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and joyless life which the young creature led, and he always looked back with horror to the savage school system by which his gentle timid spirit had been early crushed and cowed, and which was enough to have destroyed his own passion for learning. In later life he did all that he could to introduce methods more humane and encouraging. To one of his correspondents we find him mentioning with glee the witty invention of an English gentleman, who, in order to make his son at once a scholar and a marksman, had a target painted with the Greek alphabet, and every time that the little archer hit a letter, and at the same time could name it, he was rewarded with a cherry. This was really teaching “ the young idea how to shoot," and to the extension of the same kindly Erasmian hint we are indebted for alphabets made of gingerbread or sugar, which even in the nursery awaken the pleasures of taste, and which in our enlightened age make little John Bull, if not a devourer of books, at least very fond of his letters.
Such protection as he had in his parents he was destined soon to lose ; and, although he inherited a little property, his guardians so managed that he never got much good of it. Their great anxiety was to be rid of their ward, and they were very desirous that he would enter a convent. But Erasmus demurred.
He was young
and loved liberty; and as he said very sensibly to Peter Winkel, his father's principal trustee, “I don't yet know what the world is, nor what a convent is, nor do I quite know what I myself am.” On this, Mr. Winkel flew into a passion, and shouted, 6 You don't know what you are
You're a fool! You are throwing away the good opening which I have with much ado obtained for you: so, sirrah, I resign my trust, and henceforth you may look out for yourself.” The pious Peter resigned the trust, but he thought it best to retain the young reprobate's money; and soon after Erasmus was
brought very low with a fever. Whilst recovering, and whilst his mind was still under the softening influences of his serious illness, he chanced to visit the convent at Stein. There he found an old school-companion, who had shared with him the same bed-room at Deventer. Cornelius was by this time a novice, and as he enlarged on the holy life that they led in the monastery-so innocent, so tranquil, and in the midst of such angelic society—the simple youth had no suspicion that his quondam playmate was acting the part of a decoy. And then, when he described the noble library, and the infinitude of books and leisure, no mouse could be more weak at the scent of toasted cheese than was Erasmus at this vision of folios; and he at once put his head into the trap and was fairly encaged in the cloister. For a little while the illusion was kept up; but by and by he woke to the painful reality. The monks were coarse, jovial fellows, who opened no book but the breviary, and who to any feast of the Muses preferred pancakes and pots of ale at the neighbouring nunnery. Nor was their religion in advance of their scholarship. They sang matins and vespers, and spent the time intermediate in idle lounging and scurrilous talk. Too late Erasmus discovered that he was not meant to be a monk. At his first entrance his disposition was devout; but he wanted to worship, and the genuflexions, and crossings, and bell-ringings, seemed little better than mummery. He wanted to study; but except in one solitary inmate named Hermann, he found not a creature that cared for such pursuits. Nor did the rule of St. Francis agree with him. His circulation was languid, his nervous system extremely sensitive. If called up to midnight devotions, after counting his beads and repeating so many aves, a model monk would turn into bed and be fast asleep in five seconds; but after being once shaken out of his slumbers, Erasmus could only
lie till the morning, listening to his more fortunate brethren as they snored along the corridor. For fish he had an unconquerable antipathy; the mere smell of salted cod brought on a headache, and whilst his capacious colleagues provided overnight for the next day's fast, our novice suffered such exhaustion from abstinence that he frequently fainted away; and when to this constitutional inaptitude we superadd the love of reality and the love of liberty, it is no wonder that “the heaven on earth” at Stein soon became an irksome captivity.
However, if all accounts are true, our novice occasionally indulged in pursuits which were not prescribed by the founder. It is said that in the garden of the convent there grew a pear-tree, which the prior had reserved for his own proper use, and all monks of low degree were warned against touching the same. Erasmus, however, indulging a philosophical curiosity, had taken a private survey of the forbidden tree, and was glad to find that in one point at least his taste entirely agreed with his ecclesiastical superior. The result was, that the pears began to disappear with alarming rapidity, and the prior determined, if possible, to detect the depredator. For this purpose he took up his position overnight in a window which commanded the orchard. Towards morning he saw a figure embowered in the jargonel, and was delighted at having caught the robber. But just at that moment he was obliged to sneeze, and the explosion scared the thief, who instantly dropped from the branches and limped off, mimicking the gait so admirably of the only lame monk in the convent, that the prior felt sure of his man. Accordingly, next morning when they were all assembled in the refectory, the prior, after enlarging on the eighth commandment, pointed out the lame brother, and in a voice of thunder charged him as the sacrilegious villain who had stolen the
poor man was utterly confounded, but his protestations of innocence only made the case more
Aggravating and the prior more angry, and probably added to the loss of his breakfast the repetition of the seven penitential psalms.
Frolics like these, however, cannot have been of frequent occurrence, for most of the time which he could redeem from sickness and from monastic ceremonies was given to those studies which laid the foundations of his matchless scholarship. At twenty-three we find him writing, “There is nothing else that I desire but leisure to live to God, to lament the sins of foolish years, to study the sacred Scriptures, and to read or write something." By this time he had found a patron in the Bishop of Cambray, who, if he did no other service, by inviting him to become his Secretary, rescued him from captivity in the convent at Stein, and by bringing him to France, gave him the opportunity to pursue his studies in the University of Paris.
Of all the incidents of his Parisian sojourn, Erasmus regarded as the happiest the acquaintance which he there formed with Lord Mountjoy. This young nobleman was a devotee to classical learning. On the destitute Dutchman he settled a pension of 100 crowns, and he was the means of inducing him to pay his first visit to England. That incident had considerable influence on the future career of our hero; and as it is a period of his history naturally interesting to ourselves, we may say a few words about it.
When Erasmus came over to this country in 1497, he was thirty years of age, and had already acquired a considerable reputation as a wit and a Latin scholar; but his expectations from England were not high. We were at that time chiefly famous for high living and hard fighting, and from hints dropped in his letters, our Dutch visitor found some deficiencies. For instance, in a letter to the Archbishop of York's physician, Dr. Francis,* who was perplexed at the plague never leaving England, he throws out some
* Epp. col. 1815.
judicious sanitary suggestions. “It would be a great improvement if your windows were made to open, or if there were some contrivance for letting air into your houses; and it would be well to have some receptacle for refuse and offal other than the public street or king's highway. Nor is it a good plan this universal system of strewing the floors with rushes. The floors themselves are clay, which is not good; but the rushes are worse, for they sometimes lie unchanged for twenty years, concealing fish-bones, cabbage-leaves, and all the other aliment of fever.” Such drawbacks notwithstanding, Erasmus throve in England. After the stock fish of Deventer and the rotten eggs of Paris, the roast beef of Oxford and the stout of London were nectar and ambrosia; and to most of his correspondents he speaks with rapture of the climate, the nobility, and the hospitable burgesses. But there were two friends whose acquaintance he speedily made, and who beyond all others helped to endear the country.
One of these, when Erasmus first knew him, was still very young, although in literary circles already quite famous. On the first occasion of their meeting it is said that they had not been introduced, nor had the one caught the name of the other; but as dinner proceeded, and as the slim, high-shouldered youth kept the table in a roar with jokes, which, being English, the foreigner could not understand,
and at the same time met his Latin jibes with the richest ' repartees, Erasmus exclaimed, “Aut tu es Morus aut
nullus!" and got the reply, “Aut tu es Erasmus aut diabolus !”* This mutual introduction ripened into
” a thorough and ardent intimacy, and Erasmus became a frequent guest of the future lord chancellor. To his pen we are indebted for the well-known picture of the villa at Chelsea, where, surrounded by his wife, his son and * Which
be freely translated, “You are either Thomas More or his ghost !” “And you are either the foul fiend or Erasmus ! ”