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ART. V.-1. Colloquiorum Desiderü Erasmi Roterodami Familiarium.
Opus Aureum. (The Familiar Colloquies of Erasmus, &c.)
By DES. ERASMUS. London, 1740. 2. Epitome Adagiorum. (Epitome of Adages, &c.)
By D. ERAS. Vita Des. Erasmi. (The Life of Erasmus.) By MERULA.
Leyden, 1607. 3. Des. Erasmi Roterodami Epistolæ Familiares. (The Familiar
Epistles of Erasmus, &c.) London, 1512. 4. Eloges Historiques des Hommes Illustres. Par J. BULLART:
Paris. 5. The Life of Erasmus. By Joux FORTIN. London.
NO FACULTY is more neglected at the present day than the memory, although no faculty is better calculated to enable us to estimate our own talents and accomplishments at their proper value. There is nothing strange, then, in the fact that vanity and arrogance are the prevailing characteristics of modern civilization. The Persians and the Romans, as well as the Greeks, were so well aware of the tendency of self-love to cause every generation to regard itself as greatly superior to that which preceded it, that each of those nations adopted the custom of having portraits always before their eyes of those of their ancestors who had distinguished themselves in any honorable or useful pursuit.* It is with a similar view the greatest productions of the human mind have been written.
But at the present day all this is deemed superfluous; the past is nothing—all generations before our own time were in a benighted state ; their chief characteristics were ignorance and superstition. There have been gleams of light at some periods; but those who knew most were mere gropers in the dark compared to the shining lights of the present day!
Who will deny that this is the general opinion among those who consider themselves intelligent? At first sight it may seem to be harmless; but it is productive of incalculable evil. Why should those who are conscious of their own superior intelligence and enlightenment trouble their heads
Vide Sallust in Jugurtha.
with todious researches? Since the mind has all the cultivation it needs, and is abundantly stored with knowledge, all that remains to be done in the pursuit of happiness is to attend to the body! For this, money is the essential thing; accordingly money is the passport to power and distinction. To this it may be added, that if to prefer matter to mind, to value mere pretension more highly than intelligence, and to worship Mammon rather than God, be evidence of progress, then, indeed, the claims of the present generation may well be admitted : in other words, if well filled vessels sound more loudly than those that are empty, or, at least, but half filled, our superiority is beyond dispute.
Be this as it may, we admit that when we undertake to discuss the labors of those who lived in “benighted times," our chief object is to show that after all we have not much reason to boast. It is with this view we devote the presvent paper to the life and works of Erasmus of Rotterdam. If the unbiased reader will accompany us in a calm, thoughtful spirit, and occasionally pause to compare Erasmus to any of the great men of our own time, taking into account the influence exercised by each, we think he will admit before he reaches the conclusion of our article, brief as it must necessarily be, that the superior enlightenment claimed for the present generation is much more apparent than real.
Far be it from us to deny in any discussion that a larger number of people know how to read and write at the present day than were capable of doing so in the time of Erasmus; but there is far less scholarship now-far less real culture, notwithstanding our numerous colleges, universities, seminaries, and institutes. We are very
will differ with us on this point; but before refusing to be convinced, let such please to remember a factor two. In every age and country, learning has been prized and honored in proportion as it has been thoroughly cultivated; and for the same reason, in proportion as it has dwindled to a mere smattering, it has fallen into disrepute, if not into utter contempt. We are constantly reminded by a certain class of writers and orators, of the wonderful influence of the Reformation on the devel
opment of the human mind; but there have been very few such thinkers since the time of Luther as there were beforefew such thinkers as Luther himself and several of his associates, especially Melancthon, Hutten, Zwingle, and Calvin. It should be remembered that none of these were educated by protestants; the most learned of them, including Luther himself, and Melancthon, were educated by the monks; and so was Erasmus, who, it may be said, without any exaggeration, was more learned than all.
At this time learning was everywhere honored, but by none more than by archbishops and cardinals; nor were any more willing to make allowances for the foibles and faults of learned men, even when those foibles and faults had reference chiefly to the teachings of religion. It was not alone when men attained distinction they were thus favored by the princes of the church. We do not remember a single illustrious. man of those times who was not more or less aided in his earlier struggles by a bishop, archbishop or cardinal; nor does either Erasmus or Luther form an exception. One, as well as the other, had to struggle against poverty, and might have remained for ever in obscurity had he not been assisted by a, churchman.* Our being protestants should not close our eyes against these facts ; in order to be just to ourselves, as. well as to those who differ with us, we are bound to remember them. We should also remember that Leo X., one of the most liberal patrons of learning, science and the arts: that ever wielded a sceptre of any kind, belonged to this: period.
Our chief object in alluding to the princes of the church is to show, in passing, that they, too, have very much degenerated in modern times as patrons of learning. We could, indeed, point out some noble exceptions, but they are exceedingly few-not half a dozen out of as many hundred. In general, they retain very little, if any, of the ancient spirit of their order. They have no disposition to imitate the noble examples of those who so generously curtailed their personal expenses in order to aid men like Erasmus, Copernicus, Luther, &c. We do not pretend, however, that the catholic divines of the pres
* See N. Q. Review, No. xxxi; art.,
" Martin Luther and the Old Church."
ent day are less friendly to learning than the protestant divines. Indeed, we cannot say that, in general, there is much difference between them in this respect. As Luther, Melancthon and Calvin might well reproach their successors of the present day for having so sadly degenerated in knowledge, so might Leo X. and his archbishops, cardinals, and monks, throughout christendom reproach their successors for having degenerated as the friends and patrons of learned men. The divines on both sides may be as pious as ever; but whether they are or not is not the question with us. We refer to either only so far as their conduct seems calculated to aid us in showing that, if there is a degeneracy, instead of the vast improvement boasted of, in the culture and ethics of the present day, as compared with those of former generations, there is ample reason for it—a fact which we think will become more and more evident as we proceed.
Desiderius Erasmus was born at Rotterdam, October 28, 1467—more than four centuries ago-twenty years earlier than Luther. His father, Gerard Praet,* had been educated for the church, but contrary to his own inclination. His unwillingness to become a priest arose from his having been enamored, at an early age, of the daughter of a neighboring physician. His parents refused to accept this as an excuse, but insisted on his preparing for holy orders. As usual in such cases, the young people became more and more attached to each other, and sought each other's company in proportion as efforts were made to prevent their getting married; and the result was that the lady had an illegitimate child, who was destined to be one of the greatest christian philosophers, and the most illustrious of the restorers of letters. Although much scandal was thus produced, all whose opinion was of any value made allowance for the circumstances in which the lovers were placed, and the subsequent conduct of both, especially of the young lady, was such as to prove that the public judgment was as correct and just as it
* In these times it was the habit of learned men to assume classical Damer, especially if their ancestral names were not euphonious. According to this usage Gerard, which in German, means amiable, lovely, was turned into the Latin Desiderius, and into the Greek Epaoulos—both terms meaning exactly the same.
was charitable and humane.* Seeing that his beloved Margaret was enciente, Gerard thought it best to leave his native country.
At this time educated from all parts of the world were employed at Rome in copying the ancient classics and other valuable works, and Gerard resolved to earn a livelihood by this means. But soon after the birth of the child he received a letter from his parents, informing him that Margaret was dead. This overwhelmed him with grief, and he no longer hesitated to become a priest; hence it is that among the many accusations made against Erasmus by his detractors was that of his being the son of a priest. Returning to Gouda a few years afterwards, he learned to his great surprise that both Margaret and her child were alive and well, the lady living almost as much secluded from the world as if she were in a nunnery, and devoting her whole attention and tenderest care to the education of her child. Scrupulously true to his vows, Gerard denied himself even the pleasure of visiting one who, were it not that he was now a priest, might justly be considered as his wife. At the same time, he did all in his power to aid the lady in carrying out her noble resolution of having Erasmus so thoroughly educated that none but the unworthy and censorious would reproach him with a misfortune over which he had had no control.
But, as both parents were poor, they could not do much for him without the assistance of friends. Erasmus was first sent to the parish school of Gouda; but his teachers observing that he had a musical voice, had him sent to Utrecht to sing at the cathedral, and be educated among the children under training for the choir. It soon became sufficiently evident, however, that the future philosopher had no taste for this sort of study. The bishop of Utrecht saw that his aspirations had a different tendency, and gave his advice accordingly.
There is little doubt that they were betrothed to each other. “Il est vrai,'' says Bayle, on the authority of Merula, " qu'il dit que sa mere n'accorda la der. niere faveur que sous espérance de marriage, and que quelques-uns même pré. tendent que la promesse lui en fut donnée: Clam habuit rem cum dicta Margareta, spe conjugu, et sunt qui dicant intercessisse verba. - Dict. Phil., art, “Erasme."