed me to the
customs officer, 'That is the man.' The customs officer's name is, if I
mistake not, Christopher Cinicampius, in the common speech Eschenfelder.
You would not believe how the man jumped for joy. He dragged me into his
house. Books by Erasmus were lying on a small table amongst the customs
agreements. He exclaimed at his good fortune and called in his wife and
children and all his friends. Meanwhile he sent out to the sailors who
were calling for me two tankards of wine, and another two when they
called out again, promising that when he came back he would remit the
toll to the man who had brought him a man like myself. From Boppard John
Flaminius, chaplain to the nuns there, a man of angelic purity, of sane
and sober judgement and no common learning, accompanied me as far as
Coblenz. At Coblenz Matthias, Chancellor to the Bishop, swept us off to
his house--he is a young man but of staid manners, and has an accurate
knowledge of Latin, besides being a skilled lawyer. There we supped

At Bonn the canon left us, to avoid Cologne: I wanted to avoid Cologne
myself, but the servant had preceded me thither with the horses, and
there was no reliable person in the boat whom I could have charged with
the business of calling back my servant; I did not trust the sailors. So
we docked at Cologne before six o'clock in the morning on a Sunday, the
weather being by now pestilential. I went into an inn and gave orders to
the ostlers to hire me a carriage and pair, ordering a meal to be made
ready by ten o'clock. I attended Divine Service, the lunch was delayed.
I had no luck with the carriage and pair. I tried to hire a horse; my
own were useless. Everything failed. I realized what was up; they were
trying to make me stop there. I immediately ordered my horses to be
harnessed, and one bag to be loaded; the other bag I entrusted to the
innkeeper, and on my lame horse rode quickly to the Count of
Neuenahr's[77]--a five-hour journey. He was staying at Bedburg.

With the Count I stayed five days very pleasantly, in such peace and
quiet that while staying with him I completed a good part of the
revision--I had taken that part of the New Testament with me. Would that
you knew him, my dear Beatus! He is a young man but of rare good sense,
more than you would find in an old man; he speaks little, but as Homer
says of Menelaus, he speaks 'in clear tones,' and intelligently too; he
is learned without pretentiousness in more than one branch of study,
wholly sincere and a good friend. By now I was strong and lusty, and
well pleased with myself, and was hoping to be in a good state when I
visited the Bishop of Liége and to return hale and hearty to my friends
in Brabant. What dinner-parties, what felicitations, what discussions I
promised myself! But ah, deceptive human hopes! ah, the sudden and
unexpected vicissitudes of human affairs! From these high dreams of
happiness I was hurled to the depths of misfortune.

I had hired a carriage and pair for the next day. My companion, not
wanting to say goodbye before night, announced that he would see me in
the morning before my departure. That night a wild hurricane sprang up,
which had passed before the next morning. Nevertheless I rose after
midnight, to make some notes for the Count: when it was already seven
o'clock and the Count did not emerge, I asked for him to be waked. He
came, and in his customary shy and modest way asked me whether I meant
to leave in such bad weather, saying he was afraid for me. At that
point, my dear Beatus, some god or bad angel deprived me, not of the
half of my senses, as Hesiod says, but of the whole: for he had deprived
me of half my senses when I risked going to Cologne. I wish that either
my friend had warned me more sharply or that I had paid more attention
to his most affectionate remonstrances! I was seized by the power of
fate: what else am I to say? I climbed into an uncovered carriage, the
wind blowing 'strong as when in the high mountains it shivers the
trembling holm-oaks.' It was a south wind and blowing like the very
pest. I thought I was well protected by my wrappings, but it went
through everything with its violence. Towards nightfall a light rain
came on, more noxious than the wind that preceded it: I arrived at
Aachen exhausted from the shaking of the carriage, which was so trying
to me on the stone-paved road that I should have preferred sitting on my
horse, lame as he was. Here I was carried off from the inn by a canon,
to whom the Count had recommended me, to Suderman's house. There several
canons were holding their usual drinking-party. My appetite had been
sharpened by a very light lunch; but at the time they had nothing by
them but carp, and cold carp at that. I ate to repletion. The drinking
went on well into the night. I excused myself and went to bed, as I had
had very little sleep the night before.

On the following day I was taken to the Vice-Provost's house; it was his
turn to offer hospitality. As there was no fish there apart from eel
(this was certainly the fault of the storm, as he is a magnificent host
otherwise) I lunched off a fish dried in the open air, which the Germans
call _Stockfisch_, from the rod used to beat it--it is a fish which I
enjoy at other times: but I discovered that part of this one had not
been properly cured. After lunch, as the weather was appalling, I took
myself off to the inn and ordered a fire to be lit. The canon whom I
mentioned, a most cultured man, stayed talking with me for about an hour
and a half. Meanwhile I began to feel very uncomfortable inside; as this
continued, I sent him away and went to the privy. As this gave my
stomach no relief I inserted my finger into my mouth, and the uncured
fish came up, but that was all. I lay down afterwards, not so much
sleeping as resting, without any pain in my head or body; then, having
struck a bargain with the coachman over the bags, I received an
invitation to the evening compotation. I excused myself, without
success. I knew that my stomach would not stand anything but a few sups
of warmed liquor.... On this occasion there was a magnificent spread,
but it was wasted on me. After comforting my stomach with a sup of wine,
I went home; I was sleeping at Suderman's house. As soon as I went out
of doors my empty body shivered fearfully in the night air.

On the morning of the next day, after taking a little warmed ale and a
few morsels of bread, I mounted my horse, who was lame and ailing, which
made riding more uncomfortable. By now I was in such a state that I
would have been better keeping warm in bed than mounted on horseback.
But that district is the most countrified, roughest, barren and
unattractive imaginable, the inhabitants are so idle; so that I
preferred to run away. The danger of brigands--it was very great in
those parts--or at least my fear of them, was driven out of my mind by
the discomfort of my illness.... After covering four miles on this ride
I reached Maastricht. There after a drink to soothe my stomach I
remounted and came to Tongres, about three miles away. This last ride
was by far the most painful to me. The awkward gait of the horse gave me
excruciating pains in the kidneys. It would have been easier to walk,
but I was afraid of sweating, and there was a danger of the night
catching us still out in the country. So I reached Tongres with my whole
body in a state of unbelievable agony. By now, owing to lack of food and
the exertion in addition, all my muscles had given way, so that I could
not stand or walk steadily. I concealed the severity of my illness by my
tongue--that was still working. Here I took a sup of ale to soothe my
stomach and retired to bed.

In the morning I ordered them to hire a carriage. I decided to go on
horseback, on account of the paving stones, until we reached an unpaved
road. I mounted the bigger horse, thinking that he would go better on
the paving and be more sure-footed. I had hardly mounted when I felt my
eyes clouding over as I met the cold air, and asked for a cloak. But
soon after this I fainted; I could be roused by a touch. Then my servant
John and the others standing by let me come to myself naturally, still
sitting on the horse. After coming to myself I got into the carriage....
By now we were approaching the town of St. Trond. I mounted once more,
not to appear an invalid, riding in a carriage. Once again the evening
air made me feel sick, but I did not faint. I offered the coachman
double the fare if he would take me the next day as far as Tirlemont, a
town six miles from Tongres. He accepted the terms. Here a guest whom I
knew told me how ill the Bishop of Liége had taken my leaving for Basle
without calling on him. After soothing my stomach with a drink I went to
bed, and had a very bad night.... Here by chance I found a coach going
to Louvain, six miles away, and threw myself into it. I made the journey
in incredible and almost unendurable discomfort; however we reached
Louvain by seven o'clock on that day.

I had no intention of going to my own room, whether because I had a
suspicion that all would be cold there, or that I did not want to run
the risk of interfering with the amenities of the College in any way, if
I started a rumour of the plague. I went to Theodoric the printer's....
During the night a large ulcer broke without my feeling it, and the pain
had died down. The next day I called a surgeon. He applied poultices. A
third ulcer had appeared on my back, caused by a servant at Tongres when
he was anointing me with oil of roses for the pain in the kidneys and
rubbed one of my ribs too hard with a horny finger.... The surgeon on
his way out told Theodoric and his servant secretly that it was the
plague; he would send poultices, but would not come to see me
himself.... When the surgeon failed to return after a day or two, I
asked Theodoric the reason. He made some excuse. But I, suspecting what
the matter was, said 'What, does he think it is the plague?'
'Precisely,' said he, 'he insists that you have three plague-sores.' I
laughed, and did not allow myself even to imagine that I had the plague.
After some days the surgeon's father came, examined me, and assured me
that it was the true plague. Even so, I could not be convinced. I
secretly sent for another doctor who had a great reputation. He examined
me, and being something of a clown said, 'I should not be afraid to
sleep with you--and make love to you too, if you were a woman....'
[Still another doctor is summoned but does not return as promised,
sending his servant instead.] I dismissed the man and losing my temper
with the doctors, commended myself to Christ as my doctor.

My appetite came back within three days.... I then immediately returned
to my studies and completed what was still wanting to my New
Testament.... I had given orders as soon as I arrived that no one was to
visit me unless summoned by name, lest I should frighten anyone or
suffer inconvenience from anyone's assiduity; but Dorp forced his way in
first of all, then Ath. Mark Laurin and Paschasius Berselius, who came
every day, did much to make me well with their delightful company.

My dear Beatus, who would have believed that this meagre delicate body
of mine, weakened now by age also, could have succeeded, after all the
troubles of travel and all my studious exertions, in standing up to all
these physical ills as well? You know how ill I was not long ago at
Basle, more than once. I was beginning to suspect that that year would
be fatal to me: illness followed illness, always more severe. But, at
the very time when this illness was at its height, I felt no torturing
desire to live and no trepidation at the fear of death. My whole hope
was in Christ alone, and I prayed only that he would give me what he
judged most salutary for me. In my youth long ago, as I remember, I
would shiver at the very name of death. This at least I have achieved as
I have grown older, that I do not greatly fear death, and I do not
measure man's happiness by number of days. I have passed my fiftieth
year; as so few out of so many reach this age, I cannot rightly complain
that I have not lived long enough. And then, if this has any relevance,
I have by now already prepared a monument to bear witness to posterity
that I have lived. And perhaps if, as the poets tell, jealousy falls
silent after death, fame will shine out the more brightly: although it
ill becomes a Christian heart to be moved by human glory; may I have the
glory of pleasing Christ! Farewell, my dearest Beatus. The rest you will
learn from my letter to Capito.


Louvain, 30 May 1519

Best greetings, most beloved brother in Christ. Your letter was most
welcome to me, displaying a shrewd wit and breathing a Christian spirit.

I could never find words to express what commotions your books have
brought about here. They cannot even now eradicate from their minds the
most false suspicion that your works were composed with my aid, and that
I am the standard-bearer of this party, as they call it. They thought
that they had found a handle wherewith to crush good learning--which
they mortally detest as threatening to dim the majesty of theology, a
thing they value far above Christ--and at the same time to crush me,
whom they consider as having some influence on the revival of studies.
The whole affair was conducted with such clamourings, wild talk,
trickery, detraction and cunning that, had I not been present and
witnessed, nay, _felt_ all this, I should never have taken any man's
word for it that theologians could act so madly. You would have thought
it some mortal plague. And yet the poison of this evil beginning with a
few has spread so far abroad that a great part of this University was
running mad with the infection of this not uncommon disease.

I declared that you were quite unknown to me, that I had not yet read
your books, and accordingly neither approved nor disapproved of anything
in them. I only warned them not to clamour before the populace in so
hateful a manner without having yet read your books: this matter was
_their_ concern, whose judgement should carry the greatest weight.
Further I begged them to consider also whether it were expedient to
traduce before a mixed multitude views which were more properly refuted
in books or discussed between educated persons, particularly as the
author's way of life was extolled by one and all. I failed miserably; up
to this day they continue to rave in their insinuating, nay, slanderous
disputations. How often have we agreed to make peace! How often have
they stirred up new commotions from some rashly conceived shred of
suspicion! And these men think themselves theologians! Theologians are
not liked in Court circles here; this too they put down to me. The
bishops all favour me greatly. These men put no trust in books, their
hope of victory is based on cunning alone. I disdain them, relying on my
knowledge that I am in the right. They are becoming a little milder
towards yourself. They fear my pen, because of their bad conscience; and
I would indeed paint them in their true colours, as they deserve, did
not Christ's teaching and example summon me elsewhere. Wild beasts can
be tamed by kindness, which makes these men wild.

There are persons in England, and they in the highest positions, who
think very well of your writings. Here, too, there are people, among
them the Bishop of Liége, who favour your followers. As for me, I keep
myself as far as possible neutral, the better to assist the new
flowering of good learning; and it seems to me that more can be done by
unassuming courteousness than by violence. It was thus that Christ
brought the world under His sway, and thus that Paul made away with the
Jewish Law, by interpreting all things allegorically. It is wiser to cry
out against those who abuse the Popes' authority than against the Popes
themselves: and I think that we should act in the same way with the
Kings. As for the schools, we should not so much reject them as recall
them to more reasonable studies. Where things are too generally accepted
to be suddenly eradicated from men's minds, we must argue with repeated
and efficacious proofs and not make positive assertions. The poisonous
contentions of certain persons are better ignored than refuted. We must
everywhere take care never to speak or act arrogantly or in a party
spirit: this I believe is pleasing to the spirit of Christ. Meanwhile we
must preserve our minds from being seduced by anger, hatred or ambition;
these feelings are apt to lie in wait for us in the midst of our
strivings after piety.

I am not advising you to do this, but only to continue doing what you
are doing. I have looked into your Commentaries on the Psalms;[78] I am
delighted with them, and hope that they will do much good. At Antwerp we
have the Prior of the Monastery,[79] a Christian without spot, who loves
you exceedingly, an old pupil of yours as he says. He is almost alone of
them all in preaching Christ: the others preach human trivialities or
their own gain.

I have written to Melanchthon. The Lord Jesus impart you His spirit each
day more bountifully, to His own glory and the good of all. I had not
your letter at hand when writing this.


Antwerp, 23 July 1519

To the illustrious knight Ulrich Hutten, greetings:

... As to your demand for a complete portrait, as it were, of More,
would that I could execute it with a perfection to match the intensity
of your desire! It will be a pleasure, for me as well, to dwell for a
space on the contemplation of by far the sweetest friend of all. But in
the first place, it is not given to every man to explore all More's
gifts. And then I wonder whether he will tolerate being depicted by an
indifferent artist; for I think it no less a task to portray More than
it would be to portray Alexander the Great or Achilles, and they were no
more deserving of immortality than he is. Such a subject requires in
short the pencil of an Apelles; but I fear that I am more like Horace's
gladiators[81] than Apelles. Nevertheless, I shall try to sketch you an
image rather than a full portrait of the whole man, so far as my
observation or recollection from long association with him in his home
has made this possible. If ever you meet him on some embassy you will
then for the first time understand how unskilled an artist you have
chosen for this commission; and I am downright afraid of your accusing
me of jealousy or blindness, that out of so many excellences so few have
been perceived by my poor sight or recorded by my jealousy.

But to begin with that side of More of which you know nothing, in height
and stature he is not tall, nor again noticeably short, but there is
such symmetry in all his limbs as leaves nothing to be desired here. He
has a fair skin, his complexion glowing rather than pale, though far
from ruddy, but for a very faint rosiness shining through. His hair is
of a darkish blond, or if you will, a lightish brown, his beard scanty,
his eyes bluish grey, with flecks here and there: this usually denotes a
happy nature and is also thought attractive by the English, whereas we
are more taken by dark eyes. It is said that no type of eyes is less
subject to defects. His expression corresponds to his character, always
showing a pleasant and friendly gaiety, and rather set in a smiling
look; and, to speak honestly, better suited to merriment than to
seriousness and solemnity, though far removed from silliness or
buffoonery. His right shoulder seems a little higher than the left,
particularly when he is walking: this is not natural to him but due to
force of habit, like many of the little habits which we pick up. There
is nothing to strike one in the rest of his body; only his hands are
somewhat clumsy, but only when compared with the rest of his appearance.
He has always from a boy been very careless of everything to do with
personal adornment, to the point of not greatly caring for those things
which according to Ovid's teaching should be the sole care of men. One
can tell even now, from his appearance in maturity, how handsome he must
have been as a young man: although when I first came to know him he was
not more than three and twenty years old, for he is now barely

His health is not so much robust as satisfactory, but equal to all tasks
becoming an honourable citizen, subject to no, or at least very few,
diseases: there is every prospect of his living long, as he has a father
of great age[83]--but a wondrously fresh and green old age. I have never
yet seen anyone less fastidious in his choice of food. Until he grew up
he liked water to drink; in this he took after his father. But so as to
avoid irritating anyone over this, he would deceive his comrades by
drinking from a pewter pot ale that was very nearly all water, often
pure water. Wine--the custom in England is to invite each other to drink
from the same goblet--he would often sip with his lips, not to give the
appearance of disliking it, and at the same time to accustom himself to
common ways. He preferred beef, salt fish, and bread of the second
quality, well risen, to the foods commonly regarded as delicacies:
otherwise he was by no means averse to all sources of innocent pleasure,
even to the appetite. He has always had a great liking for milk foods
and fruit: he enjoys eating eggs. His voice is neither strong nor at all
weak, but easily audible, by no means soft or melodious, but the voice
of a clear speaker; for he seems to have no natural gift for vocal
music, although he delights in every kind of music. His speech is
wonderfully clear and distinct, with no trace of haste or hesitation.

He likes to dress simply and does not wear silk or purple or gold
chains, excepting where it would not be decent not to wear them. It is
strange how careless he is of the formalities by which the vulgar judge
good manners. He neither insists on these from any, nor does he
anxiously force them on others whether at meetings or at entertainments,
although he knows them well enough, should he choose to indulge in them;
but he considers it effeminate and not becoming masculine dignity to
waste a good part of one's time in suchlike inanities.

Formerly he disliked Court life and the company of princes, for the
reason that he has always had a peculiar loathing for tyranny, just as
he has always loved equality. (Now you will hardly find any court so
modest that has not about it much noisy ostentation, dissimulation and
luxury, while yet being quite free of any kind of tyranny.) Indeed it
was only with great difficulty that he could be dragged into the Court
of Henry VIII, although nothing more courteous and unassuming than this
prince could be desired. He is by nature somewhat greedy of independence
and leisure; but while he gladly takes advantage of leisure when it
comes his way, none is more careful or patient whenever business demands

He seems born and created for friendship, which he cultivates most
sincerely and fosters most steadfastly. He is not one to be afraid of
the 'abundance of friends' which Hesiod does not approve; he is ready to
enter into friendly relations with any. He is in no way fastidious in
choosing friends, accommodating in maintaining them, constant in keeping
them. If he chances on anyone whose defects he cannot mend, he dismisses
him when the opportunity offers, not breaking but gradually dissolving
the friendship. Whenever he finds any sincere and suited to his
disposition he so delights in their company and conversation that he
appears to make this his chief pleasure in life. He loathes ball-games,
cards and gambling, and the other games with which the ordinary run of
men of rank are used to kill time. Furthermore, while he is somewhat
careless of his own affairs, there is none more diligent in looking
after his friends' affairs. Need I continue? Should anyone want a
finished example of true friendship he could not do better than seek it
in More.

In social intercourse he is of so rare a courtesy and charm of manners
that there is no man so melancholy that he does not gladden, no subject
so forbidding that he does not dispel the tedium of it. From his boyhood
he has loved joking, so that he might seem born for this, but in his
jokes he has never descended to buffoonery, and has never loved the
biting jest. As a youth he both composed and acted in little comedies.
Any witty remark he would still enjoy, even were it directed against
himself, such is his delight in clever sallies of ingenious flavour. As
a result he wrote epigrams as a young man, and delighted particularly in
Lucian; indeed he was responsible for my writing the _Praise of Folly_,
that is for making the camel dance.

In human relations he looks for pleasure in everything he comes across,
even in the gravest matters. If he has to do with intelligent and
educated men, he takes pleasure in their brilliance; if with the
ignorant and foolish, he enjoys their folly. He is not put out by
perfect fools, and suits himself with marvellous dexterity to all men's
feelings. For women generally, even for his wife, he has nothing but
jests and merriment. You could say he was a second Democritus, or
better, that Pythagorean philosopher who saunters through the
market-place with a tranquil mind gazing on the uproar of buyers and
sellers. None is less guided by the opinion of the herd, but again none
is less remote from the common feelings of humanity.

He takes an especial pleasure in watching the appearance, characters and
behaviour of various creatures; accordingly there is almost no kind of
bird which he does not keep at his home, and various other animals not
commonly found, such as apes, foxes, ferrets, weasels and their like.
Added to this, he eagerly buys anything foreign or otherwise worth
looking at which comes his way, and he has the whole house stocked with
these objects, so that wherever the visitor looks there is something to
detain him; and his own pleasure is renewed whenever he sees others
enjoying these sights.

When he was of an age for it, he was not averse to love-affairs with
young women, but kept them honourable, preferring the love that was
offered to that which he must chase after, and was more drawn by
spiritual than by physical intercourse.

He had devoured classical literature from his earliest years. As a lad
he applied himself to the study of Greek literature and philosophy; his
father, so far from helping him (although he is otherwise a good and
sensible man), deprived him of all support in this endeavour; and he was
almost regarded as disowned, because he seemed to be deserting his
father's studies--the father's profession is English jurisprudence. This
profession is quite unconnected with true learning, but in Britain those
who have made themselves authorities in it are particularly highly
regarded, and this is there considered the most suitable road to fame,
since most of the nobility of that island owe their origin to this
branch of study. It is said that none can become perfect in it without
many years of hard work. So, although the young man's mind born for
better things not unreasonably revolted from it, nevertheless, after
sampling the scholastic disciplines he worked at the law with such
success that none was more gladly consulted by litigants, and he made a
better living at it than any of those who did nothing else, so quick and
powerful was his intellect.

He also devoted much strenuous attention to studying the ecclesiastical
writers. He lectured publicly to a crowded audience on Augustine's _City
of God_ while still little more than a lad; and priests and elderly men
were neither sorry nor ashamed to learn sacred matters from a youthful
layman. For a time he gave his whole mind to the study of piety,
practising himself for the priesthood in watchings, fastings and prayer,
and other like preliminary exercises; in which matter he was far more
sensible than most of those who rashly hurl themselves into this arduous
calling without having previously made any trial of themselves. The only
obstacle to his devoting himself to this mode of life was his inability
to shake off his longing for a wife. He therefore chose to be a chaste
husband rather than an unchaste priest.

Still, he married a girl,[84] as yet very young, of good family, but
still untrained--she had always lived in the country with her parents
and sisters--so that he could better fashion her to his own ways. He had
her taught literature and made her skilled in all kinds of music; and he
had really almost made her such as he would have cared to spend all his
life with, had not an untimely death carried her off while still a girl,
but after she had borne him several children: of whom there survive
three girls, Margaret, Alice[85] and Cecily, and one boy, John. He would
not endure to live long a widower, although his friends counselled
otherwise. Within a few months of his wife's death he married a
widow,[86] more for the care of the household than for his pleasure, as
she was not precisely beautiful nor, as he jokingly says himself, a
girl, but a keen and watchful housewife;[87] with whom he yet lives as
pleasantly and agreeably as if she were a most charming young girl.
Hardly any husband gets so much obedience from his wife by stern orders
as he does by jests and cajolery. How could he fail to do so, after
having induced a woman on the verge of old age, also by no means a
docile character, and lastly most attentive to her business, to learn to
play the cithern, the lute, the monochord and the recorders, and perform
a daily prescribed exercise in this at her husband's wish?


He rules his whole household as agreeably, no quarrels or disturbances
arise there. If any quarrel does arise he at once heals or settles the
difference; and he has never let anyone leave his house in anger. His
house seems blest indeed with a lucky fate, for none has lived there
without rising to better fortune, and none has ever acquired a stain on
his reputation there. One would be hard put to it to find any agree as
well with their mothers as he with his stepmother--his father had
already given him two, and he loved both of them as truly as he loved
his mother. Recently his father gave him a third stepmother: More swears
his Bible oath he has never seen a better. Moreover, he is so disposed
towards his parents and children as to be neither tiresomely
affectionate nor ever failing in any family duty.

He has a mind altogether opposed to sordid gain. He has put aside from
his fortune for his children an amount which he considers sufficient for
them; the rest he gives away lavishly. While he still made his living at
the Bar he gave sincere and friendly counsel to all, considering his
clients' interests rather than his own; he would persuade most of them
to settle their differences--this would be cheaper. If he failed to
achieve this, he would then show them a method of going to law at the
least possible expense--some people here are so minded that they
actually enjoy litigation. In the City of London, where he was born, he
acted for some years as a judge in civil causes.[88] This office is not
at all onerous--the court sits only on Thursday mornings--but is
regarded as one of the most honourable. None dealt with so many cases as
he, nor behaved with such integrity; he usually remitted the charge
customarily due from litigants (as before the formal entering of the
suit the plaintiff pays into court three shillings, the defendant
likewise, and it is incorrect to demand more). By this behaviour he won
the deep affection of the City.

He had made up his mind to rest content with this position, which was
sufficiently influential and yet not exposed to grave dangers. Twice he
was forced into embassies; as he acted in these with great sagacity.
King Henry VIII would not rest until he could drag More to Court. Why
not call it 'drag'? No man ever worked so assiduously to gain admission
to the Court as he studied to escape it. But when the King decided to
fill his household with men of weight, learning, sagacity and integrity,
More was one of the first among many summoned by him: he regards More so
much as one of his intimate circle that he never lets him depart from
him. If serious matters are to be discussed, there is none more skilled
than he; or if the King decides to relax in pleasant gossiping, there is
no merrier companion. Often difficult affairs require a weighty and
sagacious arbitrator; More solves these matters with such success that
both parties are grateful. Yet no one has ever succeeded in persuading
him to accept a present from anyone. How happy the states would be if
the ruler everywhere put magistrates like More in office! Meanwhile he
has acquired no trace of haughtiness.

Amid all these official burdens he does not forget his old friends and
from time to time returns to his beloved literature. All the authority
of his office, all his influence with the King, is devoted to the
service of the State and of his friends. His mind, eager to serve all
and wondrously prone to pity, has ever been present to help: he will now
be better able to help others, as he has greater power. Some he assists
with money, some he protects with his authority, others he advances by
introductions; those whom he cannot help otherwise he aids with counsel,
and he has never sent anyone away disappointed. You might call More the
common advocate of all those in need. He regards himself as greatly
enriched when he assists the oppressed, extricates the perplexed and
involved, or reconciles the estranged. None confers a benefit so gladly,
none is so slow to upbraid. And although he is fortunate on so many
counts, and good fortune is often associated with boastfulness, it has
never yet been my lot to meet any man so far removed from this vice.

But I must return to recounting his studies--it was these which chiefly
brought More and myself together. In his youth he chiefly practised
verse composition, afterwards he worked hard and long to polish his
prose, practising his style in all kinds of composition. What that style
is like, I need not describe--particularly not to you, who always have
his books in your hands. He especially delighted in composing
declamations, and in these liked paradoxical themes, for the reason that
this offers keener practice to the wits. This caused him, while still a
youth, to compose a dialogue in which he defended Plato's Communism,
even to the community of wives. He wrote a rejoinder to Lucian's
_Tyrannicide_; in this theme he desired to have me as his antagonist, to
make a surer trial of his progress in this branch of letters. His
_Utopia_ was published with the aim of showing the causes of the bad
condition of states; but was chiefly a portrait of the British State,
which he has thoroughly studied and explored. He had written the second
book first in his leisure hours, and added the first book on the spur of
the moment later, when the occasion offered. Some of the unevenness of
the style is due to this.

One could hardly find a better _ex tempore_ speaker: a happy talent has
complete command of a happy turn of speech. He has a present wit, always
flying ahead, and a ready memory; and having all this ready to hand, he
can promptly and unhesitatingly produce whatever the subject or occasion
requires. In arguments he is unimaginably acute, so that he often
puzzles the best theologians on their own ground. John Colet, a man of
keen and exact judgement, often observes in intimate conversation that
Britain has only one genius: although this island is rich in so many
fine talents.

[Illustration: XXX. ERASMUS AT THE AGE OF 54]

He diligently cultivates true piety, while being remote from all
superstitious observance. He has set hours in which he offers to God not
the customary prayers but prayers from the heart. With his friends he
talks of the life of the world to come so that one sees that he speaks
sincerely and not without firm hope. Such is More even in the Court. And
then there are those who think that Christians are to be found only in
monasteries!... There you have a portrait not very well drawn by a very
bad artist from a most excellent model. You will like it less if you
happen to come to know More better. But for the time being I have
prevented your being able to cast in my teeth my failure to obey you,
and always accusing me of writing too short letters. Still, this did not
seem long to me as I was writing it, and I know that you will not find
it long drawn out as you read it: our friend More's charm will see to
that. Farewell.


Basle, 14 March 1525

To the illustrious Willibald Pirckheimer, greetings:

... I received safely the very pretty ring which you desired me to have
as a memento of you. I know that gems are prized as bringing safety when
one has a fall. But they say too, that if the fall was likely to be
fatal, the evil is diverted on to the gem, so that it is seen to be
broken after the accident. Once in Britain I fell with my horse from a
fairly high bank: no damage was found to me or my horse, yet the gem I
was wearing was whole. It was a present from Alexander, Archbishop of
St. Andrews,[90] whom I think you know from my writings. When I left him
at Siena, he drew it off his finger and handing it to me said: 'Take
this as a pledge of our friendship that will never die.' And I kept my
pledged faith with him even after his death, celebrating my friend's
memory in my writings. There is no part of life into which magical
superstition has not insinuated itself: if gems have some great virtue,
I could have wished in these days for a ring with an efficacious remedy
against 'slander's tooth.' As to the belief about falls, I shall follow
your advice--I shall prefer to believe rather than risk myself.

Portraits are less precious than jewels--I have received from you a
medallic and a painted portrait--but at least they bring my Willibald
more vividly before me. Alexander the Great would only allow himself to
be painted by Apelles's hand. You have found your Apelles in Albrecht
Dürer,[91] an artist of the first rank and no less to be admired for his
remarkable good sense. If only you had likewise found some Lysippus[92]
to cast the medal! I have the medal of you on the righthand wall of my
bedroom, the painting on the left; whether writing or walking up and
down, I have Willibald before my eyes, so that if I wanted to forget you
I could not. Though I have a more retentive memory for friends than for
anything else. Certainly Willibald could not be forgotten by me, even
were there no memento, no portraits, no letters to refresh my memory of
him. There is another very pleasant thing--the portraits often occasion
a talk about you when my friends come to visit me. If only our letters
travelled safely, how little we should miss of each other! You have a
medal of me. I should not object to having my portrait painted by
Dürer,[93] that great artist; but how this can be done I do not see.
Once at Brussels he sketched me, but after a start had been made the
work was interrupted by callers from the Court. Though I have long been
a sad model for painters, and am likely to become a sadder one still as
the days go on.[94] I read with pleasure what you write, as witty as it
is wise, on the agitations of certain persons who are destroying the
evangelical movement, to which they imagine themselves to be doing
splendid service: and I have much to tell you in my turn about this. But
this will be another time, when I have more leisure. Farewell.


Basle, 11 April 1526

To Martin Luther, greetings:

... Your letter has been delivered too late;[95] but had it arrived in
the best of time, it would not have moved me one whit. I am not so
simple as to be appeased by one or two pleasantries or soothed by
flattery after receiving so many more than mortal wounds. Your nature is
by now known to all the world, but you have so tempered your pen that
never have you written against anyone so frenziedly, nay, what is more
abominable, so maliciously. Now it occurs to you that you are a weak
sinner, whereas at other times you insist almost on being taken for God.
You are a man, as you write, of violent temperament, and you take
pleasure in this remarkable argument. Why then did you not pour forth
this marvellous piece of invective on the Bishop of Rochester[96] or on
Cochleus?[97] They attack you personally and provoke you with insults,
while my _Diatribe_[98] was a courteous disputation. And what has all
this to do with the subject--all this facetious abuse, these slanderous
lies, charging me with atheism, Epicureanism, scepticism in articles of
the Christian profession, blasphemy, and what not--besides many other
points on which I[99] am silent? I take these charges the less hardly,
because in all this there is nothing to make my conscience disturb me.
If I did not think as a Christian of God and the Holy Scriptures, I
could not wish my life prolonged even until tomorrow. If you had
conducted your case with your usual vehemence, without frenzied abuse,
you would have provoked fewer men against you: as things are, you have
been pleased to fill more than a third part of the volume with such
abuse, giving free rein to your feelings. How far you have given way to
me the facts themselves show--so many palpable crimes do you fasten on
me; while my _Diatribe_ was not even intended to stir up those matters
which the world itself knows of.

You imagine, I suppose, that Erasmus has no supporters. More than you
think. But it does not matter what happens to us two, least of all to
myself who must shortly go hence, even if the whole world were
applauding us: it is _this_ that distresses me, and all the best spirits
with me, that with that arrogant, impudent, seditious temperament of
yours you are shattering the whole globe in ruinous discord, exposing
good men and lovers of good learning to certain frenzied Pharisees,
arming for revolt the wicked and the revolutionary, and in short so
carrying on the cause of the Gospel as to throw all things sacred and
profane into chaos; as if you were eager to prevent this storm from
turning at last to a happy issue; I have ever striven towards such an
opportunity. What you owe me, and in what coin you have repaid me--I do
not go into that. All that is a private matter; it is the public
disaster which distresses me, and the irremediable confusion of
everything, for which we have to thank only your uncontrolled nature,
that will not be guided by the wise counsel of friends, but easily turns
to any excess at the prompting of certain inconstant swindlers. I know
not whom you have saved from the power of darkness; but you should have
drawn the sword of your pen against those ungrateful wretches and not
against a temperate disputation. I would have wished you a better mind,
were you not so delighted with your own. Wish me what you will, only not
your mind, unless God has changed it for you.


Basle, _c._ March 1527

To the most skilled physician Theophrastus of Einsiedeln, etc.,

... It is not incongruous to wish continued spiritual health to the
medical man through whom God gives us physical health. I wonder how you
know me so thoroughly, having seen me once only. I recognize how very
true are your dark sayings, not by the art of medicine, which I have
never learned, but from my own wretched sensations. I have felt pains in
the region of the liver in the past, and could not divine the source of
the trouble. I have seen the fat from the kidneys in my water many years
ago. Your third point[101] I do not quite understand, nevertheless it
appears to be convincing.

As I told you, I have no time for the next few days to be doctored, or
to be ill, or to die, so overwhelmed am I with scholarly work. But if
there is anything which can alleviate the trouble without weakening the
body, I beg you to inform me. If you will be so good as to explain at
greater length your very concise and more than laconic notes, and
prescribe other remedies which I can take until I am free, I cannot
promise you a fee to match your art or the trouble you have taken, but I
do at least promise you a grateful heart.

You have resurrected Froben[102], that is, my other half: if you restore
me also, you will have restored both of us by treating each of us
singly. May we have the good fortune to keep you in Basle!

I fear you may not be able to read this letter dashed off immediately
[after receiving yours]. Farewell.

Erasmus of Rotterdam, by his own hand.


Basle, 11 November 1527

Best greetings:

You plead the cause of Capito with some rhetorical skill; but I see
that, eloquent advocate as you are otherwise, you are not sufficiently
well equipped to undertake his defence. Were I to advance my battle-line
of conjectures and proofs, you would realize that you had to devise a
different speech. But I have had too much of squabbling, and do not
easily bestir myself against men whom I once sincerely loved. What the
Knight of Eppendorff[104] ventures or does not venture to do is his
concern; only that he returns too frequently to this game. I shall not
involve Capito in the drama unless he involves himself again; let him
not think me such a fool as not to know what is in question. But I have
written myself on these matters. Furthermore, as to your pleading your
own cause and that of your church, I think it better not to give any
answer, because this matter would require a very lengthy oration, even
if it were not a matter of controversy. This is merely a brief answer on
scattered points.

The person who informed me about 'languages'[105] is one whose
trustworthiness not even you would have esteemed lightly; and he thinks
no ill of you. Indeed I have never disliked you as far as concerns
private feelings. There are persons living in your town who were
chattering here about 'all the disciplines having been invented by
godforsaken wretches'. Certainly persons of this description, whatever
name must be given them, are in the ascendancy everywhere, all studies
are neglected and come to a standstill. At Nuremberg the City Treasury
has hired lecturers, but there is no one to attend their lectures.

You assemble a number of conjectures as to why I have not joined your
church. But you must know that the first and most important of all the
reasons which withheld me from associating myself with it was my
conscience: if my conscience could have been persuaded that this
movement proceeded from God, I should have been now long since a soldier
in your camp. The second reason is that I see many in your group who are
strangers to all Evangelical soundness. I make no mention of rumours and
suspicions, I speak of things learned from experience, nay, learned to
my own injury; things experienced not merely from the mob, but from men
who appear to be of some worth, not to mention the leading men. It is
not for me to judge of what I know not: the world is wide. I know some
as excellent men before they became devotees of your faith, what they
are now like I do not know: at all events I have learned that several of
them have become worse and none better, so far as human judgement can

The third thing which deterred me is the intense discord between the
leaders of the movement. Not to mention the Prophets and the
Anabaptists, what embittered pamphlets Zwingli, Luther and Osiander
write against each other! I have never approved the ferocity of the
leaders, but it is provoked by the behaviour of certain persons; when
they ought to have made the Gospel acceptable by holy and forbearing
conduct, if you really had what you boast of. Not to speak of the
others, of what use was it for Luther to indulge in buffoonery in that
fashion against the King of England, when he had undertaken a task so
arduous with the general approval? Was he not reflecting as to the role
he was sustaining? Did he not realize that the whole world had its eyes
turned on him alone? And this is the chief of this movement; I am not
particularly angry with him for treating me so scurrilously: but his
betrayal of the cause of the Gospel, his letting loose princes, bishops,
pseudo-monks and pseudo-theologians against good men, his having made
doubly hard our slavery, which is already intolerable--that is what
tortures my mind. And I seem to see a cruel and bloody century ahead, if
the provoked section gets its breath again, which it is certainly now
doing. You will say that there is no crowd without an admixture of
wicked men. Certainly it was the duty of the principal men to exercise
special care in matters of conduct, and not be even on speaking terms
with liars, perjurors, drunkards and fornicators. As it is I hear and
almost _see_, that things are far otherwise. If the husband had found
his wife more amenable, the teacher his pupil more obedient, the
magistrate the citizen more tractable, the employer his workman more
trustworthy, the buyer the seller less deceitful, it would have been
great recommendation for the Gospels. As things are, the behaviour of
certain persons has had the effect of cooling the zeal of those who at
first, owing to their love of piety and abhorrence of Pharisaism, looked
with favour on this movement; and the princes, seeing a disorderly host
springing up in its wake made up of vagabonds, fugitives, bankrupts,
naked, wretched and for the most part even wicked men, are cursing, even
those who in the beginning had been hopeful.

It is not without deep sorrow that I speak of all this, not only because
I foresee that a business wrongly handled will go from bad to worse, but
also because at last I shall myself have to suffer for it. Certain
rascals say that my writings are to blame for the fact that the
scholastic theologians and monks are in several places becoming less
esteemed than they would like, that ceremonies are neglected, and that
the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff is disregarded; when it is quite dear
from what source this evil has sprung. They were stretching too tight
the rope which is now breaking. They almost set the Pope's authority
above Christ's, they measured all piety by ceremonies, and tightened the
hold of the confession to an enormous extent, while the monks lorded it
without fear of punishment, by now meditating open tyranny. As a result
'the stretched string snapped', as the proverb has it; it could not be
otherwise. But I sorely fear that the same will happen one day to the
princes, if they too continue to stretch _their_ rope too tightly.
Again, the other side having commenced the action of their drama as they
did, no different ending was possible. May we not live to see worse

However it was the duty of the leaders of this movement, if Christ was
their goal, to refrain not only from vice, but even from every
appearance of evil; and to offer not the slightest stumbling block to
the Gospel, studiously avoiding even practices which, although allowed,
are yet not expedient. Above all they should have guarded against all
sedition. If they had handled the matter with sincerity and moderation,
they would have won the support of the princes and bishops: for they
have not all been given up for lost. And they should not have heedlessly
wrecked anything without having something better ready to put in its
place. As it is, those who have abandoned the Hours do not pray at all.
Many who have put off pharisaical clothing are worse in other matters
than they were before. Those who disdain the episcopal regulations do
not even obey the commandments of God. Those who disregard the careful
choice of foods indulge in greed and gluttony. It is a long-drawn-out
tragedy, which every day we partly hear ourselves and partly learn of
from others. I never approved of the abolition of the Mass, even though
I have always disliked these mean and money-grabbing mass-priests. There
were other things also which could have been altered without causing
riots. As things are, certain persons are not satisfied with any of the
accepted practices; as if a new world could be built of a sudden. There
will always be things which the pious must endure. If anyone thinks that
Mass ought to be abolished because many misuse it, then the Sermon
should be abolished also, which is almost the only custom accepted by
your party. I feel the same about the invocation of the saints and about

Your letter demanded a lengthy reply, but even this letter is very long,
with all that I have to do. I am told that you have a splendid gift for
preaching the Word of the Gospel, and that you conduct yourself more
courteously than do many. So I could wish that with your good sense you
would strive to the end that this movement, however it began, may
through firmness and moderation in doctrine and integrity of conduct be
brought to a conclusion worthy of the Gospel. To this end I shall help
you to the best of my ability. As it is, although the host of monks and
certain theologians assail me with all their artifices, nothing will
induce me wittingly to cast away my soul. You will have the good sense
not to circulate this letter, lest it cause any disturbance. We would
have more discussions if we could meet. Farewell. I had no time to read
this over.

Erasmus of Rotterdam, by my own hand.

[Illustration: XXXI. ERASMUS AT THE AGE OF 60]


Basle, 1 August 1528

To the most illustrious Alfonso Valdes, Secretary to His Imperial
Majesty, greetings:

... I have learned very plainly from other men's letters what you
indicate very discreetly, as is your way--that there are some who seek
to make _Terminus_,[107] the seal on my ring, an occasion for slander,
protesting that the addition of the device _Concedo nulli_ [I yield to
none] shows intolerable arrogance. What is this but some fatal malady,
consisting in misrepresenting everything? Momus[108] is ridiculed for
criticizing Venus's slipper; but these men outdo Momus himself, finding
something to carp at in a ring. I would have called _them_ Momuses, but
Momus carps at nothing but what he has first carefully inspected. These
fault-finders, or rather false accusers, criticize with their eyes shut
what they neither see nor understand: so violent is the disease. And
meanwhile they think themselves pillars of the Church, whereas all they
do is to expose their stupidity combined with a malice no less extreme,
when they are already more notorious than they should be. They are
dreaming if they think it is Erasmus who says _Concedo nulli_. But if
they read my writings they would see that there is none so humble that I
rank myself above him, being more liable to yield to all than to none.


Now those who know me intimately from close association will attribute
any vice to me sooner than arrogance, and will acknowledge that I am
closer to the Socratic utterance, 'This alone I know, that I know
nothing,' than to this, 'I yield to none.' But if they imagine that I
have so insolent a mind as to put myself before all others, do they also
think me such a fool as to profess this in a device? If they had any
Christian feeling they would understand those words either as not mine
or as bearing another meaning. They see there a sculptured figure, in
its lower part a stone, in its upper part a youth with flying hair. Does
this look like Erasmus in any respect? If this is not enough, they see
written on the stone itself _Terminus_: if one takes this as the last
word, that will make an iambic dimeter acatalectic, _Concedo nulli
Terminus_; if one begins with this word, it will be a trochaic dimeter
acatalectic, _Terminus concedo nulli_. What if I had painted a lion and
added as a device 'Flee, unless you prefer to be torn to pieces'? Would
they attribute these words to me instead of the lion? But what they are
doing now is just as foolish; for if I mistake not, I am more like a
lion than a stone.

They will argue, 'We did not notice that it was verse, and we know
nothing about Terminus.' Is it then to be a crime henceforward to have
written verse, because _they_ have not learned the theory of metre? At
least, as they knew that in devices of this kind one actually aims at a
certain degree of obscurity in order to exercise the guessing powers of
those who look at them, if they did not know of Terminus--although they
could have learned of him from the books of Augustine or Ambrose--they
should have inquired of experts in this kind of matter. In former times
field boundaries were marked with some sign. This was a stone projecting
above the earth, which the laws of the ancients ordered never to be
moved; here belongs the Platonic utterance, 'Remove not what thou hast
not planted.' The law was reinforced by a religious awe, the better to
deter the ignorant multitude from daring to remove the stone, by making
it believe that to violate the stone was to violate a god in it, whom
the Romans call Terminus, and to him there was also dedicated a shrine
and a festival, the Terminalia. This god Terminus, as the Roman
historian has it, was alone in refusing to yield to Jupiter because
'while the birds allowed the deconsecration of all the other
sanctuaries, in the shrine of Terminus alone they were
unpropitious.'[109] Livy tells this story in the first book of his
_History_, and again in Book 5 he narrates how 'when after the taking of
auguries the Capitol was being cleared, Juventas [Youth] and Terminus
would not allow themselves to be moved.'[110] This omen was welcomed
with universal rejoicing, for they believed that it portended an eternal
empire. The _youth_ is useful for war, and _Terminus_ is fixed.

Here they will exclaim perchance, 'What have _you_ to do with a mythical
god?' He came to me, I did not adopt him. When I was called to Rome, and
Alexander, titular Archbishop of St. Andrews,[111] was summoned home
from Siena by his father King James of Scotland, as a grateful and
affectionate pupil he gave me several rings for a memento of our time
together. Among these was one which had _Terminus_ engraved on the
jewel; an Italian interested in antiquities had pointed this out, which
I had not known before. I seized on the omen and interpreted it as a
warning that the term of my existence was not far off--at that time I
was in about my fortieth year. To keep this thought in my mind I began
to seal my letters with this sign. I added the verse, as I said before.
And so from a heathen god I made myself a device, exhorting me to
correct my life. For Death is truly a boundary which knows no yielding
to any. But in the medal there is added in Greek, [Greek: Ora telos
makrou biou], that is, 'Consider the end of a long life,' in Latin _Mors
ultima linea rerum_. They will say, 'You could have carved on it a dead
man's skull.' Perhaps I should have accepted that, if it had come my
way: but this pleased me, because it came to me by chance, and then
because it had a double charm for me; from the allusion to an ancient
and famous story, and from its obscurity, a quality specially belonging
to devices.

There is my defence on _Terminus_, or better say on hair-splitting. And
if only they would at last set a _term_ to their misrepresentations! I
will gladly come to an agreement with them to change my device, if they
will change their malady. Indeed by so doing they would be doing more
for their own authority, which they complain is being undermined by the
lovers of good learning. I myself am assuredly so far from desiring to
injure their reputation that I am deeply pained at their delivering
themselves over to the ridicule of the whole world by these stupid
tricks, and not blushing to find themselves confuted with mockery on
every occasion. The Lord keep you safe in body and soul, my beloved
friend in Christ.


Freiburg im Breisgau, 1 March 1531

To the noble youth Charles Mountjoy, greetings:

... I have determined to dedicate to you Livy, the prince of Latin
history; already many times printed, but never before in such a
magnificent or accurate edition: and if this is not enough, augmented by
five books recently discovered; these were found by some good genius in
the library of the monastery at Lorsch by Simon Grynaeus,[113] a man at
once learned without arrogance in all branches of literature and at the
same time born for the advancement of liberal studies. Now this
monastery was built opposite Worms, or Berbethomagium, by Charlemagne
seven hundred years and more ago, and equipped with great store of
books; for this was formerly the special care of princes, and this is
usually the most precious treasure of the monasteries. The original
manuscript was one of marvellous antiquity, painted[114] in the antique
fashion with the letters in a continuous series, so that it has proved
very difficult to separate word from word, unless one is knowledgeable,
careful and trained for this very task. This caused much trouble in
preparing a copy to be handed to the printer's men for their use; a
careful and faithful watch was kept to prevent any departure from the
original in making the copy. So if the poor fragment which came to us
recently from Mainz was justly welcomed by scholars with great
rejoicing,[115] what acclamation should greet this large addition to
Livy's _History_?

Would to God that this author could be restored to us complete and
entire. There are rumours flying round that give some hope of this: men
boast of unpublished Liviana existing, now in Denmark, now in Poland,
now in Germany. At least now that fortune has given us these remnants
against all men's expectations, I do not see why we should despair of
the possibility of finding still more. And here, in my opinion at least,
the princes would be acting worthily if they offered rewards and
attracted scholars to the search for such a treasure, or prevailed upon
them to publish--if there are perchance any who are suppressing and
hiding away to the great detriment of studies something in a fit state
to be of public utility. For it seems perfectly absurd that men will dig
through the bowels of the earth almost down to Hades at vast peril and
expense in order to find a little gold or silver: and yet will utterly
disregard treasures of this kind, as far above those others in value as
the soul excels the body, and not consider them worth searching for.
This is the spirit of Midases, not of princes; and as I know that your
character is utterly at variance with this spirit, I doubt not that you
will most eagerly welcome this great gain. Now, there are chiefly two
considerations which remove all possible doubt as to this half-decade's
being genuinely by Livy: in the first place that of the diction itself,
which in all features recalls its author: secondly that of the arguments
or epitomes of Floras, which correspond exactly with these books.

And so, knowing that there is no kind of reading more fitting for men of
note than that of the historians, of whom Livy is easily the chief (I
speak of the Roman historians), particularly as we have nothing of
Sallust beyond two fragments, and bearing in mind what an insatiable
glutton, so to speak, your father has always been for history (and I
doubt not that you resemble him in this also): I thought I should not be
acting incongruously in publishing these five books with a special
dedication to you. Although in this point I should not wish you to
resemble your father too closely. He is in the way of poring over his
books every day from dinner until midnight, which is wearisome to his
wife and attendants and a cause of much grumbling among the servants; so
far he has been able to do this without loss of health; still, I do not
think it wise for you to take the same risk, which may not turn out as
successfully. Certainly when your father was studying along with the
present king while still a young man, they read chiefly history, with
the strong approval of his father Henry VII, a king of remarkable
judgement and good sense.

Joined to this edition is the Chronology of Henry Glareanus, a man of
exquisite and many-sided learning, whose indefatigable industry refines,
adorns and enriches with the liberal disciplines not the renowned
Gymnasium at Freiburg alone, but this whole region as well. The
Chronology shows the order of events, the details of the wars, and the
names of persons, in which up till now there has reigned astonishing
confusion, brought about through the fault of the scribes and dabblers
in learning. Yet this was the sole guiding light of history! Without
this Pole star our navigation on the ocean of history is completely
blind: and without this thread to help him, the reader becomes involved
in an inextricable maze, learned though he be, in these labyrinths of
events. If you consider your letter well repaid by this gift, it will
now be your turn to write me a letter. Farewell.


Basle, 24 August 1535

To Bartholomew Latomus, greetings:

... In apologizing for your silence you are wasting your time, believe
me; I am not in the habit of judging tried friends by this common
courtesy. It would be impudent of me to charge you with an omission
which you have an equal right to accuse me of in turn.... The heads of
the colleges are not doing anything new. They are afraid of their own
revenues suffering, this being the sole aim of most of them. You would
scarcely believe to what machinations they stooped at Louvain in their
efforts to prevent a trilingual college being established. I worked
strenuously in the matter, and have made myself accordingly very
unpopular. There was an attempt to set up a chair of languages at
Tournai, but the University of Louvain and the Franciscans at Tournai
did not rest until the project was abandoned. The house erected for this
purpose overlooked the Franciscans' garden--that was the cause of the

I have had a long life, counting in years; but were I to calculate the
time spent in wrestling with fever, the stone and the gout, I have not
lived long. But we must patiently bear whatever the Lord has sent upon
us, Whose will no one can resist, and Who alone knows what is good for
us.... The glory [of an immortal name] moves me not at all, I am not
anxious over the applause of posterity. My one concern and desire is to
depart hence with Christ's favour.

Many French nobles have fled here for fear of the winter storm, after
having been recalled.[117] 'The lion shall roar, who shall not fear?'
says the Prophet.[118] A like terror has seized the English, from an
unlike cause. Certain monks have been beheaded and among them a monk of
the Order of St. Bridget[119] was dragged along the ground, then hanged,
and finally drawn and quartered. There is a firm and probable rumour
here that the news of the Bishop of Rochester having been co-opted by
Paul III as a cardinal caused the King to hasten his being dragged out
of prison and beheaded--his method of conferring the scarlet hat. It is
all too true that Thomas More has been long in prison and his fortune
confiscated. It was being said that he too had been executed, but I have
no certain news as yet.[120] Would that he had never embroiled himself
in this perilous business and had left the theological cause to the
theologians. The other friends who from time to time honoured me with
letters and gifts now send nothing and write nothing from fear, and
accept nothing from anyone, as if under every stone there slept a

It seems that the Pope is seriously thinking of a Council here. But I do
not see how it is to meet in the midst of such dissension between
princes and lands. The whole of Lower Germany is astonishingly infected
with Anabaptists: in Upper Germany they pretend not to notice them. They
are pouring in here in droves; some are on their way to Italy. The
Emperor is besieging Goletta; in my opinion there is more danger from
the Anabaptists.

I do not think that France is entirely free of this plague; but they are
silent there for fear of the cudgel....

Now I must tell you something about my position which will amuse you. I
had written to Paul III at the instance of Louis Ber, the distinguished
theologian. Before unsealing the letter he spoke of me with great
respect. And as he had to make several scholars cardinals for the coming
Council, the name of Erasmus was proposed among others. But obstacles
were mentioned, my health, not strong enough for the duties, and my low
income; for they say there is a decree which excludes from this office
those whose annual income is less than 3,000 ducats. Now they are busy
heaping benefices on me, so that I can acquire the proper income from
these and receive the red hat. The proverbial cat in court-dress. I have
a friend in Rome who is particularly active in the business; in vain
have I warned him more than once by letter that I want no cures or
pensions, that I am a man who lives from day to day, and every day
expecting death, often longing for it, so horrible sometimes are the
pains. It is hardly safe for me to put a foot outside my bedroom, and
even the merest trifle upsets me.[121] With my peculiar, emaciated body
I can only stand warm air. And in this condition they want to push me
forward as a candidate for benefices and cardinals' hats! But meanwhile
I am gratified by the Supreme Pontiff's delusions about me and his
feelings towards me. But I am being more wordy than I intended. I should
easily forgive your somewhat lengthy letter, if you were to repeat that
fault often.... Farewell.


[21] Servatius Roger (d. 1540), whom Erasmus came to know as a young
monk soon after his entry into Steyn, became eighth Prior of Steyn; it
was as Prior that he wrote to Erasmus in 1514 to urge him to return to
the monastery, see pp. 11, 87 f., 212 ff.

[22] Juvenal, ix. 18-20.

[23] N. Werner (d. 5 September 1504), later Prior of Steyn.

[24] Probably James Stuart, brother of James IV of Scotland, Archbishop
of St. Andrews, 1497, aged about twenty-one at this time.

[25] Relative of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. Took his doctor's
degree in Italy, returned to England 1507.

[26] William Grocyn (_c._ 1446-1519), Fellow of New College, one of the
first to teach Greek in Oxford.

[27] Thomas Linacre (_c._ 1460-1524), Fellow of All Souls College,
Oxford, 1484. Translator of Galen. Helped to found the College of
Physicians, 1518.

[28] James Batt (1464?-1502), secretary to the council of the town of

[29] Anne of Burgundy, the Lady of Veere (1469?-1518), patroness of
Erasmus until 1501-2, when she remarried.

[30] i.e. to replace Greek words either corrupted or omitted. Erasmus is
here referring probably to the text of the _Letters_ of Jerome; he uses
the same expression in his letter of 21 May 1515 to Leo X (Allen 335, v.
268 ff.): 'I have purified the text of the Letters ... and carefully
restored the Greek, which was either missing altogether or inserted

[31] Brother of Henry of Bergen (Bishop of Cambrai) and by this time
Abbot of St. Bertin at St. Omer, where he was forcibly installed by his
brother the bishop in 1493.

[32] 'And my sin is ever before me,' where _contra_ could be rendered as
either 'before' or 'against'; the ambiguity is resolved by referring to
the Greek, where [Greek: enôpion] = face to face with.

[33] Apparently a loose statement of the _Constitutions_ of Clement V,
promulgated after the Council of Vienne, 1311-12, Bk. 5, tit. 1, cap. 1,
in which for the better conversion of infidels it was ordained that two
teachers for each of the three languages, Hebrew, Arabic, and Chaldaean
be appointed in each of the four Universities, Paris, Oxford, Bologna
and Salamanca. Greek was included in the original list, but afterwards

[34] Probably George Hermonymus of Sparta.

[35] Cf. Juvenal, iii.78. (_Graeculus esuriens_.)

[36] William Warham (1450?-1532) became Archbishop of Canterbury in
1503, Lord Chancellor of England, 1504-15, Chancellor of Oxford
University from 1506. This letter forms the preface to _Hecuba_ in
_Euripidis_ ... _Hecuba et Iphigenia; Latinae factae Erasmo Roterodamo
interprete_, Paris, J. Badius, September 1506.

[37] [Greek: en tô pithô tên kerameian], i.e., to run before one can
walk, to make a winejar being the most advanced job in pottery.

[38] Politian translated parts of Iliad, 2-5 into Latin hexameters,
dedicating the work to Lorenzo dei Medici. Published by A. Mai,
Spicilegium Romanum, ii.

[39] Nicholas de Valle translated the _Works and Days_ (_Georgica_),
Bonninus Mombritius the _Theogonia_.

[40] Martin Phileticus.

[41] No. 3; his Funeral Orations were printed _c._ 1481 at Milan.

[42] Aldus Manutius (1449-1515) founded the Aldine Press at Venice,

[43] Published by Aldus, 1513.

[44] Published by Aldus, 1528.

[45] Published by Aldus, 1518, although projected in 1499.

[46] _Euripidis ... Hecuba et Iphigenia_ [in Aulide]; _Latinae factae
Erasmo Roterodamo interprete_, Paris, J. Badius, 13 September 1506.
Reprinted by Aldus at Venice, December 1507 (and by Froben at Basle in
1518 and 1524).

[47] Thomas More (1478-1535). This letter is the preface to the _Moriae
Encomium_, published by Gilles Gourmont at Paris without date, reprinted
by Schürer at Strasbourg, August 1511.

[48] The Greek 'laughing philosopher'.

[49] John Colet (1466?-1519), Dean of St. Paul's 1504, had founded St.
Paul's School in the previous year (1510).

[50] Raffaele Riario (1461-1521), Leo X's most formidable rival in the
election of 1513.

[51] Francesco Alidosi of Imola, d. 1511.

[52] Robert Guibé(_c._ 1456-1513), Cardinal of St. Anastasia and Bishop
of Nantes (1507).

[53] Leo X.

[54] Wolsey.

[55] _Enchiridion militis Christiani_, printed in _Lucubratiunculae_,

[56] A new and enlarged edition under the title _Adagiorum Chiliades_,
printed by Aldus in 1508.

[57] _De duplici copia verborum ac rerum commentarii duo_, Paris,
Badius, 1512.

[58] The Hebrew scholar, who adhered to the Reformation, 1523.

[59] F. Ximenes (1436-1517), confessor of Queen Isabella, Archbishop of
Toledo, 1495, founded Alcalá University, 1500; he promoted the Polyglot

[60] (1428-1524), taught medicine at Ferrara and made translations from
Aristotle, Dio Cassius, Galen and Hippocrates.

[61] (d. 1525) Professor of Medicine at Naples, and from 1507 at Venice;
physician to Aldus's household, where he met Erasmus.

[62] (1466-1532), physician, astronomer and humanist; learned Greek with
Erasmus in Paris. He was physician to the Court of Francis I.

[63] (1479-1537), Dean of the Medical Faculty at Paris, 1508-9, and
Physician to Francis I.

[64] (1467/8-1540), the Parisian humanist, whose _Annotationes in xxiv
Pandectarum libros_ were published by Badius in 1508.

[65] Ulrich Zäsi or Zasius (1461-1535) Lector Ordinarius in Laws at
Freiburg from 1506 until his death.

[66] Henry Loriti of canton Glarus, usually known as Glareanus
(1488-1563), had an academy at Basle where he took in thirty boarders.

[67] Published at Basle, March 1519.

[68] A translation of Galen's _Methodus medendi_, not printed until June
1519. Lupset supervised the printing.

[69] This may be the _De pueris statim ac liberaliter instituendis_,
composed in Italy. More writes to Erasmus in 1516 (Allen 502) that he
has received part of the MS. from Lupset, but it was not published until

[70] Luther's _Theses_, posted 31 October 1517 and printed shortly
afterwards at Wittenberg.

[71] The proposals for a crusade drawn up at Rome, 16 November 1517.

[72] The _Julius Exclusus_, an attack on Pope Julius II, who died 1513.
Erasmus never directly denied his authorship, and More speaks of a copy
in Erasmus's hand (Allen 502).

[73] Beat Bild (1485-1547), whose family came from Rheinau near
Schlettstadt, became M.A., Paris, in 1505. He worked as a corrector at
Henry Stephanus's press in Paris, with Schürer in Strasbourg, and from
1511 for fifteen years with Amerbach and Froben in Basle, where he
edited and superintended the publication of numerous books.

[74] Haecceity, 'thisness', 'individuality', t.t. of Scotistic
philosophy, cf. quiddity, 'essence'.

[75] I.e. the Literary Society of Strasbourg. A letter survives,
addressed to Erasmus in the name of this Society, dated 1 September
1514, in which occur all the names mentioned here, with the exception of

[76] A portrait drawing of Varnbüler by Albrecht Dürer is in the
Albertina, Vienna; Dürer made also a woodcut from it.

[77] Hermann, Count of Neuenahr (1492-1530), a pupil of Caesarius, with
whom he visited Italy in 1508-9. In 1517 he lectured in Cologne on Greek
and Hebrew, and became later Chancellor of the University. Among his
works is a letter in defence of Erasmus.

[78] _Operationes in Psalmos_. Wittenberg, 1519.

[79] James Probst or Proost (Præpositus) of Ypres (1486-1562).

[80] Ulrich Hutten (1488-1523), the German knight and humanist.

[81] Satires 2, vii. 96 (where however the gladiators are the subject,
and not the artists, of a crude charcoal sketch).

[82] Sir Thomas More's portrait at the age of fifty was painted by Hans
Holbein; it is now in the Frick Collection, New York. Two portrait
drawings of him by Holbein are in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.
See also p. 236, note 4.

[83] John More (1453?-1530), at this time a Judge of Common Pleas,
promoted to the King's Bench in 1523.

[84] Jane Colt (_c._ 1487-1511).

[85] More's second daughter was Elizabeth; Alice was the name of his

[86] Alice Middleton.

[87] A group portrait of Sir Thomas More with his entire family was
painted by Hans Holbein about 1527-8 at More's house in Chelsea. It was
commissioned from the artist at the recommendation of Erasmus. The
original has been lost; see Plate XXIX and p. 260.

[88] More was elected Under-Sheriff, 1510.

[89] W. Pirckheimer (1470-1530), humanist. After studying law and Greek
in Italy he settled at Nuremberg. Some of his works were illustrated by

[90] Alexander Stewart (_c._ 1493-1513), natural son of James IV of
Scotland, fell at Flodden. Erasmus was his tutor in Italy in 1508-9. For
details of this ring see p. 247 f.

[91] Dürer made three portraits of him, two drawings (now in Berlin and
in Brunswick) and an engraving.

[92] The Greek sculptor, _c._ 350 B.C. In a letter to Pirckheimer dated
8 January 1523-4 (Allen 1408, 29 n.) Erasmus appears dissatisfied with
the reverse of the medal cast by Metsys in 1519. Extant examples all
show a reverse revised in accordance with his suggestions.

[93] A drawing of Erasmus was made by Dürer in 1520 (now in the Louvre),
and an engraving in 1526.

[94] Erasmus had his portrait painted by Holbein several times in 1523-4
and 1530-1. A number of originals and copies are still extant.

[95] Luther's letter, in which he evidently attempted to mitigate
Erasmus's indignation against his _De Servo Arbitrio_ (The Will not
free), which was a reply to Erasmus's _De Libero Arbitrio_ (On free
Will), 1524. Luther's letter came 'too late' because Erasmus had already
composed the _Hyperaspistes Diatribe adversus Servum Arbitrium Martini
Lutheri_, Basle, Froben, 1526.

[96] John Fisher (1459?-1535).

[97] John Dobeneck of Wendelstein.

[98] i.e., the _De Libero Arbitrio_.

[99] Reading _reticeo_ for _retices_.

[100] Theophrastus Bombast of Einsiedeln (also known as Theophrastus of
Hohenheim, whence his ancestors came), 1493-1541. The name Paracelsus
may be a translation of Hohenheim, or may signify a claim to be greater
than Celsus, the Roman physician. Appointed _physicus et ordinarius
Basiliensis_ in 1527.

[101] Paracelsus had diagnosed the stone, from which Erasmus suffered,
as being due to crystallization of salt in the kidneys.

[102] Froben died before the year was out.

[103] Martin Butzer (_c._ 1491-1551), later Bucer, a Dominican, who
obtained dispensation from his vows in 1521 and adhered to the
Reformation. At this time he was a member of the Strasbourg party, and
this letter is probably an answer to a request for an interview for
Bucer and other Strasbourg delegates on their way through Basle to
Berne. He eventually became Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge
under Edward VI.

[104] Henry of Eppendorff, a former friend who followed Hutten on his
quarrel with Erasmus.

[105] Erasmus stated in the _Responsio_ of 1 August 1530, that in the
Reformed schools little was taught beyond _dogmata et linguae_ and it
may be some such criticism, based on what he had heard from a reliable
source (perhaps Pirckheimer at Nuremberg), to which Bucer had taken
exception in his letter.

[106] Alfonso Valdes (1490?-1532), a devoted admirer of Erasmus, was
from 1522 onwards one of Charles V's secretaries. He wrote two dialogues
in defence of the Emperor.

[107] On this gem see Edgar Wind, 'Aenigma Termini,' in _Journ. of the
Warburg Institute_, I (1937-8), p. 66.

[108] Greek god of ridicule.

[109] Livy, I, 55, 3. Livy refers to the clearing of the Tarpeian rock
by Tarquinius Superbus (534-510 B.C.), involving the deconsecration of
existing shrines, as a preliminary to the building of the temple of
Juppiter Capitolinus. The auguries allowed the evacuation of the other
gods, Terminus and Juventas alone refusing to depart.

[110] Livy, 5, 54, 7.

[111] See p. 66.

[112] Preface to _T. Livii ... historiæ_, Basle, Froben, 1531. Charles
Blount (b. 1518), eldest son of William Blount, Lord Mountjoy.

[113] _c._ 1495-1541, Professor of Greek at Basle, 1529. He found the
MS. containing Livy, Bks. 41-5, in 1527.

[114] Not 'illuminated.' Erasmus refers elsewhere (Allen 919. 55) to a
codex as _non scripto sed picto_.

[115] The MS., now lost, containing Bks. 33, 17-49 and 40, 37-59, found
in the cathedral library at Mainz, published in Mainz, J. Schoeffer,
November 1518.

[116] (1498?-1570). Taught Latin and Greek at Freiburg and became head
of a college there; in 1534 became the first Professor of Latin in the
Collège de France. Retired to Coblenz in 1542.

[117] By the Edict of Courcy.

[118] Amos iii. 8.

[119] Richard Reynolds of the Bridgettine Syon College at Isleworth.

[120] More had been executed 6 July 1535.

[121] Lit. 'not even the peeping of an ass is safe.' This Greek proverb,
used of those who go to law about trifles, refers to the story of a
potter whose wares were smashed by a donkey in the workshop going to
look out of the window. In court the potter, asked of what he
complained, replied: 'Of the peeping of an ass.' See Apuleius, _Met._
IX., 42.


I. PORTRAIT OF ERASMUS. By Quentin Metsys. 1517. Rome, Galleria Corsini.
_Facing p. 14_

One half of a diptych, the pendant being a portrait of Erasmus's friend,
Pierre Gilles (Petrus Aegidius), town clerk of Antwerp. The diptych was
sent to Sir Thomas More in London; the portrait of Gilles is now in the
collection of the Earl of Radnor at Longford Castle.

II. VIEW OF ROTTERDAM at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
Contemporary engraving, hand-coloured. _Facing p. 15_

III. PORTRAIT BUST OF JOHN COLET, Dean of St. Paul's (1467-1519). By
Pietro Torrigiano. St. Paul's School, Hammersmith, London. _Facing p.

John Colet, a close friend of Erasmus (see pp. 30-1), founded St. Paul's
School. The artist, a Florentine sculptor, was active in London for many
years and is best known for his effigies on some of the royal tombs in
Westminster Abbey. The attribution of this bust is due to F. Grossmann
(_Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes_, XIII, July 1950),
who identified it as a cast from Torrigiano's original bust on Colet's
tomb (destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666) and also pointed out that
Holbein's drawing of Colet in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle (No.
12199) was made from the lost monument after Colet's death.

IV. PORTRAIT OF SIR THOMAS MORE (1477-1535). Dated 1527. By Hans
Holbein. New York, Frick Collection. _Facing p. 31_

See also Holbein's drawing of Thomas More with his family, Pl. XXIX.

V. Pen and ink sketches by Erasmus. 1514. Basle, University Library (MS
A. IX. 56). _Facing p. 46_

These doodles of grotesque heads and other scribbles are found in
Erasmus's manuscript copy of the _Scholia to the Letters of St. Jerome_,
preserved in the Library of Basle University and published by Emil Major
(_Handzeichnungen des Erasmus von Rotterdam_, Basle, 1933). Erasmus
worked on this manuscript shortly after his arrival in Basle in August
1514. His edition of the _Letters of Jerome_ was published by Froben in
1516 (see p. 90).

VI. A Manuscript Page of Erasmus. Basle, University Library. _Facing p.

See note on Pl. V.

VII. Title-page of the _Adagia_, printed by Aldus Manutius in 1508.
_Facing p. 62_

The printing of this edition was supervised by Erasmus during his visit
to Venice (see pp. 64-5). On this title-page is the emblem of the Aldine
Press, which is found again on the reverse of Aldus's portrait medal
(Pl. IX).

VIII. VIEW OF VENICE, 1493. Woodcut. _After p. 62_

From Schedel's _Weltchronik_, Nuremberg, 1493.

IX. PORTRAIT MEDAL OF ALDUS MANUTIUS. By an unknown Venetian medallist.
Venice, Museo Correr. _After p. 62_

On the reverse, the emblem adopted by Aldus in 1495 from an antique
coin, an anchor entwined by a dolphin. The Greek inscription, [Greek:
Speude bradeos] (Hasten slowly), is also of antique origin. Cf. Hill,
_Corpus of Italian Medals_, 1930, No. 536.

X. A page from the printed copy of the _Praise of Folly_ with a drawing
by Hans Holbein. Basle, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung (Print Room). _Facing
p. 63_

This copy of the _Laus Stultitiae_, which Holbein decorated with
marginal drawings in 1515, belonged at that time to Oswald Myconius, a
friend of Froben's. Apparently not all the drawings in the book are by
Hans Holbein.

The drawing shows Erasmus working at his desk, fol. S.3 recto. Above
this thumbnail sketch there is a Latin note in the handwriting of
Myconius: 'When Erasmus came here and saw this portrait, he exclaimed,
"Heigh-ho, if Erasmus still looked like that, he would quickly find
himself a wife!"'

XI. A page from the printed copy of the _Praise of Folly_ with a drawing
by Hans Holbein. Basle, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung (Print Room). _Facing
p. 78_

See note on Pl. X. This is the last page of the book, fol. X.4 recto;
the drawing shows Folly descending from the pulpit at the close of her

1520-1. _Facing p. 79_

Josse Badius of Brabant had established in Paris the Ascensian Press
(named after his native place, Assche); he printed many books by
Erasmus. See pp. 60, 79-83.

XIII. PORTRAIT OF JOHANNES FROBEN (1460-1527). By Hans Holbein. About
1522-3. Hampton Court, H.M. The Queen. _Facing p. 86_

On this portrait of Erasmus's printer, publisher and friend, see Paul
Ganz, _The Paintings of Hans Holbein_, 1950, Cat. No. 33.

canvas, heightened with gold. By Hans Holbein. 1523. Basle, Öffentliche
Kunstsammlung (Print Room). _Facing p. 87_

The emblem shows the wand of Mercury, and two serpents with a dove, an
allusion to the Gospel of St. Matthew, x. 16: 'Be ye therefore wise as
serpents and harmless as doves.'

XV. THE HANDS OF ERASMUS. Drawing by Hans Holbein. 1523. Paris, Louvre.
_Facing p. 102_

These studies were used by Holbein for his portraits of Erasmus now at
Longford Castle (Pl. XVI) and in the Louvre (Pl. XXVIII).

XVI. PORTRAIT OF ERASMUS AT THE AGE OF 57. Dated 1523. By Hans Holbein.
Longford Castle, Earl of Radnor. _Facing p. 103_

The Greek inscription, 'The Labours of Hercules', alludes to Erasmus's
own view of his life (see p. 125). On this portrait see P. Ganz, op.
cit., Cat. No. 34.

XVII. VIEW OF BASLE. Woodcut. _Facing p. 134_

From the _Chronik_ by Johann Stumpf, 1548.

XVIII. Title-page of the New Testament, printed by Froben in 1520.
Designed by Hans Holbein. _Facing p. 135_


From May to November 1521 Erasmus stayed here as the guest of his
friend, the canon Pierre Wichmann. The house was built in 1515 under the
sign of the Swan. It is now a museum in which are preserved numerous
relics of Erasmus and his age.

XX. The Room used by Erasmus as study during his stay at Anderlecht.
_Facing p. 151_

1520. _Facing p. 158_

XXII. PORTRAIT OF ULRICH VON HUTTEN (1488-1523). Anonymous German
woodcut. _Facing p. 159_


When Erasmus arrived in Freiburg in 1529, he was invited by the Town
Council to live in this house, which had been built for the Emperor
Maximilian. See p. 176.

_Facing p. 175_

One of the 280 portrait drawings collected in the codex known as the
_Recueil d'Arras_.

XXV. PORTRAIT OF ERASMUS. By Hans Holbein. 1531-2. Basle, Öffentliche
Kunstsammlung (Print Room). _Facing p. 190_

'Holbein may have painted this little roundel on the occasion of a visit
to Erasmus at Freiburg' (P. Ganz, op. cit.).

XXVI. ERASMUS DICTATING TO HIS SECRETARY. Woodcut, 1530. _Facing p. 191_

The woodcut shows the aged Erasmus dictating to his amanuensis Gilbertus
Cognatus in a room of the University of Freiburg. From _Effigies
Desiderii Erasmi Roterdami ... & Gilberti Cognati Nozereni_, Basle, Joh.
Oporinus, 1533.

XXVII. PORTRAIT MEDAL OF ERASMUS. By Quentin Metsys. 1519. London,
British Museum. _Facing p. 206_

The reverse shows Erasmus's device, Terminus, and the motto _Concedo
nulli_, both of which were also engraved on his sealing ring. For
Erasmus's own interpretation see his letter, pp. 246-8. The Greek
inscription means, 'His writings will give you a better picture of him'.

XXVIII. PORTRAIT OF ERASMUS. After 1523. By Hans Holbein. Paris, Louvre.
_Facing p. 207_

XXIX. THOMAS MORE AND HIS FAMILY. Pen and ink sketch by Hans Holbein,
1527. Basle, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung (Print Room). _Facing p. 238_

'The portrait, probably commissioned on the occasion of the scholar's
fiftieth birthday, shows him surrounded by his large family. It is the
first example of an intimate group portrait not of devotional or
ceremonial character painted this side of the Alps. At that time Thomas
More was living in his country house at Chelsea with his second wife,
Alice, his father, his only son and his son's fiancée, three married
daughters, eleven grandchildren and a relative, Margaret Giggs. The
artist, who had been recommended to him by his friend Erasmus, was also
enjoying his hospitality.' (P. Ganz, op. cit., Cat. No. 175).

The original painting is lost; a copy by Richard Locky, dated 1530, is
at Nostell Priory. The drawing was sent by More to Erasmus at Basle so
as to introduce his family, for which purpose the names and ages were
inscribed. In two letters to Sir Thomas and his daughter, dated 5 and 6
September 1530, Erasmus sent his enthusiastic thanks: 'I cannot put into
words the deep pleasure I felt when the painter Holbein gave me the
picture of your whole family, which is so completely successful that I
should scarcely be able to see you better if I were with you.' (Allen,
vol. 8, Nos. 2211-2).

Compare also Erasmus's pen portrait of Sir Thomas More in his letter to
Hutten, pp. 231-9.

XXX. PORTRAIT OF ERASMUS. Charcoal drawing by Albrecht Dürer, dated
1520. Paris, Louvre. _Facing p. 239_

Drawn at Antwerp, during Dürer's journey to the Netherlands. When he
received the false news of the murder of Luther at Whitsuntide 1521,
Dürer wrote in his diary: 'O Erasmus of Rotterdam, where art thou?
Listen, thou Knight of Christ, ride out with the Lord Christ, defend the
truth and earn for thyself the martyr's crown!'

XXXI. PORTRAIT OF ERASMUS. Engraving by Albrecht Dürer, dated 1526.
_Facing p. 246_

In his _Diary of a Journey to the Netherlands_, Dürer noted in late
August 1520: 'I have taken Erasmus of Rotterdam's portrait once more',
but he does not say when he took his first portrait. The earlier work is
assumed to have been done one month before, and to be identical with the
drawing in the Louvre (Pl. XXX). This drawing is mentioned by Erasmus
himself in a letter to Pirckheimer of 1525 (p. 240); in an earlier
letter to the same friend (1522) he says that Dürer had started to paint
him in 1520. The second portrait drawing is lost; hence it cannot be
proved that this second portrait was made in metal point--as is usually
assumed--and not in charcoal, or that the engraving here reproduced was
based on it.

XXXII. TERMINUS. Erasmus's device. Pen and ink drawing by Hans Holbein.
Basle, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung (Print Room). _Facing p. 247_

TERMINUS. Engraving by Hans Holbein, 1535.


For help in the collection of illustrations we are specially indebted to
M. Daniel van Damme, Curator of the Erasmus Museum at Anderlecht and
author of the _Ephéméride illustrée de la Vie d'Erasme_, published in
1936 on the occasion of the fourth centenary of Erasmus's death. For
photographs and permission to reproduce we have to thank also the Frick
Collection, New York (Pl. iv), the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basle (Pl.
X-XI, XIV, XXV, XXIX, XXXII), the Library of Basle University (Pl.
V-VI), and the Warburg Institute, University of London (Pl. iii). The
photographs for Pl. II, VII, XVIII-XX and XXVI are by M. Mauhin,
Anderlecht, those for Plates VIII and XVII by Dr. F. Stoedtner,
Düsseldorf, and that for Plate IX by Fiorentini, Venice.


Adrian of Utrecht, Dean, later Pope, 55, 131, 162

Agricola, Rudolf, 7

Albert of Brandenburg, archbishop of Mayence, 140, 145

Aldus Manutius, 63, 64, 81, 207

Aleander, Hieronymus, 64, 124, 147, 149, 171, 184, 187

Alidosi, Francesco, 214n.

Amerbach, Bonifacius, 176, 186, 223n.

Amerbach, Johannes, 83, 90

Ammonius, Andrew, 37, 58, 67, 79, 80, 81, 83, 86, 90, 93, 94, 119, 123,

Andrelinus, Faustus, 21, 25, 26, 29, 47

Anna of Borselen, Lady of Veere, 27, 28, 35, 37, 38, 55, 62, 200-1

Asolani, Andrea, 64

Ath, Jean Briard of, 131, 133, 134, 135, 137, 229

Aurelius (Cornelius Gerard of Gouda), 11, 13, 14, 33, 44

Badius, Josse, 57, 60, 79, 81, 82, 83, 90, 133, 208, 219n.

Balbi, Girolamo, 20

Barbaro, Ermolao, 21

Batt, James, 18, 19, 27, 28, 37, 38, 47, 48, 49, 55, 200

Beatus Rhenanus, 39, 64, 83, 96, 119, 156, 177, 184, 186, 187, 223

Becar, John, 181

Beda (Noel Bedier), 120, 125, 157, 158

Bembo, 173

Ber, Louis, 186, 253

Berckman, Francis, 82, 83

Bergen, Anthony of, 85, 202

Berquin, Louis de, 158

Berselius, Paschasius, 229

Blount, Charles, 249

Blount, William, Lord Mountjoy, 27-8, 30, 35, 36, 37, 58, 59n., 67, 68,
  79, 86, 87, 95, 184, 199, 215, 251

Boerio, Giovanni Battista, 60

Bombasius, Paul, 63

Bouts, Dirck, 3

Boys, Hector, 25

Brie, Germain de, 96

Bucer (Butzer), Martin, 177, 243

Budaeus, William, 94, 95, 96, 97, 119, 123, 124, 125, 126, 132, 153,
  173, 219, 221

Busch, Hermann, 224

Busleiden, Francis of, archbishop of Besançon, 55, 135

Busleiden, Jerome, 135

Cajetanus, 141

Calvin, 165, 167, 182

Caminade, Augustine, 37, 47, 48, 155

Canossa, Count, 86

Capito, Wolfgang Fabricius, 96, 132, 140, 165, 166, 171, 218, 243

Catherine of Aragon, 168

Charles V, 92, 95, 99, 145-6, 218

Charnock, prior, 31

Cinicampius, _see_ Eschenfelder

Clement VII, 184

Clyfton, tutor, 63

Cochleus, 241

Colet, John, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 56, 57, 58, 80, 81, 91, 92, 96,
  104, 109, 141, 144, 154, 181, 200, 211, 215

Cop, William, 49, 61, 94, 219

Cornelius, _see_ Aurelius

Cratander, 85

David of Burgundy, bishop of Utrecht, 16

Decanus, 224

Denk, Hans, 178

Dirks, Vincent, 137, 149, 157, 158

Dobeneck, John, _see_ Cochleus

Dorp, Martin van, 77, 94, 126, 131, 133, 134

Dürer, Albrecht, 148-9, 240, 224n.

Eck, Johannes, 98, 141

Egmond, Nicholas of (Egmondanus), 119, 133, 137, 148, 149, 158, 161

Egnatius, Baptista, 64

Episcopius, Nicholas, 186

Eppendorff, Henry of, 124, 159, 160, 243

Eschenfelder, Christopher, 186, 224

Étienne, _see_ Stephanus

Faber, _see_ Lefèvre

Farel, Guillaume, 166, 167

Ferdinand, archduke, 175

Ficino, Marsilio, 21

Filelfo, Francesco, 205

Fisher, John, bishop of Rochester, 58, 80, 92, 119, 181, 182, 214n.

Fisher, Robert, 26, 27, 34, 199

Flaminius, John, 225

Foxe, Richard, 58, 59

Francis I, 94, 99, 144, 145, 218-19

Frederick of Saxony, 139, 143, 147

Froben, Johannes, 83, 83, 87, 89, 90, 91, 134, 143, 156, 170, 182, 221,
  223n., 243

Froben, Johannes Erasmius, 156, 183, 186

Fugger, Anthony, 176

Gaguin, Robert, 21, 24, 25, 26, 125

Gallinarius, 223

Gebwiler, 224

George of Saxony, 162

Gerard, Cornelius, _see_ Aurelius

Gerard, Erasmus's father, 6

Gerbel, 224

Gigli, Silvestro, bishop of Worcester, 93

Gilles, Peter, 66, 86, 92, 94, 107, 119, 133, 184

Glareanus, Henri (Loriti), 96, 219, 251

Gourmont, Gilles, 79, 80, 82, 209n.

Grey, Thomas, 23, 26

Grimani, Domenico, 66, 67n., 68, 214

Grocyn, William, 34, 58, 200, 208

Groote, Geert 3

Grunnius, Lambertus, 93

Grynaeus, Simon, 249

Guibé, Robert, bishop of Nantes, 215n.

Hegius, Alexander, 7

Henry of Bergen, bishop of Cambray, 16, 17, 25, 27, 35, 38, 47, 55

Henry VII, 58, 67, 251

Henry VIII, 30, 37, 67, 84, 99, 144, 145, 146, 162, 182, 218, 251

Hermans, William, 11, 13, 16, 18, 26, 28, 38, 44, 47, 49

Hermonymus, George, 204n.

Holbein, Hans, 114, 121, 151, 232n., 236n.

Hollonius, Lambert, 156

Hoogstraten, Jacob, 145

Hutten, Ulrich von, 96, 118, 119, 125, 128-9, 140, 148, 159, 231

James IV, 66, 84

John of Trazegnies, 50n.

Julius II, 58, 62, 84, 93, 152, 217

Karlstadt, Andreas, 141

Lachner, 221

Lang, John, 141, 142, 144

Langenfeld, John, 224

Lascaris, Johannes, 64

Lasco, Johannes a, 186

Latimer, William, 58, 208

Latomus, Bartholomew, 251

Latomus, James, 133, 135, 149

Laurin, Mark, 229

Lee, Edward, 119, 122, 128, 133, 134, 135, 145, 157

Lefèvre d'Étaples, Jacques, 21, 119, 120, 132, 133

Leo, Ambrose, 219

Leo X, 66, 93, 94, 134, 140, 144, 146, 215, 218

Leonicenus, Nicholas, 219

Linacre, Thomas, 34, 58, 200, 208, 219, 221

Longolius, Christopher, 172, 173

Loriti, _see_ Glareanus

Loyola, Ignatius of, 189

Lupset, 221n., 222

Luther, Martin, 54, 96, 120, 128, 131, 135, 138, 139-50, 159, 161-5,
  177, 178, 179, 209, 229, 240, 244

Lypsius, Martin, 125, 134

Lyra, Nicholas of, 57

Maertensz, Dirck, 66, 90, 92, 134, 156

Manutius, _see_ Aldus

Mary of Hungary, 168, 187

Maternus, 224

Matthias, 225

Maximilian, emperor, 84, 99, 141, 147, 176, 218, 219

Medici, Giovanni de', _see_ Leo X

Melanchthon, 145, 152, 165, 178, 180, 231

Metsys, Quentin, 92, 240n.

More, Thomas, 29, 30, 34, 35, 58, 69, 70, 92, 107, 119, 126, 127, 141,
  146, 148, 153, 154, 182, 183, 200, 209, 221, 231-9, 252

Mountjoy, _see_ Blount

Musurus, Marcus, 64

Mutianus, 165

Neuenahr, Hermann Count of, 225, 226

Northoff, brothers, 26, 27

Obrecht, Johannes, 62

Oecolampadius, 157, 166, 167, 168, 174, 175, 180

Osiander, 244

Pace, Richard, 159, 222

Paludanus, Johannes, 131

Paracelsus, Theophrastus, 242

Paul III, 184, 185, 253

Peter Gerard, Erasmus's brother, 5-10

Phileticus, Martin, 205n.

Philip le Beau, 56, 59n.

Philippi, John, 58

Pico della Mirandola, 21

Pio, Alberto, 77, 158, 167

Pirckheimer, Willibald, 95, 165, 184, 239

Platter, Thomas, 182

Politian, 205

Poncher, Étienne, 94, 96

Probst (Proost), James, 231n.

Reuchlin, 90, 94, 128, 145

Reynolds, Richard, 252n.

Riario, Raffaele, 67, 214n.

Roger, _see_ Gerard

Rombout, 8

Rudolfingen, 224

Ruell, John, 219

Sadolet, 93, 94, 164, 173, 177

Sapidus, Johannes, 98

Sasboud, 15

Sauvage, John le, 92

Scaliger, 173

Schürer, M., 90, 209n., 223n., 224

Servatius Roger, 11, 12, 58, 59, 60, 62, 87, 93, 119, 197, 212

Sixtin, John, 31

Sluter, 3

Spalatinus, George, 139

Stadion, Christopher of, bishop of Augsburg, 182

Standonck, John, 21, 22, 38

Stephanus, Henricus, 223n.

Stewart, Alexander, archbishop of St. Andrews, 66, 67, 84

Stewart, James, 198n.

Stunica, _see_ Zuñiga

Suderman, 226, 227

Synthen, Johannes, 7

Talesius, Quirin, 184, 193

Tapper, Ruurd, 137

Theodoric, 228

Thomas à Kempis, 4, 54

Tunstall, Cuthbert, 58, 96, 97, 132, 162, 208

Urswick, 221

Utenheim, Christopher of, bishop of Basle, 166, 173

Utenhove, Charles, 184, 193

Valdes, Alfonso, 246

Valla, Lorenzo, 27, 57, 58, 90

Varnbüler, Ulrich, 224

Veere, _see_ Anna of Borselen

Vianen, William of, 137

Vincent, Augustine, 26

Vitrier, Jean, 50, 181

Vives, 161, 164

Voecht, Jacobus, 38

Warham, William, archbishop of Canterbury, 58, 59, 68, 81, 92, 95, 184,
  204, 215

Watson, John, 98

Werner, Nicholas, 198, 216

William of Orange, 193

Wimpfeling, Jacob, 80, 166

Winckel, Peter, 8

Woerden, Cornelius of, 212

Wolsey, Cardinal, 31, 95, 137, 145, 215n.

Ximenes, F., archbishop of Toledo, 95, 130, 158, 218n.

Zasius, Ulrich, 96, 153, 165, 187, 219

Zuñiga, Diego Lopez, 158

Zwingli, Ulrich, 96, 177, 179, 180, 244

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