Page images
PDF
EPUB

human credulity and ignorance. Erasinus, moreover, denoted the antagonism of Popery and Protestantism which, from his early coquetting with Newmanism, possessed for Froude a fascination of the profoundest kind. For these reasons, chiefly impersonal, it would be difficult to suggest a subject for his lectures more appropriate than that of Erasmus.

Let us add to this another point of view, in which the intellectual and historical interest of Erasmus's career was revived in Froude's own mental life. In the later stages of his historical speculation, when his beliefs bad acquired the stability that pertains to the fixed creed of the historian, he saw that in the long run human progress—whether of nations and communities on the one hand, or individuals on the other--was more real and decisive when the agencies employed were rather (to revert to the analogy of the Reformation) Erasmian than Lutheran ; although at starting the vehemence of the converted monk proved more efficacious than the moderation of the Rotterdam scholar. The recognised moral of the Reformation history found a curious but instructive parallel in Froude's spiritual experience—in a large and broad conflict of opposed principles. It was not the earliest antagonism to error, blind and vehement as it mostly was, that was destined to a final victory; though at first its triumph was complete, and might even seem to be decisive. So that, from whatever standpoint it might be regarded, it was Erasmus with his cautious moderation, not Luther with his headlong vehemence, for whom the final triumph was reserved. It would be interesting to know how far the Erasmian methods and opinions, in his latest-formed judgements and ecclesiastical and political struggles, had really supplanted the earlier Lutheran vehemence. It was an augury of riper wisdom, therefore, that chose the Rotterdam scholar as the summary and epitome of the latest opinions and judgements of--as it proved—the later portion of his own life.

Erasmus was born A.D. 1467, on the eve of the great movement in which he was to take such a prominent and wise part. His father, Gerrard, after whom the son was named, was a man of rare talent and spirit. His mother, Margaret, was the daughter of a physician. Legend affirms that Erasmus was an illegitimate, or, as Froude euphemistically calls him, a love-child. The ante-nuptial relations of Erasmus's parents form a story, probably legendary, of romantic beauty and singular pathos. It has been utilised by more than one writer, most recently by Charles Reid, in that very remarkable and beautiful romance · The Cloister and the Hearth.' It has been alleged, and the report has been repeated even by such a respectable authority as Mr. Drummond, that the parents of Erasmus were never married; but, as Froude well reminds us, the only approximately reliable authority for the story of his birth is Erasmus himself, and, secondly, that when Erasmus rose to such celebrity, his great foes, the monks, were glad to invent and circulate any report that threw a slur either on himself or his parents. The relative, of all other, whom Erasmus mentions at some length was his brother Peter, three years older than himself, and wholly unlike him in character and predilections. Intellectually he was dull and stupid, and cared nothing for the learning which constituted the main attraction of life for Erasmus; morally he was a drunkard and profligate, tendencies to which Erasmus had, constitutionally and religiously, the greatest possible aversion. He died early, and Erasmus neither felt, nor professed to feel, any grief for the loss of such an unworthy kinsman. Meanwhile, Peter and himself had been left orphans by the early death of their parents, who committed the custody of their two boys to guardians. Their choice of these proved unfortunate. Having wasted the property assigned them for the maintenance and education of Peter and Erasmus, they employed every means in their power to compel them to enter a'monastery and take the vows. As a preparation for this step they were placed for some few years in charge of a secular order called the Collationaries. Notwithstanding Froude's industry and his life-long researches among the monastic orders, he confesses himself unable to identify these fathers. They would seem to have been a kind of unclassified order apart from those who took monastic vows in their entirety. They were, in other words, a species of unattached recruiting sergeants, whose function it was to search out for, and provide, promising young aspirants for the militant troops of the Pope. To these keen-sighted purveyors of intellectual young men, able and willing to defend the Papacy from the foes that commenced to assail her on all sides, the young Erasmus appeared a veritable god-send. But the young scholar long refused to be enlisted among the becowled and shaven bodyguard of the Romish Church. At last, however, he so far yielded to the flatteries and importunities brought to bear on him as to become a boarder in a house of Augustinian Canons, and also to take the vows. This step, unwillingly

veritable among the best hast, how

taken, had, however, this advantage; it gave him an insight into the principles and lives of his monastic brethren, of which he was able to avail himself during the whole of his after-life. But Erasmus was wholly unfitted to become the inmate of a monastery, and he contrived, by earnest solicitation of the Bishop of Cambray, who had become his patron, to obtain, at least, a temporary release from his now more than ever detested vow.

Far more befitting his future destiny was his next step; we may term it the first starting-point of a career not wholly unlike that of Giordano Bruno and other restless spirits of the sixteenth century, that of a wandering scholar. His patron sent him to Paris, and made him an allowance for continuing his studies there. Professor Froude, who appears to have explored pretty thoroughly the inexhaustible mine of Erasmus's letters, and who is as keen in searching and proud in finding and displaying the occasional nuggets that rewarded his search as ever was a gold-digger in a Californian or Australian mine, adduces soine extracts which give us a lively picture of the life of Parisian students at the close of the fifteenth century. Here is an extract all the more interesting because it represents Erasmus in a somewhat unexpected form.

Here is a picture,' says Froude, of a student's lodginghouse in Paris four hundred years ago. Human nature

changes little, and landladies and chambermaids were much 'the same as we now know them :'

* One day,' Erasmus says, 'I saw the mistress of the house quarrelling with the servant-girl in the garden. The trumpet sounded, the tongues clashed, the battle of words swayed to and fro. I looked on from a window in the salon. The girl came afterwards to my room to make the bed. I praised her courage for standing up so bravely. I said I wished her hands had been as effective as her tongue, for the mistress was an athlete and had punched the girl's head with her fists. “ Have you no nails ? " said I. She laughed. “I would fight her gladly enough,” said she, “if I was only strong enough.” “Victory is not always to the strong," said I; “cunning may do something." " What cunning ?” says she. “Tear off her false curls,” answer I, " and when the curls are gone seize hold of her hair.” I was only joking, and thought no more about the matter. But see what came of it. While we were at supper in runs our host, breathless and panting. “Masters ! masters !” he cries," come and see a bloody piece of work.” We fly. We find maid and mistress struggling on the ground. We tear them apart. Ringlets lay on one side, caps on the other, bandfuls of hair lying littered about the floor. After we bad returned to the table, in came the landlady in a fury to tell her story. “I was going to beat the creature," she said, “when she fiew at me and pulled my

wig off. Then she scratched at my eyes. Then, as you see, she tore my hair. Never was a girl so small and such a spitfire." We con= soled her as well as we could. We talked of the chances of mortal things and the uncertainties of war. We contrived at last to make up the quarrel. I congratulated myself that I was not suspected, and so escaped the lash of her tongue.' (P. 22.)

The time of the young student in Paris was fully occupied, partly by his own studies, partly by pupils whom his friends procured for him, and with whose tuition he seems to have been very successful. Among the rest were several Englishmen. It is to one of these, Lord Mountjoy, that England is indebted for the large share she had in Erasmus's career and work. Of all the Reformation and Renaissance spirits Erasmus is, in point of fact, the man of all others to which England is indebted for her early share in the new light. Probably not even Wicliff, with his translation of the Scriptures, contributed so much to Englishmen's knowledge of the Bible as did Erasmus's Paraphrases of the New Testament.

On his arrival in England, in 1497, Erasmus was introduced by Mountjoy to a circle of choice spirits, all of whom were imbued more or less with the free culture of the Renaissance. Such were Sir Thomas More, Colet (Dean of St. Paul's), Grocyn, and Linacre. But England had other attractions for the versatile young student. He was especially charmed with the laws and customs of the country gentry. At the risk of reproducing perhaps the best-known passage of all others, whether in the · Letters' or in the

Colloquies,' we make the following extract. He writes to Anderlin :

• Your friend Erasmus gets on well in England. He can make a show in the hunting-field. He is a fair horseman and understands how to make his way. He can make a tolerable bow and can smile graciously whether he means it or not. . . . If you knew the charms of this country your ankles would be winged, or if the gout was in your feet you would wish yourself Dædalus.

• To mention but a single attraction, the English girls are divinely pretty. Soft, pleasant, gentle and charming as the Muses. They have one custom which cannot be too much admired. When you go anywhere on a visit the girls all kiss you. They kiss you when you arrive, and they kiss you again when you return. Go where you will, it is all kisses, and, my dear Faustus, if you had once tasted how soft and fragrant their lips are you would wish to spend your life here.

But this is not the only, perhaps not the highest, attraction which England possessed for Erasmus. A tie of a much more profitable kind was his connexion with Arch

ounts, stich Erasures at Caprince fruit in 110

Wonected with Ent a single works except his edit fruits

bishop Warham, who not only received him graciously, but made him the grateful recipient of a pension, which he enjoyed until his death.

We have accounts, scattered it is true, but reliable, of no less than four visits which Erasmus made to England. On his third visit he delivered lectures at Cambridge, and cultivated that intimacy with the young prince' (afterwards Henry VIII.) which was destined to bring forth fruit in his theological education, especially in his reply to Luther. To his residence in England also, and his friendship with Dean Colet and Sir Thomas More, we must ascribe the first fruits of Erasmus's writings. Indeed, if we except his edition of

Terence,' there is not a single work of Erasmus which is not connected with England and English friendships.

We now come to one of the most striking features of Erasmus's career-that by which he became one of the leading spirits of the new enlightenment, partly classical and humanistic, partly Protestant and religious. Indeed, it is into these two divisions of his intellectual and religious energy that Erasmus's literary products are divisible. On the one hand, his ‘Adagia,' the Encomium Moriæ,' the translation of Lucian, and the Colloquies' represent the free spirit of the Renaissance, and its rapprochement to the genial classicalism of the old pagan world; while his 'Paraphrase on the New Testament, and his patristic writings, represent that mitigated and partial Protestantism which is now commonly assigned to Erasmus. The first edition of the 'Adagia' was published in A.D. 1548. "The . book,' says Froude, 'was a splendid success. Copies were • sold in thousands, and helped a little to fill the emptied

purse again.' There were two main causes of this popularity, only one of which is noticed by Froude. This was the sly humour with which he attacked the clergy and the corruptions of the Church. Of this he gives two illustrations :

'A Greek proverb says Androclides is a great man in times of confusion. This applies to theologians who make reputations by setting Christians quarrelling, and would rather be notorious by doing harm then live quietly and not be noticed.' (P. 47.)

Talking of the Cæna Pontificalis,' he says it explains the phrase vinum theologicum :

Priests,' he observes, ' are said in Scripture to devour the sins of the people, and they find sins so hard of digestion that they must have the best wine to wash them dowa witbal."

« PreviousContinue »