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religionists and brethren; to esteem the sacramental obligation the highest bond, and to regard not where but how well you live as the important matter. You wish me to fix myself in one place-old age gives the same counsel-yet the journeyings of Solon, Pythagoras, and Plato are commended; the apostles themselves, in chief St. Paul, were wanderers ; Jerome himself, though a monk, was now at Rome, again in Syria, in Africa, here, there, everywhere, and even in his old age he studied sacred literature. I own I am not to be compared to him, yet I have never wandered about unless driven by the plague, or for health or study's sake, and wherever I have abode (I may speak of myself proudly yet truly) I had the approval of the approved, the praise of the applanded; and all countries, Spain, Italy, England, Scotland, have offered me their hospitality. I may not meet the approval of all men (nor do I care to do so), yet I have certainly pleased the most distinguished. Every cardinal at Rome received me as a brother, though by no means seeking such distinction, especially Cardinal St. George, the Cardinal of Bologna, Cardinal Grymanus, the Cardinal of Nevi, and the present pontiff, Leo X., not to speak of bishops, archdeacons, and learned men ; and I owed this distinction not to wealth, which I neither had, nor have, nor desire, nor to ambition, which I never entertained, but to those literary attainments which, though our people deride, the Italians adore. There is not a bishop in England who would not delight in my acquaintance, desire me for a guest, or accept me as a resident in his family. The King himself, shortly before his father's decease, wrote to me in Italy with his own hand most affectionate letters, and now speaks frequently of me as of one whom he most honours and loves ; and whenever I pay my respects he receives and regards me so kindly that it is clear as he speaks, so he feels towards me. The queen, too, has sought me for an instructor, and every one knows that by spending a few months in the royal household I could obtain what amount of Church preferment I pleased, but I prefer before them all my own liberty, studies, and labours. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate and Chancellor of England, a man of learning and probity, could not be more affectionate if I were his father or brother. In proof of his disposition, he bestowed on me a noble preferment of 1001. This, on my resignation at my own request, he ex. changed into a pension of 100 crowns, to which he added a donation of 400 nobles within these few years ; without the least solicitation he gave me one day 150 nobles, and from other bishops I have had 100 nobles given kindly and unasked for. Lord Mountjoy, my former pupil, has given me an annual pension of 100 crowns; the King and Bishop of Lincoln, now all-powerful in the kingdom, have both made me magnificent promises. Here are two Universities, Oxford and Cambridge, both desirous to have me. At Cambridge I gave lectures in Greek and sacred literature for several months—and this gratuitously, as it is my intention always to do. Here are some colleges, evincing so much piety and purity of life, that if you saw it you must ever after respect religion
At London there is Doctor John Colet, Dean of St. Paul's, a man combining true doctrine with admirable piety, and of great and general influence, and, as is well known, there is none whom he so loves or lives so intimately with as myself. I forbear to enumerate others lest I should annoy you by being boastful or verbose. But now let me speak
a little of my works. You have read, I believe, my “Enchiridion,” acknowledged by many to have excited them to piety. I take no merit to myself for this work, but give glory to Christ if, by his grace, I have been the means of good to any. I don't know whether you have seen my “ Adagia,” printed by Aldus. It is not a theological work, but of general utility, and has cost me a world of labour.
I published a small work dedicated to my Dean Colet, calculated to be most useful to preachers, but those who despise all useful literature contemn it. In addition to other works, within these two years I have corrected the Epistles of Jerome, marked the corrupted and forged parts with asterisks, and illustrated obscure passages with scholia ; from old Greek MSS. I have corrected the New Testament, and annotated above a thousand passages, not uselessly, as theologians acknowledge. I have commenced Commentaries on St. Paul's Epistles, which I mean to complete as soon as I have published those former, for it is my purpose to die engaged in sacred literature.
It is thus I employ my time and studies. Good judges tell me that I am competent in these matters to which others are incompetent ; for
your mode of life I am useless. Among all the grave and learned men I have associated with here, in Italy, or in France, I never found one who counselled me to return to monastic life, or advised it as preferable. Nay, even your predecessor, Nicholas Uvercerus, of happy memory, always dissuaded me from it, advised me to attach myself to some bishop's family, adding that he understood both my mind and the ways of “his little brotherlings"-I use his very words ;* and, indeed, in my present mode of life, while I see some things to be avoided, I don't see how I can do better.
It now remains that I give you some explanation as to my monastic habit. Heretofore I always adopted the dress of the regulars ; when at Louvain, the Bishop of Trajectinum gave me leave to use without scruple a short cloak instead of a long one, and a black collar instead of a monk's frock, after the fashion of Paris. As I travelled towards Italy, however, along the road, perceiving that the regulars all used a large cloak along with the scapular, not to give offence by singularity of dress, I, too, began to use it. Subsequently, when the plague broke out at Bologna, those who attended the plague-struck were distinguished by a white linen cloth hung from the shoulder, whom all men shunned carefully. It happened that I, paying a visit to a learned friend, some of the mob were about to assault me with their weapons, and had done so if a woman had not explained to them that my white linen was the scapular of an ecclesiastic. On another day, going near two boys, the sons of the city treasurer, these attacked me with sticks and abuse, so that by the advice of prudent friends I hid my scapular, and obtained permission from Julius II. to use the monastic habit or not as I pleased, provided I retained the garb of a priest, and all former irregularity, if any, he pardoned, by special
In Italy, therefore, I retained the sacerdotal habit, not to cause any scandal. Returning into England, I determined again to use my ordinary monastic dross; and, seeking the advice of a friend of the highest repute, both for life and doctrine, I showed him
the dress I determined to wear, and asked him if it were suitable for England; he quite approved it,
• “Addens se nosse, et animum meum, et fraterculorum suorum mores."
and so I appeared in it publicly; but I was at once advised by other friends that I should hide it, for that such a dress would not be tolerated in England. I covered it accordingly, but since I could not wear it, and so conceal it as not to occasion some scandal, I replaced it in my trunk, and ever since have availed myself of the old license given me by the pontiff. The papal decrees excommunicate a religious who puts off his habit in order to mix more freely with the laity. I laid it aside in Italy in peril of life, I also laid it aside in England as not tolerated there, when I should have preferred using it; and, in fine, to resume it now would produce more scandal than did the laying it by originally.
You have now before you my whole mode of life-you have my own opinions. I would willingly change this mode of life did I see any better ; but I do not see what I could do in Holland. I know well that neither the climate nor diet would agree with me, and I should excite universal notoriety. Shall I, who was left a youth, return old and grey? Shall I, held in honour by the magnates of other states, return an invalid, despicable in the eyes even of the feeble? Shall I go and interchange study and sottishness ?*
For as to your promise to exert yourself to find for me some position where, as you say, I might live in the greatest comfort (emolumento), I cannot conceive what it could be, except
you would locate me in some monastery, where I who declined to serve kings or prelates, should busy myself with some old women. On wealth I dwell not for a moment, for I seek not to grow rich, if I have what will enable me to have health and literary leisure, without being burdensome to any. I wish I might communicate personally on these matters, for I cannot do so by letter, either safely or conveniently, for your letters, though sent by a safe hand, had gone so astray, that, if chance had not brought me hither, I had never seen them : and they have reached me after having been in many hands previous. Wherefore, write no secret, unless you know precisely where I am and can find a trusty messenger.
I am now on my way into Germany—that is, to Basle, to edit some of my works. Probably this winter I shall pass at Rome. On my return "I shall endeavour to confer with you somewhere, but summer is now nigh past and the journey a long one. I heard of the death of our friends, William, Francis, and Andrew, from Rasbondus and his wife. Salute our Lord Henry and all those others with you towards whom I entertain due regard, for I impute former mischances to mistakes, or, if you will, to my evil destiny. Your letters after Easter reached me in the end of July. Fail not, I pray you, to commend me to Christ in your prayers ; me who, if I thought I should decide better in returning to your establishment, would set out this very day. Farewell
, my once most agreeable companion, now my most respected father.
Dated from Hanse Town, by Cales, the day after the Nones of July, —,
This characteristic and interesting letter is marked in the original with some peculiarities worth noticing. Though Erasmus speaks in it of having given lectures at Cambridge in Grock, yet I find that doubts have been expressed as to the depth and reality of his knowledge of that
* " Studia mea, compotationibus permutabo ?”
tongue, which, it seems, he first learned after he came to England. Mr. Hales, in particular, while praising his exactness, fluency, and facility as a Latin critic, says, “He had not the same with respect to the Greek writers.” Without investigating these doubts, it may fairly be said that, in an age when that thick darkness, which Erasmus calls “crassa Barbaries,”* covered the people, and when monkish ignorance actually preached against Greek as “Aat heresy” and a “ Lutheran invention!" -when the learned Bishop Fisher attempted to learn it in his old age as a perfectly new branch of knowledge-in such a time as this, a proficiency, moderate when compared to the erudition of a Bentley or a Porson, might be something to boast of, and might even warrant a man in standing up to lecture. In the letter before us, Erasmus, possibly in a little parade of extra learning, here and there introduces a Greek sentence, much as an Englishman now-a-days enlivens, or gives point to a letter, with an appropriate Gallicism or scrap of Italian; but it is remarkable, also, that Erasmus seems to use his Greek as a kind of cyphers in which to convey any opinion bearing peculiarly hard upon conventual life or its usages : thus, when he says, “ If you take from the monastic life what is called its ceremonial (wo kalovol Kalpemoviao), I don't see anything desirable left”—or, again, when he ventures to affirm “that the greatest destruction of Christian godliness proceeds from those called the religious"—he throws over these and other strong sentiments the veil of Greek characters ; and there seems every reason to suppose that this was done to render them unintelligible to any chance reader, into whose hands the letter might fall, through that unsecurity of conveyance of which he complains.
The reference in this letter to that “ dear Colet,” with whom Erasmus lived in such intimate love, and to whom he had dedicated a work, “contemned only by those who despise all useful literature” (the Scotists and
Thomists to wit), suggests to me to make up this triumvirate of “Protesters” with a few notes of that precursor of Protestantism, the good Dean of St. Paul's, the record of whose Christian munificence stands still discernible in the goodly pile of “Powles School” without, though the “ lyttel monument he had made for himself nyghe to the image of Seint Wyłgefort,” in the church within, was long ago swept away in the conflagration of London."
That Colet (whose acts as a Churchman might well make a corrupt church wonder “whereunto these things would grow") was one of those men before his age, there are abundant evidences, in addition to his “ heretic love to heathen Greek.” Erasmus, in his light, easy way, would often accuse his friend of many symptoms of " heresy,” from which he himself was free ; and his repudiation of the authority of Scotists and Thomists alike, and his adoption of that plain, rebuking, reforming style of preaching, in which, in his celebrated convocation sermon, he called on prelates and priests to “ let those lawes be rehearsed,” which in their
“Me adoloscente in nostrâ Germaniâ regnabat impune crassa Barbaries, litteras Græcas attigisse hæresis erat.”—Erasm. adv. Cursium.
+ I found lately in the State Paper Office traces of this application of the Greek language. Anne Cooke, the mother of Lord Bacon, a learned lady of her day, when writing to her sons Anthony and Francis, usually put proper names into Greek characters, especially when writing anything derogatory or mysterious.
bare recital convicted the bearers of omniferous corruption; these things all marked him out for one of those “pestilent fellows," who, “after the manner bis Church called heresy, worshipped God." There seems, also, to have been more earnestness and decision in his mental protest against superstition and folly than “his Erasmus” could attain to; of this the latter gives a remarkable exemplification in an account of the effect which an exhibition of some of the relics of St. Thomas A'Becket produced on each of them respectively: while Colet's spirit burned within him at the absurdities thus pressed on the reverence of the devout, Erasmus, with an easy tolerance, while he ridiculed the credulity which invested them with sanctity, felt no pressure of spirit to raise his voice against the abuse.* The hour when the world needs reformation is ever present, but it is only when “the Hour and Man" coincide, that reformation of abuses takes a form and practical consistence.
[It is related of the celebrated sculptor Danneker that towards the close of his career, when lapsing into dotage, he used to send his love to Ariadne—his masterpiece.]
My love to her my love to her
The dreaming sculptor sighed,
The eve before he died.
My passion and my pride!
Ay, take it all, said he:
She's all in all to me:
My soul's idolatry! “In England," writes Erasmus in his Treatise on Prayer, “ they offer you to be kissed the slipper of St. Thomas, formerly Bishop of Canterbury—the same being possibly the slipper of some scurril buffoon; in any case can there be a greater folly than to adore a man's slipper ? I myself saw, that when they exhibited an old torn napkin, with which St. Thomas is said to have wiped his nose! forthwith the abbot and the rest of them who stood about the coffer, fell at once on their knees, and, with lifted hands, expressed their adoration. To Colet (who was with me) these proceedings seemed intolerable. I, on the other hand, thought they might be endured, until an opportunity might offer for correcting them without disorder.”—Erasmi Modus Orandi, Op. tom. v. p. 933.