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regard to their fitness for the service, lasted to late times, and became extinct, if it be extinct (which we sadly doubt), with monkhood itself. Our readers may recollect how the Jesuits laid their snares for promising youths, and nearly caught Marmontel and Diderot; though perhaps it was easier to make clever Jesuits of clever boys, than devout or even decent monks of those who had no calling for cloistral austerities or ascetic retreat. In the days of Erasmus the system was carried on without any scruple. "What boy was there of hopeful genius, of honourable birth, or of wealth, whom they did not tempt with their stratagems, for whom they did not spread their nets, whom they did not try to catch by their wiles, the parents often being ignorant, not rarely decidedly adverse. This wickedness, which is more wicked than any kidnapping (plagio), these actors dare to perpetrate in the name of piety.'? This was intelligible when they sought to enlist sons of family or wealth, who might fill their coffers or extend their influence; or men of very high promise, who might advance or extend their cause. But Gerard, the father of Erasmus, was one of ten sons, born of decent but not opulent parents, at Gouda (Tergau) in Holland. One, at least, of that large family (the desire to disembarrass themselves of the charge and responsibility of troublesome younger brothers was ever unhappily conspiring with the proselytising zeal) must be persuaded or compelled to enter into holy orders or the cloister. Gerard might seem by temperament and disposition the least suited to a life of mortification and sanctity. He was gay and mirthful; even in later life he bore a Dutch name, best rendered “the facetious. But there was a graver disqualification, of which neither his parents nor the monks were ignorant; he had formed a passionate attachment to the daughter of a physician. The opposition of his parents to the marriage, fatal to their design of driving him into the cloister, did not break off, but rendered the intimacy too close; he fled from
? Epist, ad Grunnium.
his home. Margarita, who should have been his wife, retired to Rotterdam, where she gave birth to a son destined to a world-wide fame. Gerard, after many wanderings, had found his way to Rome. There he earned his livelihood by transcribing works, chiefly those of classical authors, the office of transcriber not being yet superseded by the young art of printing. He is said to have acquired a strong taste for those writers, and a fair knowledge of their works. A rumour was industriously spread, and skilfully conveyed to his ears, that his beloved Margarita was dead. In his first fit of desperation he severed himself from the world, and took the irrevocable vows. On his return to his native Gouda he found the mother of his son in perfect health. But he took the noblest revenge on the fraud which had beguiled him into Holy Orders : he was faithful to his vows. He was presented by the Pope with a prebend, a decent maintenance, in his native country. No suspicion seems from this time to have attached to his conduct, though he still preserved his animal spirits and wit, and the lighter appellation of his youth still clung to him. The mother, too, from that time lived with unsullied fame. It was said of her —
Huic uni potuit succumbere culpæ.3
Gerard, the son of Gerard (the name was fancifully, it does not appear by whose fancy, Latinized into Desiderius, and Desiderius again repeated in the Greek Erasmus), was sent to the school at Gouda, kept by a certain Peter Winkel Winkel held him for a dunce; but the dulness may have been in the
: Was there another son three years older than Erasmus? The earlier lires, those of which Erasmus himself furnished the materials, are silent about him ; but if the narrative, in the celebrated Epistle to Grunnius, be the early life of Erasmus himself—and this cannot be reasonably doubted—there was; and a passage in another letter, indicated by Jortin, seems conclusive. If so, the elder was a dull, coarse boy, who, having determined with Erasmus to resist, deserted his more resolute brother, and became a monk-a stupid and profligate one, whom Erasmus might be glad to forget, and for whose death he felt no very profound sorrow. But this makes the case of the deception practised on the father even worse. Dupin, a sound authority, and M. Nisard, admit the existence of the elder brother as certain.
teacher, not in the pupil. He is said to have profited as little by the scanty instruction which he received as a chorister at Utrecht. At nine years old he was sent to the school at Deventer, accompanied by his mother, seemingly an accomplished woman, who, in addition to his ordinary studies, obtained him lessons in design and drawing. Deventer was a school kept by a religious brotherhood, not bound by vows. The brothers of the common life' were the latest, and not the least devout and holy effort of monachism to renew its youth. The Order was founded by Gerard Groot, no unworthy descendant of the monks of Clugny, of St. Bernard, or St. Francis; they were rivals of the mystic school of Tauler, Rysbroeck, and De Suso, in the south of Germany. Their monastery of Zwoll, near Brunswick, had nursed in its peaceful shades Thomas of Kempen (near Cologne), in our judgment the undoubted author of the last, most perfect, most popular manual of monastic Christianity, the · De Imitatione Christi.' And now, as ever, in less than a century, among the brothers of Deventer, few hearts beat in response to the passionate, quivering ejaculations of that holy book,—they had become low, ignorant, intriguing, worldly friars. The light of the new learning was, however, struggling at Deventer against the old scholastic system. At the head of the school was Alexander Hegius, a pupil of the celebrated Greek scholar Rudolph Agricola, the first who brought the Italian learning over the Alps. Of Hegius Erasmus ever spoke with profound respect. But Sinheim, the sub-rector, was his chief instructor; he was too young, perhaps too poor, to come under the former. Sinheim was the first to discern the promise of Erasmus. On one occasion he addressed him: "Go on as thou hast begun; thou wilt before long rise to the highest pinnacle of letters.' Agricola himself, on a visit to Hegius, was so much struck by an exercise of the boy that, having put a few questions to him, and looked “at the shape of his head and at his eyes,' he dismissed him with the words, “You will be a great man.' Erasmus himself says that at Deventer he went through the whole course of scholastic training, logic, physics, metaphysics, and morals,— with what profit may be a question; but he had learned also Horace and Terence by heart. What a step for one to whom Latin was to be almost his vernacular language ! Yet even at Deventer he was exposed to those trials, with which inveterate monkish proselytism had determined to beset him. There was no youth of candid disposition and of good fortune whom they (the monks and friars) did not study to break and subdue to their service. They spared neither flatteries, insults, petty terrors, entreaties, horrible tales, to allure them into their own, or to drive them into some other, fold. I myself was educated at Deventer. When I was not fifteen, the President of that Institution used every endeavour to induce me to enter into it. I was of a very pious disposition; but though so young, I was wise enough to plead my age and the anger of my parents if I should do anything without their knowledge. But this good man, when he saw that his eloquence did not prevail, tried an exorcism. “What do you mean?" He brought forth a crucifix, and, while I burst into tears, he said, with a look as of one inspired, “Do you acknowledge that He suffered for you?” “I do fervently.” “ By Him, then, I beseech you that you suffer Him not to have died in vain for you; obey my counsels, seek the good of your soul, lest in the world you perish everlastingly.”' 4
But the boy was obliged to leave Deventer. The plague bereft him of his mother; the widowed father pined away with sorrow, and died at forty years of age. Erasmus was cast upon the world an orphan, worse than friendless, with faithless friends.
His father appointed three guardians not of his own family; he may have still cherished a sad remembrance of their unkindly conduct. Of these, one was Peter Winkel, master of the boy's first school. There was property—whence it came appears not, but sufficient for his decent maintenance, and for an University
* De Pronunciatione, Opera, rol. i. p. 121, 122.
education ; sufficient, unhappily, to tempt these unscrupulous guardians. It was squandered away, or applied to their own uses : all the money was soon gone, but there remained certain bonds or securities. And now, like the father, the youth must be driven by fair or foul means into the cloister. The ambition of the promising scholar, in whom the love of letters had been rapidly growing, and had been fostered by the praise of distinguished men into a passion, was to receive an education at one of the famous Universities of Europe. But the free and invigorating studies of the University were costly, and might estrange the aspiring youth from the life of the cloister. He was sent to an institution at Herzogenbusch (Bois le Duc) kept by another brotherhood, whose avowed object it was to train and discipline youth for the monastic state. The two years of his sojourn there were a dreary blank : years lost to his darling studies. These men were ignorant, narrow-minded, hard, even cruel : they could teach the young scholar nothing—they would not let him teach himself. The slightest breach of discipline was threatened with, often followed by, severe chastisement. He was once flogged for an offence of which he was not guilty ; it threw him into a fever of four days. The effect of this system was permanently to injure his bodily health, to render him sullen, timid, suspicious. It implanted in his heart a horror of corporal punishment. Rousseau himself did not condemn it more cordially, more deliberately. It was one of his few points of difference in after life with his friend Colet, who still adhered to the monkish usage of severe flagellation. One foolish, but well-meaning zealot, Rumbold, tried gentler means—entreaties flatteries, presents, caresses. He told him awful stories of the wickedness of the world, of the lamentable fate of youths who had withstood the admonitions of pious monks, and left the safe seclusion of the cloister. One had sat down on what seemed to be the root of a tree, but turned out to be a huge serpent, which swallowed him up. Another had been devoured, so soon as he left the monastery walls, by a raging lion. He was plied with incessant tales of goblins and devils. He was at