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Erasmus.

A LECTURE

BY

THE REV. JAMES HAMILTON, D.D.

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ERASMUS.

THANKS to history and to the pencil of Hans Holbein, we are pretty well acquainted with this figure. Slim and of moderate stature, bending slightly, as is usual with one who has just risen from his book, or who is habitually absorbed in study, he has still the movements—self-possessed and graceful-of a man at home in every company. His garb, indistinctly clerical, has no affectation of the courtier ; but its fur lining is suggestive of the cautious and catarrhal invalid. From under his quaint three-cornered cap, the cocked-hat's ancestor, there escapes a sufficiency of hairnow whitening, but once sunny-along with his fair complexion and light blue eyes, the token of his Teutonic pedigree. Over eyes half shut and hazy there usually hang lids heavy with thought or sorrow; but let these be lifted up, and forth flashes fire enough to light up an acre of countenance—that intuition which looks the spectator through and through, and sees, not only the mote in his eye, but the faults and foibles slung away in the basket behind his back-that electric glance which in a moment girds the globe, and which, revealing as it flies, takes in whatever it touches. The leading feature, the nose, is enough to make the fortune of any face,—so Grecian in its outline, so full of tact, so exquisitely æsthetic, with such an air of refinement all over it. And it is supported by a mouth in perfect keeping: the large thin lips firmly closed, but along the edges and angles so many bright thoughts visibly coming and going, that you see there is no shaft which that bow cannot shoot, -no thought which these versatile lips cannot utter. Were they opening, the words would be Latin, uttered in tones soft and silvery: and as you listened to the discourse, wise, playful, and richly allusive ; and as you looked at the expression, timid and triumphant by turns, and in which pensiveness and humour, benevolence and mischief, so rarely commingle,- you would have fully before you the specimen supreme of European scholarship,--the man who beyond all his fellows did the most to promote the Restoration of Sound Sense and the Revival of Letters in Europe.

When asked to give a lecture in this course, it struck me that the present subject might not be unsuitable. In a general way people do not know very much about our hero. They pass through Rotterdam, and they see his statue in the market-place; or at Basle, as one of its chief curiosities, they are obliged to visit his grave in the cathedral, and, like Nebuchadnezzar, “their thoughts trouble them." “Erasmus! Erasmus! what was he?” They have heard the name, but cannot just remember whether he was a Roman emperor or a poet of the Augustan era, till they are told that he flourished in the days when Leo X. was pope and Cbarles the Fifth was emperor. Then he was a soldier or a statesman? “Ah, no, how stupid ! now I remember, he was a great reformer, and took refuge in the Protestant town of Basle for fear that he would be burnt at Rome.” But being set right on this point,-by a Popish friend assured that he was no true Catholic, and by a Lutheran told that he never was a Protestant,-our inquirer asks no more questions and hazards no more guesses,

but makes up his mind that Erasmus must have been a sort of nondescript, and the founder of the Erastian heresy.

It is really worth while to know something definite about the man who was the incidental originator of the English Reformation, and who did more than all his cotemporaries to rescue from Romish thraldom the scholarship of Europe. It is worth while to know something about the man who gave a second life to many fathers of the Church, and to many of the best authors of Greece and Rome, by rescuing their remains from the tomb of dark and dreary ages. It is worth while to know something of the man who in the annals of literature bulks so largely, that the works of wbich he is author, editor or subject, fill, in the magnificent catalogue of our National Collection, a folio volume. And, as his life was not without its lessons, so we hope our survey may not be without some profit.

It is nearly four hundred years since he was bornOctober 28th, 1467.* His father and mother were never married, a circumstance which involved his childhood in much misery, and with which he was reproached all through life by coarse and heartless adversaries. But the poor little outcast was bright and clever. He had a musical voice, and was early taken to sing as a chorister in Utrecht cathedral; and at nine years of age he was sent to school at Deventer. Here he is said to have learned by heart the whole of Horace and Terence; and although some of his masters were severe, the down-hearted scholar was sometimes cheered by a gleam of casual encouragement.

On one occasion Sintheim was 80 delighted with his performance that he kissed him and exclaimed, “ Cheer up, you will reach the top of the tree;" and when he was fourteen years of age, Rodolph Agricola visiting the school, was so struck with one of his exercises that he asked to see the author, and taking him with both hands behind the head, so that the bashful lad was obliged to look full into the face of the awful stranger, he said, “ You will be a great man one day.” On the whole, however, it was a hard

* He died at Basle, July 12th, 1536.

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