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The Augustinian monks had then a school at Deventer, which had become quite celebrated, and as they were not very exacting in their charges, Erasmus became one of their pupils at the age of nine years.* His mother accompanied him to Deventer, so that she might still continue her watchful care of him. She devoted herself wholly to him; she was delighted with the extraordinary progress he was making, but only lived four years to witness it, and his father only survived her a few months. Thus, at the tender age of thirteen, he was left an orphan. The death of his ill-fated parents made a deep impression on young Erasmus; probably no boy of his age ever wept more bitterly for a mother who had only lived for him. For some weeks he could study none; but then he became more studious than ever. He tells us himself that, feeling not only that he was alone in the world, but also that a large portion of the world was prejudiced against him on account of his birth, he resolved to overcome those disadvantages, if possible, by the cultivation of his mind and the development of his faculties. It should be mentioned, to the honor of the monks, that the death of his parents deprived Erasmus of no advantage which he had possessed at the school in their lifetime; on the contrary, his being an orphan rendered his education an object of greater solicitude to them than ever. Accordingly he was placed under the care of a lay professor who owed his chair only to his superior scholarship, especially his thorough acquaintance with the classic languages. The reader who is acquainted with the writings of Erasmus need not be informed that we allude to Alexander Hegius, for in this, as in many other instances, the pupil has immortalized the teacher. At this time the system of Rodolphe Agricola, of teaching the ancient languages, had attracted attention throughout Germany, and it had been recently introduced at Deventer by Hegius.
We may remarkin passing, that it consisted of teaching Latin and Greek like the modern languages—so far as requiring the students to speak as well as write and translate them ; in
*De Ladibus Westphalæ.
† Velchior Adam in Vita Eras.
other words, it is the system, the adoption of which we have been urging in these pages for the last ten years, and which, we are glad to add, has been adopted accordingly by educators of the first rank, including the best of our modern monks.* Its influence on Erasmus was immediate and powerful; he had already made considerable proficiency both in Greek and Latin, especially in the latter. Alas! there are but few of our college professors, of any denomination, at the present day, who know either so well as Erasmus did when he was only thirteen years old ; but so remarkable was the progress which he made in one year after the introduction of the new system, that when Agricola, its author, came to visit the academy, to see what success had been attained by his friend Hegius, the Latinity of the boy of fourteen attracted his attention at once. We are informed by Chytræust that on being presented with the Latin essays of several students, he requested to be shown the author of one which he held up in his hand. Erasmus is directed by his teacher to come forward; full of modest blushes, the lad was about to retire to his class after making a low bow to Agricola, when the latter took him affectionately by the back of the head, and examining his features attentively, said, “You will, one day, be a great man." So fond had he become of the Latin at this time, by the habit of using it orally, that, as we are assured by the most reliable of his biographers, he could repeat from memory almost every line of Terence and Horace.s
Soon after this the good nature, obedience, and gratitude of Erasmus were put to a severe test. He knew how much he owed the monks; he had sense enough to understand that they had proved parents and friends to him as well as instructors. They wished him to prepare himself for holy orders, but the fate of his father made him shudder. He could not permit himself to refuse, however; but in compliance with their earnest wishes he entered the theolo
* The Christian Brothers. + De Laudilus Westphalia.
# "Enclytus homo eris uno die.”-Milchior Adom in Vita. & Fuit memoria felicissima, nam puer totum Terentium et Horatium meinoriter complexus est.-- Vita Erasmi, Beautus Rhenanus.
gical seminary of Herzogenbusch, though, he informs us, that it was with a heavy heart he did so. He also admits that the three years which he spent in this seminary were entirely lost to his education.*
He says he wished to avoid learning theology ; but adds that his repugnance was not to the doctrines of the church, but to the possibility of being placed in circumstances similar to those which had brought his unhappy father to an early grave. Be this as it may, the theological seminary had no charms for Erasmus; he grieved and pined as if in captivity in a foreign land. Too proud to run away; having too much respect for the principles of order and obedience to violate either; he continued to hope for the best until seized with a violent fever which afforded him a pretext to ask permission to visit some of his friends at Gouda. His request was complied with, and he never returned to the seminary
But the more intelligent ministers and servants of the church had too high an appreciation of his fine scholarship and brilliant talents to let him go without doing all in their power to secure his services; accordingly they not only renewed but redoubled their efforts to persuade him that he ought not to be deterred by the fate of his father. While thus urged almost daily, he was visited by a former school-fellow to whom he had been much attached. This friend, having just returned from Italy, represented monastic life to him in the several convents he had visited in such fascinating colors-especially by his descriptions of the fine libraries of the monks, the ample opportunities they had of enjoying those libraries, and of indulging to the fullest extent their tastes for literature, science, or the arts—that he resisted no longer, but resolved, in 1486, to enter the convent of Emäus near Gouda.
There is somo doubt as to what religious order had charge of this seminary ; but the general opinion is, that the rector and several of the professors, if not the whole, were Franciscans. This would partly explain the mystery, for the Franciscans, though often excellent preachers, have never been very successful as educators; and we believe they are less successful at the present day, at least in this country, than any other order. In their palmiest days they did not approach the Jesuits. Degenerate as the latter are at the present day, in learning, with some distinguished exceptions, they are still vastly superior to the Franciscans.
+ Erasmus, Epist. v., lib. 4.
Here he formed an intimacy with William Hermanni, who was as fond of learning as himself. Both devoted themselves with enthusiasm to the study of the classics. All their commentaries and essays were written in Latin ; and each submitted his compositions daily to the other for criticism, with the understanding that the slightest defect in his latinity should be unhesitatingly pointed out and condemned. After they had subjected themselves to this rigid system of mutual training for about one year, Erasmus produced his celebrated treatise, entitled De Contemtu Mundi, in which ho severely criticises certain abuses which, in his opinion, threatened to destroy the whole monastic system as an educational agency. That the monks were not very tyrannical or intolerant, however, is sufficiently evident from the fact that although their superiors read this treatise, they had no idea of expelling their satirist, or of doing him any injury whatever. The remark of the prior, on reading the manuscript, was: “There is no serious wrong in criticising the faults even of our dearest friends in a truthful and friendly spirit.”* Nor did the bishop of Utrecht view the case in a different light; it only confirmed him in the opinion he had formed of Erasmus when he sent him to the monastery of Deventer.
The excitement created by De Contemtu Afundi had scarcely subsided when Henry de Bergen, bishop of Cambray, inquired of the bishop of Utrecht whether he knew a well-educated religious young man whom he could recommend to him as a travelling companion and secretary. An affirmative reply was given ; Erasmus was recommended, and without making any secret of his recent satire. Far from rejecting him on account of the latter, the bishop of Cambray liked him all the better for his wit and manliness, while he was charmed with his pure and classic Latinity.†
. This liberality is all the more remarkable from the fact that the purpose for which he required a travelling companion was to accom
* Bucholcher, Ind Chron., p. 120. † Et lors que la Providence lui suscita un liberateur que le retira de la cloture, je veux, dire un evêque de Cambrai qui le voulut avoir auprès de lui pour un voiage de Rome, il ne se contenta pas de la permission de son evêque, il y joigdit aussi celle de son prieur-Bayle, Dict. Philosop., art. “Erasme.”
pany him to Rome, where he expected to be elevated to the dignity of a cardinal; as a further proof of his confidence and esteem, Erasmus was only a few days in his servicelong enough to enable him to see that his superior learning and talents where beyond dispute—when he ordained him a priest,-February 15, 1492.*
Although the bishop changed his mind in regard to visiting Rome, he retained Erasmus as a companion ; but delighted as the latter was to obtain so pleasant a position he did not accept until he secured the permission of the prior of his convent. Even then he continued to wear the habit of his order. He remained five years with the bishop. During this time he never relaxed his studies; but availed himself to the fullest extent of the bishop's library, which was quite extensive, and particularly rich in ancient literature; yet, at the end of five years, he felt that, after all, his education was not completed; and he obtained permission and the means from his patron to go to Paris, and enter the college of Montaigu, which was then one of the most celebrated in Europe. Here he remained for a considerable time, during which he prosecuted his classical studies with undiminished ardor, and wrote several of his most remarkable treatises, but without publishing any. While preparing to print one, he learns that his patron has become sick and poor, so that he is no longer able to allow him sufficient for his support.
On this account Erasmus is obliged to offer his services to such as might employ him as a private tutor. Among those who responded was a young English nobleman, Lord William Mountjoy, who soon became so much attached to his teacher that he insisted on his sharing his own lodgings, at the same time giving him every other aid in his power.f For this generosity Mountjoy was amply rewarded by Erasmus, who, in addition to communicating to him more knowledge than, perhaps, any other living teacher could, wrote for his especial benefit his famous treatise on “Letter Writing."#
Eras., in Vita, Epist. v. † Nouv. Biog. Gen., t. xvi., p. 184. De Ratione Conscribendi Epistolas, published at Bâle, in 1522, and now to be found in every edition of the author's works.